Dr. Marcus Collins
Welcome to our first episode of season 4 of The Art of Sway! In this kickoff discussion, host Danielle Wiley chats with award-winning marketer, cultural translator, and author Dr. Marcus Collins, who has also run digital strategy for global icons like Beyoncé.
Marcus shares his insights on the intricate dance between technology and human behavior, showing how tech tools aren’t just passive devices; they actively influence and extend human capacities. For instance, everyday objects like glasses and clothes aren’t merely functional — they influence perceptions and social dynamics. In the same vein, platforms like TikTok and Instagram can intensify our inherent tribal inclinations, governing the way we build communities.
Marcus also delves into the concept of cultural identity and how it influences our worldview and behavior, sharing personal anecdotes that highlight the power of community and shared values (plus the innate human tendency to be tribal, seeking out sub-communities even within broader groups).
One standout story from this episode describes the bold move by Farmland, a Kansas City pork manufacturer, who took on the streetwear titan Supreme — not in a battle of trademarks but in a masterstroke of cultural influence.
In a world that never stops moving, brands have the unique opportunity to genuinely connect with communities and make a lasting impact. It’s not enough to just observe; it’s time for brands to take the helm and direct the cultural conversation. Dive into this episode to uncover how brands can adeptly navigate and shape cultural waves!
- The transformative power of social platforms on our inherent tribal instincts
- An exploration into how digital connections defy the natural decay time typically imposes on real-world relationships
- The audacious Farmland VS Supreme saga: An underdog tale of how a pork manufacturer cleverly countered a streetwear behemoth
- The role of brands in today’s age: Steering the cultural discourse rather than just joining it
- A deep dive into “The Bear” phenomenon and the magnetic pull of media content on the collective psyche
About Our Guest: An award-winning marketer, cultural translator, and author, Marcus brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. From his early days at Wieden + Kennedy to his current role as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Marketing at the esteemed Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Marcus has made significant contributions to the advertising industry. He is the author of the insightful book “For the Culture” and has played
Episode 37: Dr. Marcus Collins
Danielle Wiley: Welcome to The Art of Sway, the podcast that uncovers the power of influence and its impact on all areas of our lives. I’m your host, Danielle Wiley. Each week, we’ll explore the many facets of influence through candid conversations with industry insiders, from brand marketers to social workers, educators, leaders, and more. Let’s dive in. Dr. Marcus Collins is an award-winning marketer and cultural translator. He’s the former head of strategy at Wieden+Kennedy New York and a clinical assistant professor of marketing at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. He’s also the author of the book For the Culture, published this past summer. Marcus is a recipient of Advertising Age’s 40 Under 40 Award and an inductee into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Achievement. Most recently, he was recognized by Thinkers 50 and Deloitte among their Class of 2023 radar list of 30 thinkers with the ideas most likely to shape the future.
Danielle Wiley: His strategies and creative contributions have led to the launch and success of Google’s Real Tone technology, the Made in America Music Festival, and the Brooklyn Nets, among others. Prior to his advertising tenure, Marcus worked on iTunes plus Nike sport music initiatives at Apple and ran digital strategy for Beyonce. Marcus holds a doctorate in marketing from Temple University, where he studied social contagion and meaning-making. He received an MBA with an emphasis on strategic brand marketing from the University of Michigan, where he also earned his undergraduate degree in material science engineering. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since I moved to Ann Arbor two years ago, I’ve been doing everything I can to meet some of the smart people who also live here, and no surprise, many of these smart people are professors at the University of Michigan.
Danielle Wiley: Two separate professors from the Ross School of Business at Michigan suggested I connect with Marcus, and I am so glad I took that advice. This was one of my favorite podcast episodes to date. I finished Marcus’ book just a few days before we chatted, and by the time I was done, it was littered with Post-it notes of questions I had for him. I could have extended this podcast for twice the length we actually spoke, and I hope this is just the first of many conversations we have. Thank you so much for coming here today. I had a great time last week reading your book, which I’m actually not a huge non-fiction business book reader. I listened to lots of interviews, but usually, my reading is more of a trashy fiction variety, so it’s a big compliment.
