Category Identity

Hi there. I'm a Partner at Undercurrent, where I lead a team focused on helping ambitious organizations operate in ways that are beneficial to all their users.

On Digital Nation-States

It strikes me that, more and more, our digital lives are mirroring our real lives in ever more peculiar ways. From reflecting our everyday behaviors to forming new ones, the circles between “digital” and “real” are less a thoroughly overlapping Venn diagram and more a shared area. Which I hope for all of you is as fascinating as it is for me.

The nice thing is that it’s allowing more traditional fields of study to be assimilated into and affected by the things that happen online.

For me, one of the most interesting new overlaps is the one between international relations and digital social networks. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple years now, and I’ve been searching for a list of the major empires & superpowers through history. I finally found a list, and today whipped up the graphic at the top of the post. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it does serve to illustrate a point: the world tends to have a few major powers, and those powers tend to dominate for a while before they are surpassed by an up-and-coming state with greater resources and greater geographic focus.

Which seems pretty similar to how digital networks tend to come and go.

Which leads me to my conclusion:

Digital social networks are the new nation-states. Yeah, I said it. They share more with real nation-states than is immediately apparent. They have laws: the laws of each social network-state are those imposed by its creators or built by its population from terms and conditions, to user experience, to what things one user can see and that another cannot. Take, for example, the litany of Facebook T&C changes over the years, some of which caused uprisings among its population. Their developers’ decisions govern our experiences both with the site and with the rest of the people within the system. And while Facebook and Myspace and others are not sovereign in the way all true nation states are, it is conceivable that someday, there will be digital nationality to go along with or be codefined by “real” nationality.

There are value exchanges among people and people and between people and companies within this digital nation-state, laws can be broken and there are shared identities among the constituents of the state that can be defined against those of other, competing states. To wit, a significant body of work suggests that there are real differences between Myspace people and Facebook people. That these distinctions tend to fall along lines of economic class is no matter; it nevertheless suggests that despite the rise of Facebook, some people see their identities as being more correctly in line with one digital nation or the other.

So, what then? I suggest 5 key changes:

  1. That we start thinking of digital social networks as a potential working model for the society of the future.
  2. That instead of moving from one major network to another, we work to better a chosen digital nation state for the good of all its inhabitants.
  3. That Facebook and others work to elect a governing party of super-users that can help shape its future.
  4. That we recognize that each digital nation state should be unique, and that each has a value that may be unrelated to its size; we recognize the validity of the United States and that of the Principality of Liechtenstein.
  5. That access to these digital states be regarded as a right, rather than a privilege.

I’ll keep pushing this if you will.

Mens On Men [and Culture, and Advertising]

Men On Football - In Living Color, 1990?

I just finished reading a phenomenal set of articles and comments regarding a recent speech by Roy F. Baumeister to the American Psychological Association last August. I highly recommend a full read of all of the following:

  1. RF Baumeister’s full-text speech, “Is There Anything Good About Men”
  2. John Tierney’s first post on the subject
  3. John Tierney’s second post on the subject

Any Gen Gu-Ys out there, please, please comment on this and let me know what your feelings are. We all know that marketing to 18-34 year-old males is a goldmine and these articles give some pretty good, fresh insight into what we’re thinking. Because Lord (and any females in my life) knows I don’t know what I’m thinking half the time.
So here’s the insight that I found fascinating:

Several years ago my wife told me that her male students seemed surprised when she said something positive about men in a lecture. It wasn’t even all that positive — she simply said that men were not to blame for women’s eating disorders, as indicated by some research findings showing that women want to be much thinner than their boyfriends want them to be. Reflecting on the students’ reaction, she mused that the young men were already accustomed to being blamed for everything, both men’s faults and women’s problems to boot. I realized that most men below the age of 50 have never experienced masculinity as a positive thing, especially given the relentless stream of messages about male misbehavior and ostensible male oppression of women, plus the mass media depiction of men as villains and buffoons. When was the last time you heard a news story that depicted men, collectively, in a positive light? [3, above]

I mean, I feel pretty good about being a man. Seems at least easier than the alternative. But I definitely also feel a little shame about the things that I tend to do, that I tend to say, that I tend to gravitate toward. We as men are conditioned by society, culture and media to act a certain way, but also to feel bad about it at the same time. Even our conditioning has been conditioned. Which seems to be why this seems to work for me. I am man. I am incorrigible. I want burgers. Screw tofu.

