Anarchy Gets a Refresh

Anarchy Gets a Refresh

Crypto is going mainstream. What lessons can you draw for your brand?

What happens when something closely tied to anarchy and anti-establishment leanings goes mainstream? How does it reflect on our culture when a currency that defies government control and oversight is (or has been) worth $1 trillion—half the total U.S. dollars currently in circulation? Or does it matter? We may be talking about a new currency, but we’re still using a $ symbol to measure its value.

Still, it’s hard to deny the value of a currency that Tesla had been accepting as legal tender for your next Model S until quite recently. (Tesla stopped accepting cryptocurrency because of environmental concerns but Bitcoin only lost 20 percent of its value.) What happens when a currency trading floor goes public on the NASDAQ trading floor like Coinbase did in April? Feels a bit “house of mirrors,” doesn’t it? Here we are with an easy way to trade cryptocurrencies, which by every indication are here to stay.

My wife keeps asking me why I’m playing with Monopoly money when I’m not sure I’ll be able to pay for our next vacation with these ethereal coins. The crypto world has been facing a branding challenge: articulating meaning to the mainstream, similar to the hurdles ridesharing and cannabis once faced. Ridesharing overcame suspicion about what it meant to “ride with a stranger” with the reassuring reminder that people have been doing it for years—and it all comes down to the color yellow and a cab number. Cannabis’ shift toward medicinal use helped change perceptions from illicit substance to legitimate Rx. And what does crypto’s apparent success mean for your brand?

If you watch a few YouTube videos on crypto, the ties to anarchy and anti-government/anti-establishment attitudes are hard to miss. The mystique of this new currency system creates both curiosity and concern. It isn’t a top-down structure; it’s from the people, for the people—a collective group popularizing a currency that is outside any government. It makes us reconsider all currencies, like those airline points we wish we could trade on a public market.

We need to rebrand anarchy and anarchists.

So how do we rebrand anarchy and anarchists into something more mainstream and less skate punk scary?

To start, change the visual language—less of the crude hand- painted “A” within a circle and more of a friendly typeface. (Let’s also work in some new headlines: “Anarchists for a better planet,” “Got Anarchy?” or better yet, “Anarchists are people too.” On a serious note, the notion does need a mantra that invites people into a life of rejecting old, now-impractical hierarchies—after all, everyone rejects some hierarchy in their lives.

Behaviors associated with the current brand of anarchy also need to change. This is the hardest part. We need fewer burning buildings and more peaceful protests. These new behaviors can be incentivized through rewards programs like  “points for protesting,” with loss of points for, say “throwing Molotov cocktails, again.” The points get you a free month of Netflix so you can spend more time on your couch and less time breaking things.

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Here’s the point: If crypto currencies are a thing, and there’s plenty of evidence they are—then anarchy is a more mainstream concept than ever. And, if anarchy can be rebranded as a safe place to reject old hierarchies rather than a raging crowd looking to abolish all government, anything is possible.

The next time you’re facing the fear of change, even though you know your brand needs a refresh, consider the brand challenges that cryptocurrencies face as brands and how much value they’ve achieved. Then, start with a set of questions:

  • What behaviors do we need to change surrounding our brand? Every brand is defined by the decisions the team makes, then how the brand is perceived to “behave.”
  • Does our visual language reflect who we are and does it attract the people we want to have as clients, customers, and advocates? A quick image search around our brand name and the most commonly used words in our lexicon can be a test.
  • What do we need to throw out so we have room for something new in the box of meaning that is our brand? Giving up something can happen deliberately, or it can happen accidentally.

Weigh the act of change against a clear and articulated understanding of what no change looks like in two, five, or 10 years. Can you afford change? Can you afford not to change?

How fast are our audiences changing? What we knew about them before the pandemic is likely no longer the same. Have we checked? How fast is our category changing? What behaviors, messages, and tactics can we extrapolate from observing our competitive set and those adjacent to us?

What would anarchists do?

Aaron Keller (aaronkeller@capsule.us) is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule (capsule.us), a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand, physicsofbrand.com.

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