Marcus Collins: Well, it depends on if you liked it or not. That’s everything, liking it.
Danielle Wiley: I loved it. I loved it and I’ve been recommending it.
Marcus Collins: Awesome, thank you.
Danielle Wiley: So I would love to start just by talking about your journey because it was as I was reading about it and then I listened to a podcast interview that you did, and it’s like the opposite of mine. So I found it really interesting, ’cause I majored in sociology, ’cause I went to a small school that didn’t have marketing or communications, but I was very interested in marketing and communications. The only department that had any classes that had any relevance whatsoever was the sociology department, which people are always confused by and it makes no sense to them, but your book justified all of that, and it made me feel better about my sad little sociology degree that no one cared about. But you started in engineering and then moved into the study of people and culture and sociology, and so tell us a little bit about that.
Marcus Collins: The majority of my theoretical repertoire sits in the world of sociology, which ironically, was the only behavioral science course I took in undergrad. I took a SOC 101 course that I don’t even remember. It’s terrible, but it’s interesting. So to your point, I started off as an engineer because I thought I wanted to study polymers, carbon chains, and plus I did well in math and science in high school. In those days if you did well math and science and you were Black, you were going to be an engineer, so that’s what I did. I don’t think I’ve had much say in the matter. Those are just the expectations. So that’s what I did, studied engineering undergrad. My first year, realized I didn’t really love engineering. I thought it was interesting, I just wasn’t interested.
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: I didn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. So I came home and told my parents, “I don’t think I want to be an engineer.” My parents talked me into like, “No, keep going.” By talking me into it, I mean big air quotes.
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: It was like, “You going to be an engineer,” so like, “Okay.” I went back my sophomore year, really realized I didn’t want to be an engineer. Again, I thought it was fascinating, and I thought the phenomenal world in which we inhabit was really cool, I just didn’t think about it all day long. It just wasn’t what got me up in the morning. But I took some music theory courses and that did it for me. It’s like, “Oh, this is the thing.” Major sevenths, modal mixtures, you’re talking about modulations, oh, give me that all day long. But unfortunately, my parents didn’t share the same zeal that I did.
Marcus Collins: When I told my parents I want to be a songwriter, they said, “You must be smoking crack because that is not going to happen. No, sir.” So I ended up finishing my degree in engineering, but spent all my time in the recording studio. If I wasn’t in class or when I was supposed to be in class, I was in the recording studio on campus at the University of Michigan. So when I graduated, I became a songwriter. I was writing and producing music for a living, and actually was making a living surprisingly, it was a modest living [inaudible 00:06:26]
Danielle Wiley: They were okay with it then?
Marcus Collins: In their minds, they kept saying, “Engineering’s always a backup.”
Danielle Wiley: Got it. Got it.
Marcus Collins: That was the refrain that, “You can always fall back on it. You can always fall back on it.” I told myself that too. It was a bit of a safety net, if you will, a life preserver that if it all goes away, I can always fall back on engineering. However, I realized after a few years, if you haven’t practiced the thing that you studied, after a few years, you aren’t that thing. I was in the music industry for about six years before I decided to go back to school because I realized that engineering degree, it helped me learn how to think, but I was not an engineer, and I certainly didn’t have the practice of it. So I went to get my MBA because I realized there was a disruption in the music industry that I didn’t know very well that we now know is digital.
Marcus Collins: I knew that the music industry had more to do with business, the music, the music business was more business than music. While I loved music, I knew if I was going to stay in this industry, I had to understand the business. I didn’t know the business at all. So for me, this was about music, business and digital, and marketing was the most creative way to do business in my mind at least. So I said, “I’ll be a marketer. That makes sense, that math maths.” So I went to school to get my MBA, went to go work at Apple doing partner marketing for iTunes, which was amazing. This is the year following the launch of the iPhone, and Apple’s just on fire [inaudible 00:08:06] iTunes is the defacto place for music consumption. iPhone was the coolest thing ever, and Apple was the brand, and I was right in the middle of it, which was amazing. I had a very small role, but right in the middle of it-
Danielle Wiley: It’s still cool to be there.