Whenever I see an ad that’s explicitly pro-guy, it makes me feel good, but guiltily. I don’t want to tell the women I know that I like ___ ad, because I worry that they’ll think I’m an ape. I’m not an ape. Just a normal guy with normal guy thoughts. And whenever we’re talking “normal guy thoughts”, we’ll inevitably end up on the topic of sex. Everywhere you look, men are characterized as thoughtless sex demons hell-bent on spreading their seed no matter the cost. Which may or may not be true. But Baumeister points to an interesting reason why us guys are so excited to reproduce.

It all comes down to the ratio of female to male ancestors. I was shocked to learn that over the course of human existence, 80% of women reproduced while only 40% of men ever successfully made mini versions of themselves. This basic, natural fact leads men to be more competitive, more improvisational, work harder, whatever:

For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. Later in this talk we will ponder things like, why was it so rare for a hundred women to get together and build a ship and sail off to explore unknown regions, whereas men have fairly regularly done such things? But taking chances like that would be stupid, from the perspective of a biological organism seeking to reproduce. They might drown or be killed by savages or catch a disease. For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe. The odds are good that men will come along and offer sex and you’ll be able to have babies. All that matters is choosing the best offer. We’re descended from women who played it safe.

For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative, explore other possibilities. Sailing off into the unknown may be risky, and you might drown or be killed or whatever, but then again if you stay home you won’t reproduce anyway. We’re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. We’re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky). [1, above]

Funny thing is, I feel like I’ll get negative responses from saying that men are more competitive, improvisational… hell, more anything than women. But hey, it helps explain this new Tom Ford cologne ad. I can see the strategy now: “Tom Ford Cologne gets you more…”

Tom Ford Cologne Ad

Ads like this work not just because they’re provocative, but because they help give men hope. Despite how crazy we all may be for sex, odds are we’re not going to have it. We need things like cologne to help us get noiced, to help increase our odds of scoring. We need ways to identify those GameKillers that may stand in our way of getting in the door, and we need help from things like the Philips Bodygroom to help seal the deal.

Optical Inch

Come on, who’s going to argue with an optical inch?

In the end, though, Baumeister argues that culture uses men’s social–and biological–insecurity, “I have a 40% chance of being successful” to move forward. “Men have to prove themselves by producing things the society values. They have to prevail over rivals and enemies in cultural competitions, which is probably why they aren’t as lovable as women,” he states. If we don’t produce, we don’t get to reproduce.

Sorry for wandering. Comments would be appreciated if you made it all the way through.

exitcreative: Site Redesign

I just re-did my plain HTML homepage to show some of the work I’ve been doing of late.

Over the last week I was a little bored at night and this is the result. I tried to keep it clean and simple. Hope y’all like it.

It’s at
Oh… and I turned 26 on Saturday.

July 2, 1917


My grandpa would have been 90 today. His name was David Parker, and he was my mom’s dad. Not sure when this was taken but he was stylin, for dang sure. This is him on some Humboldt County beach, searching for agates. He used to make me laugh when he would magnify his eyes with his glasses.

Clay Parker Jones: The exitcreative resume

Clay Parker Jones

So… I just created a book of photos, ideas and some of my work to use as a resume.

Account Executives don’t usually have a book. But I’m not really a typical AE, as I’m sure you can tell if you’re a regular reader here. And I don’t like resumes, anyway. How could you possibly get your entire career, beliefs and feelings onto one page? Ha.

I would really appreciate your honest feedback about it. My mom HATES the image at the top of the post, and many of my friends have told me there’s too much BS in there and that I should get to the point. Johanna said she liked it though, so that’s a plus.

As a side note, I’m not really looking for a job, and am quite happy where I am. But I been wantin’ to make one of these for a while so I sat down with my three new buddies InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop and we had us a ball.

Look at my book by clicking here: Clay Parker Jones exitcreative resume. Enjoy, if you can.

Gnarls Barkley

So everybody loves Gnarls Barkley these days. I first heard them on KCRW Music through my iTunes a few months back. Anyway, here’s a live performance of “Who Cares” on YouTube.

Who Cares?

The whole St. Elsewhere CD is about figuring out who you are (as far as I can tell). Here’s some lyrics that are illustrative of a point I was making in a comment response to my friend Terra Tolley:

You see everybody is somebody
But nobody wants to be themselves
And if I ever wanted to understand me
I’d have to talk someone else
But every little bit helps

Terra put it quite clearly:

“Our concept of our own identities (whether in marketing or by individuals) are completely distorted from other people’s ideas of what our identies are. Perceived identities are often the projections of the observer’s own insecurites or proud attributes. Don’t people become attracted to those that represent what they either are (and enjoy the narcissism attached) or what they are lacking? Have a an acquaintance, a family member, and old friend and yourself write down ten characteristics of your identity. Are they truly about you or what the people writing admire or lack?”

Just an interesting sidebar to a discussion from earlier in the week.

