Thursday, February 5, 2009

What exactly is a Brand Provocateur?

Advertising, Aggitation officer, Brand, Branding, Gapingvoid, Sally Hogshead, Hugh MacLeod, Jaiku, Jyri Engestrom, Mark Earls, Marketing, ©Brand ProvocateurJust tonight I noticed that another advertising person in the US is using the job description and title of "Brand Provocateur" on her Twitter Page and it made me wonder, "Did she write it all on her own and I wrote mine all on my own?", or is there the possibility that that person saw mine and said, "hmm, I like that" and used it as well. It is always possible that two minds, thinking about the same thing, can come up with the same answer to the same problem. But not usually. So I'm taking this opportunity to claim © Brand Provocateur (along with the term ©Siliconmunists) and state my own philosophy on things of this nature:

At the time of my writing, a year ago or so, I made certain to Google the term, to make sure I
wasn't infringing on someone else's creation, and nothing came up - so I felt very clear in coining it. Google it today and you'll find that my credits for the term include 8 of the first 10 mentions on page one. A while ago I wrote to Hugh MacLeod of and asked him if he coined the phrase, "Digital nomads"? Hugh wrote back to me, "No, I wish I had", and that to me seemed the way things like this should go. Hugh however, has written extensively on the term "Social objects" and anyone using it, including Mark Earls recently, has quite rightfully credited Hugh as a practitioner of the theory - and Hugh in turn, has rightfully attributed the coining of the term to anthropologist and Jaiku founder, Jyri Engestrom. And so I do the same, whenever I use terminology that may not be common in the lexicon, yet. This is all part and parcel to the spirit of the Creative Commons license that accompanies this blog which states, basically, that anybody may use anything printed here, so long as they credit the original author and are not using the term or idea to make money or create derivative works. But coining a term and defining a concept are two entirely different things and so, I'm going to do a bit of defining at this point.

Suffice to say that for me, the concept of "Brand Provocateur" was born out of the concept of an Army "Agitation officer" that had been explained to me quite a few years ago. The Agitation Officer's role was to be a member of the team but to also strategically agitate the troops when things seemed to be going too much by the book and so in being a Brand Provocateur I believe my job is to provoke, incite with insights, and generally stir up the soup in an organization on behalf of a brand with the charge of invigorating, or reinvigorating the energies that make the brand endearing to consumers in the first place. Essentially, I get paid to kick up shit, because most companies have a hard time doing that from the inside. My post "Into the Gapingvoid" uses a passage from my book to illustrate the difficulties of instituting change from within:

From Wild Wild East:

"Burnett would struggle in the years after that, loosing client upon client, all for different reasons, but the message was clear: this was a company tied to the images of the Marlboro Man and the Keebler Elves struggling to come to grips with a vision and technology that was much more Mario and Pokemon."

I told people for years that my job was to be the exact opposite of everyone else at the agency, that by sheer force of individuality and a measured detachment I provided a service that they desperately needed – objectivity. But it's hard to maintain that kind of freedom once you become part of an organization because the organization won't let you. They hire you because you are different but then try to make you the same as they are. This is pure organizational psychology. There is little one can do about it – within the organization, that is.

But the art of Brand Provocation need certainly not be a negative one - rather it is a process of reviewing, rethinking and repositioning a good deal of already familiar attributes in new and enlightening ways to reawaken a brand in the eyes of it's participating users, along with discovering new avenues for brand dialogue and excecution as well. As a Brand Provocateur, clients should expect me to use constructive provocation, dispassionate aggression, and certainly here in Asia, not disrupt the personal harmony of the people involved. I witnessed Stan Richards break up an office scuffle once with the line, "Look boys, around here we get paid to get mad at the problem, not the people". And so it should be with any Brand Provocateuring I do. Is "provocateuring" a word? Aw hell, it is now. Or maybe it should be Provocateering? Here are a few guidelines I use to define the disciplines of BrandProvocateur:

1) A Brand Provocateur is practising an art, not a science

Remember that and you will never have to argue against the defense of "But we've never done it that way before". In art, that statement alone becomes the very reason you are doing something. The lack of logic is the logic itself.

2) A Brand Provocateur is dispassionately aggressive

My definition of dispassionate does not means that you have no passion, or cannot recognise it - rather I use it to define all passions as having a sort of equality. If a consumer truly hates your product his/her opinion is at least as valuable as one from someone who loves it - maybe more so. Approaching all passions, dispassionately, with an aggressivness to uncover a full range of emotions will open far more doors of opportunity than had you only focused on things that you or the people who are paying you liked.

3) A Brand Provocateur uses schizophrenia as a tool

So the minute you have an idea, invert it. Attack it. Write it over in the voice of a twelve year old girl, then a cat, a criminal mind, a prophet, a ninja, your mother and maybe Simon Cowell. That will be a good start. Then you'll simply get more ideas rather than the same idea differently stated. Try it. I'm not kidding.

This year begins with financial problems all over the world, and it doesn't take long for those problems to filter down to the marketing world. But we all know the opportunity side of that coin as well, so the horizons for those of us who do choose to wear the mantle of Brand Provocateur should indeed be bright. I hope more people choose to use the term. Because, I apparently, am not the only one who thinks it's right for the times.

... if you're a Brand Provocateur as well, or need one, make sure to leave a comment. To know more about Brand Marketing Training in Vietnam, go here <


  1. David, love your title "Brand Provocateur"! And like Hugh MacLeod of GapingVoid, wished I had coined that word too ;)

    From someone that has her roots from both a boutique and big MNC agency, I sympathize with your experience before of "trying to fit into" their "corporate culture" but standing out due to your different perceptions of creativity.

    Yet in Vietnam, we so wish that people and clients could just "look outside of their blinders" and try new things as well -- so important if we have to raise the bar on creative quality and foresight among the local creatives and visionaries.

    Btw, is your book available in Vietnam?

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Hi Mystic. Thanks for the nice comments. Contact me at and let's get together, okay?

  4. Also cool!... and a great site!

    If you want to see the last version of our Brand 3.0 unfinalized manifesto (it will remain in this chaotic stage), you'll find it at

    BTW... Thanks for visiting Brand 3.0

  5. A fantastic post - explains a lot of things in my own approach and career which I have been struggling to articulate to date ....

    Will follow this thread eagerly

    Hugh B, London

  6. A fantastic post - explains a lot of things in my own approach and career which I have been struggling to articulate to date ....

    Will follow this thread eagerly

    Hugh B, London

  7. Thanks Hugh! I've relocated to Munich and so am in the process of reviewing and recirculating some of my brans related posts. Check out the rest of the blog for other things on the lunatic fringe.

  8. Hi David,
    Just discovered you on linkedIn. Love the term brand provocateur. It describes the way I like to approach client challenges perfectly.
    Coincidently I'm spending quite some time in Munich, because of one of my clients who has his main office there. I've been enjoying your observations and insights on "Wild Wild East Dailies" and intent to keep doing so. Maybe we can get together for a Weissbier" one of these days. Rob Bee


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