Marcus Collins: Yeah, it’s super cool to be there. It was along that time that I met a guy named Matthew Knowles who has a daughter named Beyonce, and he goes-
Danielle Wiley: I’ve heard of her.
Marcus Collins: “Wait a minute”… she sings a few songs, and he goes, “Wait a minute, you are an engineer? You started a music company, you have an MBA, you work at iTunes and you’re Black man. You are not real.” He thought I was lying. He was like, “You’re not real.” I was like, “No, man, this is a real thing.” After some colorful conversations, he goes, “You should run digital strategy for my company,” which was the management organization and record label for Beyonce. I go, “Oh, yeah, I should definitely do that.”
Marcus Collins: This is in the I am Sasha Fierce year, so thinking, Put a Ring On It, Single Ladies, If I Were a Boy, Sweet Dreams, all this stuff. This is Beyonce moving from artist to queendom to Queen Bee. It was amazing. But three things I realized that I didn’t know how to say it then, but became very clear for me over the years is that I didn’t know how much of that success was due to anything I did. I couldn’t look in the mirror and say, “I’m really-
Danielle Wiley: Interesting.
Marcus Collins: … good at my job.” Even though I had tons of success working with Beyonce, it was because of Beyonce. [inaudible 00:09:56]
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: I think Beyonce’s like, man-
Danielle Wiley: That’s so interesting. That makes a ton of sense, but I wouldn’t have-
Marcus Collins: I just don’t think-
Danielle Wiley: I wouldn’t have landed there.
Marcus Collins: … Beyonce was like-
Danielle Wiley: But I get it.
Marcus Collins: … “I could not have done this without Marcus,” I’d like to think.
Danielle Wiley: Just you wait.
Marcus Collins: So for me, I was like, “Okay, I don’t know if I’m any good because the success that I’m experiencing, while I may have made some small contribution, I don’t know how much of it hinged on me,” and that didn’t sit that well with me. I wanted to have impact. The second thing is I thought about if I were to stay in the music industry, where do you go after work with Beyonce? Everything just felt like a step down. No shade to anybody else, but everything just felt like it was a downgrade to some degree or another. I was like, “That doesn’t feel awesome.” Then the third thing is that there were rumors that Beyonce was going to break off on her own and be self-managed, which she actually did. I was like, “Oh, man, I need to jump off the ship pretty fast.”
Marcus Collins: So I went into advertising because I thought that advertisers were doing a better job of breaking new artists than record labels were, than the music industry was. Not only that, but they were very much on the bleeding edge of these new technologies that we called social networking platforms. I felt like they knew how to leverage music in really interesting ways. So I was like, “That’s where I’m going to go.” Plus, if I’m being honest with you, Danielle, Mad Men was a really cool show at the time too, and I was like, “I could be Don Draper minus the womanizing, drinking and smoking. I could do that. That’s kind of cool.” So I went to a work at an agency called Big Fuel, pure-play social media agency. For me-
Danielle Wiley: Okay, yeah, very familiar.
Marcus Collins: … they had just acquired all the social media marketing business for General Motors. They’re based in New York, but they were doing all of General Motors’ social. This was like $25 million retainer, unbelievable, just unheard of, unfathomable at that time for a social media agency to do that kind of work. So I went there and learned social, learn the ins and outs, just bootcamp for social, if you will. While I was there, I met a gentleman named Steve Stout, and Stout was the encapsulation of what I thought I wanted to be. Here’s a guy who legendary in the music industry, music executive who went to build an agency called Translation with his partners, Jimmy Iovine and Jay-Z.