Identity, Brands and the Next Generation

[Author's note: I'm not really sure about this. I would really love some comments on what I've written here. Tear it down if you like.]

If identity is everything, what is identity? How does it fit in with marketing?

Is “identity” a fiction of a transient lifestage? Do concerns of identity stop after a time, become irrelevant because of other important issues? That’s probably another story.

But one thing’s for sure. It’s impossible for identity to cease to exist. The notion of identity is a definition (both externally and internally) of who we are.

My identity is made up of a set of identifiers, a set of characteristics that combine to constitute who I am. These range from the most superficial (Clay has brown hair) to the most hidden (Clay carries a Zippo just in case attractive women ask him to smoke. He’s never used it. Don’t even think that this is the most hidden piece of who I am. Again, another story.)

Just like power defines every relationship, identity defines who we are individually. It’s in conscious and unconscious decisions you’ve made in your life; in fact, that is what it is all about. The decision to purchase a certain thing; the decision to take the train instead of driving; the decision to style your hair in a certain way; the decision to listen to a certain kind of music; the decision to dress and act a certain way, or to hang out with a certain kind of people.

And just as importantly, it’s how the world perceives those decisions. Because it’s very likely that a combination of how you understand your decisions, and how the world’s stereotypes color those decisions, comes to define your identity both externally and internally.

Shared Identities
Ultimately, the sum of these associations–both external and internal–begin to formulate an identity that is probably not 100% unique to you. At least 10 people in the world share the exact same conscious and unconscious preferences. It is nice to imagine that you are a snowflake, unique and distinct and wonderful in every way, but let’s be real. You’re not. After all, think of how many people in the world share only some of the characteristics that you call unique. Imagine how many people in your life have prompted you to say, “Omigod, we have SO much in common!” This population probably numbers in the millions. I’d say the average person today has met about 10 people that fit the bill. And this ought to become easier in the future… (get it? foreshadowing)

The international relations community–some of them, anyhow–have been talking about the disappearing nation-state for some time. Eventually states like “France” and “England” and “The United States” and “Iraq” will cease to exist. Technology is tearing down borders. [Who needed them, anyway? They just seemed to cause problems. Most of them were flawed from the start] We’ll someday become a loose network of societies (many of which will be online), governed generally by continental, regional or international ruling bodies.

In this “new order,” people around the world that share characteristics WILL find each other. Think long tail, but for people: make everyone available, and help them find each other. It’s already happening. If dating services allow you to find matches based on 40+ characteristics, then why couldn’t that idea be used to build online e-nations of people that share ideas, beliefs and goals? Once these e-nations are created, doesn’t it follow that marketers will jump at the opportunity to talk to pre-organized, homogenous demographic groups?

The Next Generation
In Marketing 2.0 (a placeholder term that I’m inclined to use because I have to call it something), brands and people communicate back & forth. We haven’t quite perfected this yet and there’s still a huge amount of marketers that continue to message to people unaware of how they’re receiving the information.

So here’s a cocktail we’re all thirsty for: take 2.0-style 2-way communications and with the aforementioned prealigned “new order.” Splash of vermouth. Three olives. A world of more specific, smaller communities that share intricate, collaboratively designed identitiescombined with improved global communication to these groups results in a single multimedia channel for brand-to-person discourse.

In order to be effective, these brands have to be relevant to the community/e-nation. Otherwise they won’t make it past the bouncer. And I imagine these e-nations being very exclusive. I don’t think that’s a good thing but it’s probably the way it’ll shake out. The improved 2-way communication helps the brands become more relevant to the identity of the community. The brand identity changes and gets more specific to a given audience than it was when it started out. The changes that the brand undergoes bring it ever closer to the center of the characteristics shared in the e-nation. The differences that separate the identities of the “group” and the “brand” start to fall away. At the same time, the brands that are accepted by a given community become globally broadcast signifiers of what that community is all about. And while brands have always done this, in the future they become more accurate and more relevant standards for who we are. At that point, brands become part of our identity.

And we end up in a spot beyond Marketing 2.0, scratching our heads and wondering if it needs a name.

[Help me finish this. What have I left out? What doesn't make sense?]

[Primarily written in an RV park in Grand Prairie, Texas. Thanks to Cameo, The Roots, The Beatnuts, De La Soul, Le Tigre and Handel, and of course, to my iPod’s shuffle feature.]

Collaboration & Engagement

I love the new trend toward open-source idea refinement. It’s worked for Russell Davies, who has made two (as far as I can tell) presentations using ideas that his readers helped generate. And he does a great job with attribution. In many ways, it’s the perfect model for creating loyal readers. After all, we’ve all got something to say (otherwise we wouldn’t be blogging), and we love to see that our comments are going somewhere.

