The story of Chicken Little (sometimes known as Chicken Licken) is better known in the US than in the UK. The gist of the tale is that Chicken Little rushes around convinced that disaster is imminent and that the sky is about to fall on his head. Apologies for giving away the end of the story, but you will be pleased to know that it doesn't.
Working in the communications industry it can sometimes feel that there are rather a lot of Chicken Littles running around squawking. Media fragmentation, consumer empowerment, societal cynicism and declining trust - it all adds up to a lot of questions about what business we are in and what exactly is our creative product.
Go back over 100 years ago to Paris: Two newspapers were locked in a vicious circulation battle, L'Auto and Le Velo. In an attempt to create buzz and excitement and to drive sales, the team at L'Auto came up with the idea of a cycling race around France of which they would be the official sponsor. And so the Tour De France was born. Did it work? Well, circulation of the paper went up from 24k copies to 854k copies a day at its peak in 1933 by which time its rival Le Velo had gone out of business.
Still in France at about the same time, Andre Michelin looked around him at the changing habits of the French and saw that they were taking weekend trips and driving holidays. Michelin thought to himself, how can my tyre company provide something of use to these people over and above tyres. And so the Michelin Guide was born, Interestingly it took about 20 years for Michelin to start charging for the Guide as he said that when people got something for free in his opinion they did not value it as much as something that they paid for . Sound like an example of Brand Utility to anyone?
In the 1950s in England the Starbucks of their day were the Lyons Corner Houses - started up by the Lyons Coffee Company, this chain of coffee houses (some where even 24 hours) were a place for people of all ages to meet, relax, drink coffee and listen to music. The British Big Band scene was huge at that time and some of the UK's most famous Big Bands would perform live. The music and coffee combo proved so successful that Lyons had their own record label so if you liked the music you could go and buy the record. Sounds like a lo-tech version of the current Starbucks-iPod initiative.
To my mind, Ford's Where Are The Jonses is a Web 2.0 version of P&G's 1957 collaboration with CBS, the soap opera As The World Turns, which in turn was simply an updating of P&G's 1933 radio soap Ma Perkins. Soap operas being a platform for advertising...soap.
During this time when channels of mass media were not yet fully formed, brands needed to think differently about how they connected with consumers, not just where. It has come full circle. For all the reasons listed at the start of the post (media fragmentation, consumer empowerement etc) we are now in a period when once again brands have to think diferently about those genuine points of creative connection.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.