Teenage Beer Drinking Party … Shibboleths

For one entire year in high school, at least once a week, I calmly walked into our Principal’s office, was offered the use of the PA system with a smile and I announced the time and location of a teenage beer drinking party that was broadcast throughout the entire high school. Eventually most of the kids from two different high schools made it out to one of the parties. I never got caught. Ferris Bueller eat your heart out.

Of course I did not actually announce, “Hey everyone! They will serve us booze at Daniel’s Restaurant! See you there at 7 pm tonight!” I spoke in code …

“There will be a Break Dance Club meeting at Danny’s at 7 pm tonight. Members are reminded to arrive promptly and dress appropriately.”

This was long before the “flash-parties” that are the terror of today’s parents, where news of a private “parents away!” party can spread by text message like wild fire and quickly escalate into a swarm of dangerous strangers wrecking and looting a home. That is an entirely different communication effect with its own memetic qualities.

“Break Dance Club” became a “shibboleth” for some of the teen community in my home town. The idea of a Break Dance Club seemed innocent enough to our teachers and parents in a context where a moon walking Michael Jackson was a mass communication pop culture hit. To us the idea of a “Break Dance Club” was an immediate attention getter. