The following was inspired by an article about the rather odd TV show Mad Men.
Over the last years, I have been absorbed primarily by projects designed for open systems. These are systems that take in new data in order to create new ideas and eventually client opportunities. I like open systems. I feel comfortable in them. At the same time, I have to recognize that closed systems also have a certain appeal. And they are thriving in our business ecosystem — where they gain a foothold.
How does a closed system work? You make it work in a two step process. The first step is to identify whom you want inside. Usually, this group has money or some sort of cache that money is attracted to (youth, beauty, genius, power, adventure, charisma, and so forth). They are the heroes of the story you will create. The second step is to create a language only for them. To pretend that no one else exists. This creates the exclusion that heightens the feeling of protection inside the club. Once this language is created, you are done. Why? The weird thing is that repeated use of the language converts the excluded into loyal clients. And the story? It tells itself in images.
Don’t believe me? Ok … so do you really think that fashion magazines are sold primarily to models, photographers and designers? Are Armani or Lauren clothes really just for the rich? Is James Bond really about and for secret agents? Or my favorite, are safari clothes (you know the style) primarily for going on safari? Or are sports cars primarily for race car drivers? How about this famous line from the sophisticated barman at an exclusive hotel. A client asks how the hotel gets away with charging 20£ for a gin and tonic. “To keep out people like you” comes the rather abrupt retort. Ouch! So, does the chagrined client want to go or stay? Oddly enough, both. The insult stings, of course, but even then, the desire to be in the club lingers.
Think about it next time you receive a branding message. What sort of closed system are they excluding you from? Then hold onto your wallet!
FOLLOW - Two quick riffs on closed systems. Kenneth Clark starts off his classic treatment of romanticism with a critique of closed versus open aesthetics. A Bloomsbury Life interviews David Netto, a hero of those who would adopt and live by certain standards. It’s not for everyone, you know. (can you feel the intended exclusion?)
2d FOLLOW - The ultimate pull of a closed system is to give a hint of the divine to those who live in the real world. As some have understood, it is not important whether the object of attention is worthy of the status that is demanded — as long as the illusion can be sustained.