Marcus Collins: I go, “That guy is the guy I want to be, music guy in advertising, legends of two games like Pee Wee Kirkland.” I go, “That guy.” He says, “Hey, I’m looking for someone to build a social practice in our organization and lateralize that thinking across all our clients.” I go, “Oh, man, I’m your huckleberry. Let’s do that.” So I went to Translation, which was really, I would say, the biggest inflection point in my career. While Apple was awesome, loved Apple and Beyonce is Beyonce, she’s amazing, but it’s really my time at Translation that changed how I see the world and how I practice in the world. I got a chance to touch these massive, massive campaigns.
Danielle Wiley: That’s what I was going to say, being at an agency, there’s something about being able to touch multiple different accounts-
Marcus Collins: That’s right-
Danielle Wiley: … and seeing how they each approach things differently. There’s something about that education that you get on the ground that it’s hard. Other jobs can be so cool, but until you’re in that agency environment, it’s very unique.
Marcus Collins: Yeah. There’s this social learning that takes place because you see… You know what? The closest proxy to this would probably be the music industry in a lot of ways. It’s when there’s a big studio and artists rent out different rooms, and you walk by and you hear music from this artist and from that artist, you go, “What y’all making over there? What’s going on over there?” You get to actually go into the room and listen to it and someone says, “Maybe change that word to this word.” They go, “Ooh, come in the booth and record that.” So you have to touch things even though you’re not on that account. You get to impact things even though you were just walking by and saw a deck or saw a slide and say, “You think about this.” That’s a really cool thing that you get to learn through osmosis in a lot of ways. But also just because of the conversations that are happening in the hallway among your peers, you get to learn about how ideas came to be, the things that they’re wrestling with and also contribute to it.
Marcus Collins: It’s pretty awesome in a very, very unique way. The agency world, particularly the Translation provide that for me because we were looking at marketing communications with some of the biggest brands in the world from Anheuser-Busch, AB InBev that is, Google, State Farm, McDonald’s, Target, and these massive brands who knew nothing about culture and wanted to tap into culture. That was the promise of the agency. This was about helping ambitious brands thrive in contemporary culture. What I realized is that I was talking the talk, I was like, “Yeah, culture, culture, culture, culture. If you think about this in culture, and get our ideas out in culture and be informed by culture.” But what I realized was that if you put five people in a room and ask them to define culture, you get 50 different answers. I was probably one of those five people with 20 of those answers. While I was talking the talk, I didn’t really know what culture was because I didn’t know anything about people. I was an engineer who slept through my SOC 101 course.
Danielle Wiley: You needed me.
Marcus Collins: I needed you. Danielle, where were you in my life in those early times? I didn’t have that, and what I realized was that there wasn’t a ton of rigor around that either. I think that this is, not I think that, I know that that’s what introduced me to the world of academia because academics, we split hairs about words, constructs. We meticulously interrogate the language that we use so that when you use a word, you better mean it and therefore, you know what it is. As I started studying the behavioral sciences, I just saw that my work got infinitely better. With the Rosetta Stone, it allowed me to operationalize some of these things that scholars from the 1800s on who had rigorously investigated these ideas were able to apply them with some meaningfulness. That was just really, really awesome for me, and that became the second biggest inflection point of my career, which has been the rocket ship that I’ve been on ever since.
Danielle Wiley: So one of the things that really brought the study of culture home to me while reading your book, I loved the whole tribe model thing. Some of it is being in Ann Arbor, and my husband went to Michigan and my daughter’s there and my son’s starting in August and-
Marcus Collins: Awesome.
Danielle Wiley: … we go to all the games, so we have definitely drunk the Kool-Aid. But I loved that section of your book and you talked about taking your students through it, and I wondered if you could take our listeners through it and feel free to use the Michigan example because it’s-
Marcus Collins: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Danielle Wiley: … excellent.
