It was a brisk September night. I was unprepared for the weather that day, wearing only a tan cashmere
sweater underneath my sports jacket. I was still cold from the walk from my hotel to the pier as I boarded
the crowded cruise ship on which I was going to meet Martin Lindstrom for the first time. He had spoken
that day at a food service conference held by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute,the venerable Swiss think
tank, and David Bosshart, the conference organizer, was eager for us to meet. I had never heard of Martin
before. We moved in different circles. However, I had seen BRANDchild, Martin’s latest book, in the JFK
airport bookstore before I flew into Zurich.
Anyone seeing Martin from twenty feet away might mistake him for someone’s fourteen-year-old son,
being draggedreluctantly to meeting after meeting with his father’s overweight graying business
associates. The second impression is that somehow this slight blond creature has just stepped into the
spotlight—you wait for the light to fade, but it doesn’t. Like a Pre-Raphaelite painting there is a glow that
emanates from Martin as if he was destined to be on stage. No, not as a matinee idol, but as some godwaif. The man exudes virtue. Close up, he is even more startling. I’ve never met anyone with such wise
eyes set in such a youthful face. The touch of gray and the slightly crooked teeth give him a unique visual
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signature. If he weren’t a business and branding guru, you might ask him for an autographed picture or
offer him a sweater.
Idon’t think we exchanged more than ten words that night seven years ago. But it was the start of a
personal and professional friendship that has stretched across five continents. From Sydney to
Copenhagen, from Tokyo to New York, we conspire to make our paths cross. Laughter, discussion,
mutual council—it has been a unique pleasure. Martin spends three hundred nights a year on the road. Idon’t have it that bad, but after a certain point you stop counting the strange pillows and discarded flight
coupons and just enter into the comradeship of road warriors.
Martin watches, listens, and processes. The bio on his Web site says he started his advertising career at
age twelve. I find that less interesting than the fact that at about the same age his parents pulled him out of
school,hopped on a sailboat and went around the world. I know that at age twelve I couldn’t have lived
on a ten-meter boat for two years with my parents. Martin says he still gets seasick and chooses to live in
Sydney, which is about as far away from his native Denmark as you can get.
In the world of learned discourse what is fun is finding yourself sharing opinions with people whose
pathway to thatpoint of view has been different from yours. It’s both a form of validation and a reality
check. In my career as an anthropologist of shopping, I haven’t always seen eye to eye with advertisers
and marketers. For one, I have a fundamental distrust of the twentieth-century fascination with branding; I
don’t own shirts with alligators or polo players on them and I rip the labels off the outside of myjeans. In
fact, I think companies should pay me for the privilege of putting their logo on my chest, not the other way
around. So it’s a bit strange for me to find myself in the same pulpit with someone who is passionate about
branding and believes that advertising is actually a virtuous endeavor, not just a necessary evil. What we
share is the belief that the tools for understanding why wedo what we do, whether it’s in shops, hotels,
airports, or online, need to be reinvented.
Through the end of the twentieth century merchants and marketers had two ways of examining the
efficacy of their efforts. First was tracking sales. What are people buying and what can we ascertain from
their purchase patterns? I call it the view from the cash register. The problem is that it validates...
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