(this is a cross-post from House of Naked, but I thought it was relevant to pretty much anyone, so I decided to post it here too).
Around Valentine's Day, I noticed a few stories pop up about some displays in Macy's stores that featured bikes painted white. Their similarities to Ghost Bikes -- bikes painted white, and installed as a permanent memorial to bikers killed on city streets -- were the topic of debate, and reactions ranged from incredibly offended to indifference. (DKNY had a simliar installation - bikes painted neon orange around the city, but their was intended to support cyclists). If you live in New York, you've probably seen Ghost Bikes around town - for me, the visual of a bike painted white is synonymous with mourning and sadness now.
White painted bike at Macy's
ghost bikes posted by Flickr users from around the world
I was going to post back then about the insensitivity of the Macy's displays, but I figured that maybe their visual display people didn't live in a city, or didn't know about Ghost Bikes, so I should give them the benefit of the doubt. (If you want to read a great, intelligent debate over the matter, the comments on this Gothamist post - where the image above came from - are very interesting).
Then, just today, I was walking by Madewell on Broadway, which is owned by JCrew, and I saw that they had some bikes painted white as part of their window display. At first, I was just surprised that their visual merchandisers - whom I would imagine pay attention to what other stores are doing - put the white bikes in their windows after Macy's was taken to task for doing it.
Then, I started to think about the fact that as marketers, we have to pay attention to loads of stuff that doesn't directly concern us, just so we're familiar with the cultural zeitgeist. Ghost Bikes do not only exist in New York. In fact, they are present in almost every major city in America, and in countless other countries. Including most of the cities that have Madewell shops. It's not a small movement, it's a pretty big one, in fact.
Seeing the full picture - not just in the sense of looking at problems from a few steps back, but in the sense of being aware of what's going on outside our own circles of reality -- is essential to staying in touch with what consumers are thinking, feeling and doing.
If brands want to do all the things they say they do - connect with real people on a meaningful level, strengthen consumer affinity for their brands beyond just their products, be a positive part of people's lives - then the first step is to observe what's happening out there, each day.
Another of our Naked Truths also applies here, in terms of how brands process and reference what they find out there in the wide world. People are our Partners, which we means we should not only be in touch with what's out there, but also that we need to understand that some of these things are already rooted in meaning, and that meaning should be respected. Not everything should be co-opted as a creative idea for brand communications.