Marcus Collins: So the idea is that when we think about people, we describe people as an industry, as marketers, we put them in these boxes that don’t accurately represent who they are. They’re typically demographic in nature, age, race, gender, household income. But the thing is that people don’t self-identify by that. We self-identify by our cultural subscriptions, by our people, our communities, our tribes or congregations. When you think about that, you go, “Well, yeah, isn’t that a nuanced, subtle difference?” They go, “No, it makes all the difference in the world.” Because of who we are, we see the world a certain way and then behave in the world a certain way. For instance, I’m a Collins, we believe family and church come first, therefore, Sunday mornings I’m in the church sanctuary.
Marcus Collins: Why? Because that’s what people like me do. That’s what Collinses do. I’m a Michigan Wolverine. We believe we’re the best school ever. I suppose it’s debatable, I suppose, maybe, maybe. But that’s what we believe. One thing’s for sure is we believe the worst school on the planet is Ohio State. That’s just what we believe. Because of that belief system, as soon as you matriculate, your identity changes. As soon as you matriculate to come to school saying, “I’m going to be at the University of Michigan,” your identity becomes, “I am now a part of this community,” and therefore, you adopt the cultural characteristics or the social facts, as Durkheim puts it, that govern what it means to be in this community.
Marcus Collins: So it’s like, “Oh, we hate Ohio State? I guess I hate Ohio State too.” That’s just what happens, and the same thing happens at Ohio State. They hate Michigan. So you go, “I’m an Ohio State Buckeye. I guess I hate Michigan now.” This is just what we do. The interesting part is that many people are just indifferent about other schools. I was indifferent about Ohio State until I got here. My identity dictates how I see the world and ultimately, how I show up in the world. But now that I’m a professor at the University of Michigan, my identity has shifted again in that I don’t have any disdain for Ohio State. I may say it jokingly, but I’m indifferent. Well, why is that?
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: Because I look at Ohio State, they’re just an institution for higher learning. I’ve seen some of the research come out of Ohio State, and they’re smart people. Fancy that. No, I’m joking. There’s smart people there and every institution of higher learning has really smart people there who have gone through the academy, who have had peer-reviewed work put in the world. It’s ridiculous to say they’re a bad school. That doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s because of my identity as a professor that I see the world in a more subjective way, and therefore, my cultural behaviors are different, i.e., Ohio State is fine by me. I don’t see it in front of a lot of Michigan alum.
Danielle Wiley: Except the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Marcus Collins: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. But it’s so interesting that our worldview can shift so dramatically by changing our identity, by the shift in our identity. The better we understand that, I think the more that we become A, better practitioners as marketers, but also we become better citizens of the world, that we realize that we’re not operating by any fixed truths, but that everything in the world around us is subjective and socially constructed. Then we go, “Oh, okay, cool.” Then these things can be delegitimated or further legitimated based on discourse, which I think is really powerful.
Danielle Wiley: I’ve been thinking a lot about, obviously tribes have existed forever, and you give that first example of being a Collins, and certainly that doesn’t require any kind of social media connection for that to be a thing. But just thinking back on my life and with as social media has grown, for me at least, that’s such a huge part of the tribes that I’m in. I remember before I had kids a long time ago, I was in AOL message boards for people who had Wymer Honors, ’cause I had a Wymer Honor, and that became my thing.
Danielle Wiley: Then I had kids and I was in a Yahoo message board for people who were due November of 2001 ’cause when my daughter was due and just finding… Now all my tribes are Facebook groups, mostly Peloton related, and those morph. I was in Peloton Moms, and then they got a little sketchy. So then it was like Peloton Working Moms, and then that, there’s some weird stuff going on there. So then I ended up in Progressive Peloton Working Moms. It just kept narrowing and getting, “Where do I go that doesn’t have Trump’s, okay, okay-
Marcus Collins: Right.
Danielle Wiley: … and find your way there?” I’m just curious as to your thoughts as to how social media, as I said, tribes have been around forever, but how do you see social media? Has it created more or has it just made it easier to find lots of them?
