Mei Mei Yap's (known online as "Jules") love for everything IKEA inspired her to set up an unofficial blog. When Yap encouraged her social network to share their inspired creations, she may not have realized the waves that she was about to create.
Yap's fanaticism triggered an online, social, fan-to-fan phenomenon that indulged the passions of genuine IKEA lovers in the most un-marketing way possible.
Today, in 2012, her venture has grown into IKEA Hackers.com -- the unofficial online social exchange platform for IKEA fans from across the globe who love to share, showcase, or merely borrow inspiration and ideas on how to modify, improvise, or merely repurpose off-the shelf IKEA products and make them signature.
Even Facebook loves culture hacking
It is kind of ironic that Facebook -- the default social engagement platform for our brands -- evangelizes the culture of hacking for new ideas with its "Hackathon."
What once used to be the domain expertise of IT specialists is fast becoming contagious among various creative design ecosystems (including product, technology, graphic, communication, etc.) -- albeit in its new avatar.
Often perceived as a bad word, the hacking ethos propagates the philosophy that essential lessons can be learned about things, systems, and the world by taking them apart, seeing how they work, and using this knowledge to inspire new and meaningful creations.
In a brand building context, it simply means that customers and fans of a brand should be encouraged to infuse a part of themselves into the brand, even if it means altering the established culture codes of that company. This helps make the brand immersive -- which in the current context is limiting due to conventional marketing approaches to social media.
In fact, it is not something new -- we all have grown-up being part of some brand hack club at some point of time. Be it pimping-up our rides by modifying dad's good old Beetle, big brother's Yamaha 350, or recycling fashion statements of yester-years with our very own twists.
Here are few interesting cases on how individuals and entrepreneurs are leveraging the power of social media by hacking already established cultures:
Homerun Social Movement in the U.K. is urging Londoners to take a run back home after work instead of using the Tube. This is a clear case of culture hacking into the popular sentiment of running. Of course, this is propagated by large sportswear marketing corporations.
In Sao Paulo, Meta Real -- an eating reeducation program service -- is helping people fight the midnight hunger pangs with Virtual Fridge Raid service, a sensory alarm that broadcasts late night fridge raids to users' social networks. A clear culture hack into the world of weight loss programs that leverages the power of ones' social network to achieve individual goals.
In Singapore, a card rewards coffee fans for being "disloyal." This is clearly a culture hack into the concepts of loyalty cards associated with coffee chains. This program encourages coffee enthusiast to explore different coffees at eight premier independent coffee shops across the city -- making it another example of an online-offline social movement.
Hacking is contagious
Let's accept it, only the unexpected
, the outrageous
, the absurd
, and the controversial
goes viral in our social worlds. Admittedly, more often than not it is the real people -- be it ardent fans of a brand or opportunist entrepreneurs -- who hack already established culture codes to deliver these "wows" to us.
On the other hand, brands that are confined by already established culture codes seek refuge in more marketing-like concepts of online engagement and branded content in the hopes of going "contagious."
For brands that toe the line, the hops is that fanatics like Yap -- who start brand hacking movements -- make brand experiences even more immersive online. Or maybe they should consider commissioning surrogate underground hacking tribes to get the ball rolling -- this is something that Budweiser did at the 2012 AdAge Digital Conference "brand hack" segment. Budweiser officially invited various start-ups to pitch ideas on how its brand could possibly develop hacks that enrich its presence in the social, music and sports spaces.
Sailesh Wadhwa is the strategy planning director at Lowe and Partners.
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