SOCIAL media is a-twitter (sorry, couldn't resist the pun) with the Volkswagen Superbowl ad spoken by white, non-Jamaicans in Jamaican.
Of course, some Jamaicans are questioning this caricature of Jamaicans -- as one of my Facebook friends posted: "The ad appears to be stoking some of the worst stereotypes of Jamaica, easy-going, read lazy; island time, read always late; eat, drink, and be merry, and don't plan because every little thing will be alright".
And now there is a debate on the main networks in the USA about whether the ad is racist! For the record, very few, if any, of my Jamaican friends think it's racist. In the cut and thrust of the in-the-moment world of social media, there are now two "Jamaicans for Volkswagen" Facebook pages, and we are heading in droves to the Today Show website to vote 'Yes! we love the ad!' And 'No!it's not racist to us'.
Just one of the complexities of being Jamaican — we don't equate being Jamaican with being black, for Jamaicans come in many hues and a mix of ethnicities. It's complicated...
As I watch all of this unfold, I muse "What we can learn from this?"
The "Jamaica" brand has been touted for centuries. It is reputed that Christopher Columbus exclaimed upon first seeing Jamaica, "Tis the fairest isle on which man has ever set eyes." And numerous visitors would agree. And for us who "born ah yard" (born there), we would concur wholeheartedly. Jamaica will provide you with some of the most breathtaking vistas you ever could see.
Brand Jamaica continued apace, built by people like Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a pan-Africanist who has been the inspiration for people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X; Harry Belafonte, who became famous singing about the island home of his ancestors; Bob Marley, need I say anything about this Time magazine-anointed bard of Song and Album of the 21st Century, who is beloved, revered and inspires billions? And now Usain Bolt, the fastest man ever and the personification of what Jamaica means to the world.
All of these men (and there are many women too, like Mary Seacole, Amy Jacques Garvey, Louise Bennett-Coverley, to name a snippet) have worn their Jamaican identity proudly. All of them have embodied, augmented and built the Jamaica brand.
So now, Jamaican culture is recognised as one of the coolest on earth; many words in Jamaican patois make it to the Oxford English Dictionary each year and enjoy universal usage; our reggae music is mainstream, featuring in many an advertisement or movie soundtrack; "jerk" appears on the menus of restaurants the world over. Not bad for a tiny island with just 2.7 million people (plus an estimated 2.5 million living overseas).
There's something about Jamaica; you can recognise us even before we open our mouths — the swagger, the out-thrust chest, the energy. As we in Jamaica would say, "We large and in charge."
This is our brand. So what can we learn from this amazing phenomenon? As a consultant and business strategist, I constantly seek the lessons, in particular from less-obvious sources. Here are four that come to my mind:
1. Know what your brand stands for. A question on my Facebook page: "What does Jamaica have to do with selling cars?" Nothing. But Jamaica has everything to do with "selling" happy experiences, hence our tourism industry. Is it too obvious to point out that VW is not selling cars? The company is selling happiness ... via its cars.
I will always remember Usain Bolt saying in an interview at the Beijing Olympics, "I'm an entertainer. I come out to entertain the fans." Huh? Thought he was an athlete? Wrong.
Bolt is an entertainer. He knows it. His fans know it. Which is why after the less than 10 seconds of glory-Bolt speed, fans revel in his mainstage afterglow! Happy experiences Bolt-style.
Great branding is about knowing what business you are truly in; defining the value you wish to create and designing ways to do so. Did you always think that Starbucks sells coffee? And Apple sells technology? That's a very small part. The "magic" is in their brand value. Which is why their brands command such premiums.
2. The brand is personal. Sure, "Jamaica" is a brand, but every single Jamaican embodies this brand. Every one of us is a part of it, and every one of us conveys the brand image every day. From the musician, the waiter in the hotel, the taxi driver, the business executive — all display, in their own interpretation, the Jamaica brand.
The lesson for any brand is that to make your brand powerful, each team member must embody it while placing his or her own imprint on it.
Let's take another famous brand — Starbucks. Howard Schultz may be the CEO and may have formally defined the Starbucks brand, but each Starbucks team player builds the brand every time he/she serves a customer. You know how you are going to be served at Starbucks, and it's different to Second Cup or McDonalds. Making sure that each team member understands what the brand means to him/her personally and is aligned with the brand is crucial to brand building.
3. The brand is global. A Jamaican accent spoken by mid-Western Americans selling a German car. Great branding knows no borders and embraces the differences. You have to dispel with the obvious and make linkages that don't seem to make sense. Why didn't they get a Jamaican to do the ad? someone asked on my Facebook page. Well, that would be just too obvious, boring and would lack real impact. VW made linkages that were neither obvious nor expected. And it works.
4. The brand is multi-dimensional. The Jamaica brand is colourful (black, green, gold), noisy (reggae music, the language, the accent), sweet (oh yes — the good ganja herb, sea, fresh air), spicy (jerk, our cuisine) and fun (that energy of which I spoke earlier). No one of these stands alone — they work best when they come together. So Usain Bolt doesn't just run fast, he is larger than life, colourful, noisy, energetic, playful.
When building your brand, consider all dimensions and how they interweave and come together. Again, look at another great brand — Apple. Enter an Apple store and you have entered a shrine to the master of sleek design, not just in their products, but also in the décor, the colour, the lighting. You feel sleek, sophisticated and sexy entering those hallowed halls.
Building a great brand is not something easily done. It requires time, effort and attention to detail. It also requires the willingness to take risks, to push the borders of what's acceptable. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. In the case of VW and Jamaica, I think both win. Das auto. Irie.
And something else to consider: What's your personal brand?
What do you stand for?
How relevant are you globally?
How willing are you to take risks, cut across boundaries, jump outside of boxes?
Are you creating value?
Luckily for me, I am a born Jamaican. I already have a leg-up. It's now up to me to step up! No problem. Free and laughing.