Marcus Collins: I typically think about social through the lens of Marshall McLuhan. He’s a sociologist, and he’s really a theorist, a philosopher who studied the relationship between technology and human behavior. McCluhan would argue that technology merely extends human behavior. So like the will is extension of the foot, clothes are extensions of the skin, glasses are extensions of the eyes, light is extension of the day, and cameras are extension of our memory. Social networking platforms by that logic, they only are merely extensions of our real life social networks. I think about this, when I went to my 20-year high school reunion, I expected it to be all the TV shows, but I would show up and be like, “Marcus! What have you been up too? Oh, my goodness! You look so different! Oh, you used to have hair! Oh, my God!”
Marcus Collins: I expected that because that’s what Saved By The Bell would tell me, that’s all the shows I watch. That’s what the cultural production told me what your 20-year high school reunion was going to be. But when I got there, instead, I went with my wife and my eldest daughter, only daughter at the time, Georgia. When we got there, people were like, “Oh my goodness, Georgia, you’re so cute. How was your vacation? I just saw you guys were in LA last week. I love your talk on X, Y, and Z.” What normally would be a natural decay in relationships had created a longer long tail, right?
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: The decay had declined. That’s what social networking platforms do, they extend human behavior. So when you think about the Peloton group you’re in, you go, “Peloton Moms, great! These people are like me.” Then you go, “Oh, not all these people. Let me go find a more specific tribe within this congregation of Peloton riders that are more like myself.” Then you go, “Oh, they’re a little weird. They’re a little sketchy. These people are more like a progressive Peloton mom. These are my people,” and that’s how we navigate life in general. You come to the University of Michigan as a freshman, you go, “These are my people. We’re all Michigan students.” Then you go, “Not these folks, not that folks. Not them, oh, but them.” Then you hang out with them and you go, “Greek life, this is where I’m supposed to be.” Then you go, “Well, not that fraternity, not this fraternity. That fraternity is more like me.” This is how we navigate life. We are wired to be tribal, and tribes aren’t massive populations, they’re smaller communities.
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: We’re meant to live that way, and it’s these technological explosions that not only extend human behavior, but in some ways, exacerbates it. Right? You see it in consumption. You see it in massive populations. That didn’t exist until before the Industrial Revolution. These technological breakthroughs, they have both negative and positive consequences. We as human beings, we’re wired to act a certain way, and that’s what we do predictably.
Danielle Wiley: Yeah. One of the things I loved a lot about your book, but I loved how you gave that real-world instructions on how to learn more about a culture, and you talked about starting with Twitter advanced search, which maybe if Threads can add search in there, transition to Threads, Twitter advanced search, and then going in to Reddit. I’ve just been thinking a lot about how searching has changed for us. Over the weekend, we were trying to rally to go to Eastern Market and instead of Googling, I went to TikTok, and I put in Detroit Eastern Market. I found video tours and people checking it out, and I found people who liked grabbing the treats and the pastries, and then I found people who were getting flowers. You could really find what your experience might be like and live it in a way that it was so much deeper and you got the culture of it so much more than you would from a Google search and just reading some article about it.
Marcus Collins: It’s so unbelievable. I love that. We’ve seen search traffic just skyrocket for TikTok people. You see that as a search engine, and it, of course, has ramifications on Google. But even the way you put it, that you described all the stimuli about the Eastern Market, and you said, “As opposed to just getting an article,” and which says to me the difference is that we want stories as opposed to information, which makes sense because we’re storytelling animals, and we typically exchange information, humans, as stories. I wouldn’t say, “Hey, Danielle, what’d you do on your trip?” “Well, let me give you my itinerary, Marcus.”
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: You go, “Oh, man, you know what? It was so awesome. First of all, I didn’t want to wake up in the morning ’cause I slept so late,” and we tell these narratives. That’s how we are used to communicating, and TikTok provides narratives, not facts-
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: … but narratives, and that becomes a really powerful and vivid way of getting information because that’s what we’re wired to do. I think that is the irony of it all, in my mind at least, is that there’s so much technology at our disposal, but the best technology help us be us. They help us be ourselves. So more vehicles to help tell better stories become ways by which we become more human.