This morning, John Grant over at BrandTarot is hoping to get some feedback on his ideas regarding the future of engagement. GO and CONTRIBUTE. That’s what this is all about.

The exitcreative summary? After offering a historical perspective, Grant offers some great ideas for where brand engagement will be in the (near) future, where things are “lived not announced.”

I contributed the following:

“While it’s true that networks are spreading information, trends, influences, etc. faster than ever, I think that there’s something more to this idea of engagement that you hit on with each of your 5 engagement ideas/examples.

It’s the idea of a brand being completely, inextricably connected to a specific social identity. Take people who define themselves, as a group, as “beautiful people” for example. The future of REAL engagement is when a set of brands help define the identity of that social group. Of course, the constituents of that group help define the identities of “their” brands, and they all happily move into the future, constantly evolving and redefining each other based on their shared needs and wants. This idea of a dating service for “beautiful people” is a perfect example. Beautiful People define what it is and how it works. In response, the dating service helps define who is “in” and who is “out” of the group. Other brands–for instance, a fashion brand–join the group of accepted brands and are similarly engaged in the collaborative definition of identities.

Overall, it’s my belief that the network was always there. It’s better now, and it enables these things to happen. But I’m convinced (for now) that it’s about shared identities and collaboration between brands and social groups.”

All the Beautiful Details

I found a great idea on The Lex Eclectic, a personal Myspace blog of a girl I went to college with. We crossed paths at the Occidental Weekly. I believe she edited our copy, but my memory is a little froggy. The following is a quote from a recent post about a trip to New York. Besides being a nice read, the post relates pretty well (in my mind) to our mandate: making better advertising and helping customers create real experiences with our brands.

“Oh how there are people I love! And oh how I love them! Sometimes it feels like my heart is stretched round the whole globe. ‘You can never replace anyone because everyone is made up of such beautiful specific details.’ And it thrills me to sit across a table from a love I havent seen in many months and revel in the specificity of her energy.” (Read the full post here)

We all feel this way about our friends. We don’t all express it this well.

I don’t think brands can ever reach this level of intimacy with their customers/users/whatever you want to call them. But what’s the thing that makes people irreplaceable? Beautiful, specific details. What stands to make brands irreplaceable? Beautiful, specific details. Communicated straight up.

One Word Equity? I’m not so sure.

Initially, on Identity

I’m currently reading The Ethics of Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah. I was first introduced to Appiah, I think, by Prof. Movindry Reddy of Occidental College. The book was published in 2005. Appiah is professor at Princeton and is a leading thinker in the identity arena.

One of the notions that sticks out is the idea of identification and identity. “Once labels are applied to people,” Appiah writes, “ideas about people who fit the label come to have social and psychological effects. In particular, these ideas shape the ways people conceive of themselves and their projects” (Appiah, 66).

In support of this notion, or rather, to introduce it, Appiah mentions the Robbers Cave experiment of 1953, where two groups of young boys were taken to a camp in the Sans Bois Mountains of Oklahoma. The boys were from a generally homogenous white background and were settled in separate camps in the deep woods. Once each group of boys had set up camp, they were told of the presence of the opposing settlement. In a rather Lord of the Flies style, they competed against each other in a variety of physical battles including baseball and tug-of-war.

In a matter of four days, each camp (on their own!) developed an identity: one named themselves the Rattlers and the other the Eagles. The Rattlers, fittingly were the tough ones (swearing, fighting…the whole ‘tough guy’ bit) while the Eagles maintained a stoic, gentlemanly air. The really interesting part: “The groups did not arrive with these names; nor did it occur to group members that they needed a name, until they learned about the presence of another group on the campgrounds” (Appiah, 63). Somehow, within the span of four days, these kids–out of thin air–developed distinct identities.

So here’s the link-up to the ad world. Appiah goes on to discuss the fact that collective social identities have a structure, requiring the following:

1. Publicly available and mutually understandable terms to describe the group (collective labeling)
2. Acceptance and internalization of the labels as factors of individual identity (collective acceptance)
3. Universally accepted patterns of behavior toward the group (collective action)
(Appiah, 66-69)

Social networking services are making identities increasingly manipulable by companies. Sure, society and politics (generally) always had the ability to mold identities. But now we as marketers have the capacity to create, define and cultivate collective identities for profit. We can contribute to the definition of social niches by helping them define themselves against the Other, or by offering them tools to enrich their lives. Understanding of this capability, in fact, has been the foundation of some of the greatest marketing campaigns of all time.

In my mind, this is one of the most powerful and potentially dangerous capabilities presented by our business. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use this power, but we must be cognizant of the affect we have on social identity.