How to Pee in Public and Other Brand Lessons

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No one knows what it means, but it's provocative ... It gets the people going. - Chazz, Blades of Glory

What do comedy and brand content have in common? No, this isn't a set-up to some corny industry punchline (although we welcome your suggestions in the comments section of our blog). What we're talking about is the sheer delicacy of each craft. While one may not think of Borat and his portly producer-friend - locked in a naked wrestlers' embrace - as falling anywhere within the spectrum of delicate, the art of making people laugh is incredibly fragile. One single hesitation, one moment of self-doubt ... and the joke is ruined.

Great comedy requires a near-perfect confluence of timing, style, relevance and, quite frankly, balls to push on society's accepted norms and risk pissing a few people off in the process. Do it right and the pay off is big. Do it wrong and all you'll get is ... crickets. Brands: pay attention, because this lesson applies to you.

As the walls between buyer and seller, creator and user, consumer and brand continue to crumble, the discussion around the creation and value of branded content - good branded content - has never been more relevant. As more brands embrace the idea that they too can be creators of real content, and more importantly culture, the discussion has shifted from, "should we do this?" to "how do we do this well?"

Take what Vans did with Gavin McInnes, comedian and founder of Vice magazine. With the blessing of Vans' top-brass, Gavin created a 7 minute video about "how to piss in public." The video includes no mention of Vans and has nothing to do with shoes, besides Gavin's donning of the company's signature sneakers. Yet it's irreverent subject matter, humor and significance to a subset of young, disaffected, Vans-wearing urbanites earned the video close to 1.2 million views. How's that for cultural currency?

Two other great examples: Intel's beautifully rich documentary-style video showcasing a day in the life of fashion blogger turned demi-god Scott Schumann (aka the Sartorialist), and NBA 2K12's project with San Francisco Giants closer Brian "Fear the Beard" Wilson, that riffs off the endless barroom debate about which NBA team is TRULY "The Greatest of All Time."

As social technologies and sharing continue to influence consumer opinion, we'll see more brands creating this kind of content, except they'll be investing the level of budget once reserved only for 30-second spots.

That said, creating great content is hard, especially for brands. They're competing against creators who know no bounds, have no organizational hierarchy to report to or product to sell. It requires big risk for a brand to get into the content game and create something really funny or provocative or meaningful to their consumers' lives. When it's wrong, it's really wrong. But when it's right, it enters our cultural lexicon.

So are you ready to do it right?