Danielle Wiley: I love that. I love that angle. There’s so much negativity out there, but there’s a lot that’s good about social media at least [inaudible 00:29:15]
Marcus Collins: Yeah, there’s bad to everything. From the beginning of time, we had Cain and Abel, but we also had the Garden of Eden.
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: That’s amazing. There’s good and bad to everything. I think that when you see the world through that lens, you realize that the decisions we make as marketers, as human beings, as leaders, as managers, we make trade-offs.
Danielle Wiley: One of the things I wanted to ask you about, so we are always telling our clients that they need to put aside, we use this term buckets of money just ’cause I like the visual of it, and we’re always telling them, “Okay, we know that you’re going to spend this much on influencer marketing in 2023, but let’s not allocate all of it. Let’s leave some buckets aside for things that come up.” We had a client who jumped on Watertok on TikTok a couple of months ago ’cause they had money set aside, and it made sense for them. I’d love for you to tell the Farmland/Supreme story, ’cause I felt like that… I want to send it to all my clients. I can think of no better way to demonstrate to that. That would’ve never happened if they didn’t have the financial leeway to jump on it.
Marcus Collins: That’s right, and it didn’t cost a terrible amount of money either. What’s that saying that you should keep $1,000 a in savings just in case, just-in-case money? I think that when it comes to marketing communication, you got to leave a little bit of just-in-case money because there’ll be opportunities that are either we have to save ourselves or this could be game changing for us. That was the case with Farmland. So Farmland is a Kansas City pork manufacturer, and most people, if you ask them, don’t have great unaided awareness of Farmland. If you show them the logo, they go, “Oh, yeah, I think I’ve seen it in my grocer, maybe.” But people know what Supreme is. New York streetwear brand, one of the biggest streetwear brands there is. Typically, those brands have nothing to do with each other, absolutely nothing. However, a few years ago, Supreme decided to steal the logo of Farmland to be affixed on their newest streetwear drop. Typically, in those cases, brands will go, “Oh, that’s an IP infringement issue, let’s litigate.”
Marcus Collins: But somehow or another, and I haven’t figured this out yet, but Supreme dodges every single lawsuit that comes their way. Their actual logo was stolen from Barbara Kruger. How is this even a thing? But somehow or another, those lawsuits just roll off of Supreme’s back. So most brands, when they see any infringement, they do nothing because what are you going to do? It’s Supreme. However, for us, we said, “No, no, no, we going to do something about this.” So when one of the guys on the team guy named Nick Navatta, when he saw that their newest drop had our logo, had our client’s logo, we went straight to the client. The client was like a little slowful on it. What actually changed the client’s mind is that their kid said, “This is going to be the coolest thing you’ll ever do. You got to do this.” What we decided to do was tweet back at Supreme after their drop saying, “Hey, we missed the drop. You want to send a couple pair our way?”
Marcus Collins: They didn’t say anything. So at Supreme’s next drop, we decided to make a lookbook of our own, a streetwear lookbook that took our farmers all gussied up in Supreme gear in their natural environment on the farm, it looked like Hypebeast that were lifting up hay and milking cows. The internet went crazy, particularly the community of Hypebeast. It didn’t cost a lot of money, but it required resources to go A, buy the Supreme gear, to go send the agency out to go take photos, to get it pressed up and then get it out in the world. I think that for a brand that no one was talking about, Farmland, immediately, we just saw just a hockey stick growth in search traffic as well as conversations. That’s something that Farmland couldn’t even buy if they had the media dollars to do it. Only culture can drive that, or cultural exchanges can drive that sort of wake. That should be, to your point, inspiring for a lot of brands who go, “Who’s going to talk about my brand? It’s not cool. It’s not whatever.” It’s like, “Well, it’s not about you, it’s about the community.”
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: It’s not about-
Danielle Wiley: The community’s not planning a year in… I talked to so many clients and they’re like, “Well, we’re going to start our 2024 planning in September, and we’ll have it locked in by end of November before the Christmas holidays.” It’s how do you even know what’s going to happen in 2020-
Marcus Collins: That’s right.
Danielle Wiley: No one knew Threads was coming. No one-
Marcus Collins: No. Elon Musk definitely didn’t know it was coming.
Danielle Wiley: So delightful.
Marcus Collins: It’s awesome. It’s awesome. But you’re right, so I think the idea for brands like Supreme and brand, sorry, like Farmland and other ones that may seem sleepy or not conspicuous, to me, I think that, and I included that in the book, not only because it was so successful, but it was also like culture isn’t reserved for only the Nikes of the world. They’re not reserved just for the Apples of the world, but every brand could be a part of culture. Why? Because every brand wants to be a part of people, and culture is the governing operating system of people. So it’s not about how cool your brand is, it’s more so about, how does your brand facilitate these tribal communities? That’s how you participate in culture by contributing to it. For Farmland, we participated in the cultural discourse, not saying, “Hey, our value propositions are so great. Look how thick our bacon slices are.” Instead, we contributed to it in a way that we had license to be a part of it-
Danielle Wiley: Right.
Marcus Collins: … and also contributed to it in a way that was apropos to the discourse that was happening in the community.
Danielle Wiley: Love it. Love it. I could talk to you for another half hour, but we sadly don’t have the time, but I would love… so we’re ending every conversation this season with the same question-
Marcus Collins: Okay.
Danielle Wiley: … which is, what was the last thing that you were influenced to watch by, listen to, or read?
Marcus Collins: Oh, last thing I was influenced to watch would have to be The Bear.
Danielle Wiley: Oh, so good.
Marcus Collins: So I haven’t seen it. Apparently, my wife is on season two with the… unbeknownst to me, and I think that’s what does it. We were 4th of July barbecue with some friends and someone said, “Oh, are you watching The Bear?” I go, “I don’t even know what this thing is.” I was like, “I’ve seen Cocaine Bear. Are we talking about that?” Like, “No, no, no. A show called The Bear.” I go, “What’s it all about?” My wife is like, “It’s so good.” I’m like, “A Tate Brutus, YouTube?” I didn’t even know that you were watching the thing-
Danielle Wiley: That’s so funny. With couples, I was watching, Never Have I Ever, the Mindy Kaling show, and it was the last, what is it? Season 5, and I was on Episode 7. My husband came upstairs and he said, “You’re on Season 5, Episode 7 of some show I never… What life do you have I don’t know about?”
Marcus Collins: I felt so betrayed by my wife. But it was interesting that everyone at the table had seen it and were talking about how awesome it was-
Danielle Wiley: It’s so good.
Marcus Collins: It wasn’t just how well the show was made. They were speaking about the show through these different cultural references, and this is what makes cultural production so contagious is that when there are multiple redundancies of people doing a thing, our people in particular doing a thing, we go, “Oh, I guess I should be doing it also.” As a result, we adopt behavior. Now I’m on Season 1 because my wife and my friends, group of friends are watching The Bear and having conversations about The Bear without me apparently.
Danielle Wiley: Yeah. Well, I’m jealous. I’m jealous that you have it all in front of you ’cause it was awesome.
Marcus Collins: See, and now another friend telling me I should be watching the show-
Danielle Wiley: There you go.
Marcus Collins: That’s why I want it.
Danielle Wiley: There you go. Well, thank you so much. This was wonderful, and well, we’re so close, so hopefully, I can have you on again or maybe even grab a cup of coffee. But it was great meeting you, and again, I loved your book and hope everyone will grab a copy.
Marcus Collins: Thank you so very much. Coffee is a must-
Danielle Wiley: Yes.
Marcus Collins: … and love to be back whenever you’d have me.
Danielle Wiley: Awesome. Thank you for listening. Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. Please check back next Monday for a new episode featuring candid conversations that explore the power of influence. I am your host, Danielle Wiley, and this is The Art of Sway.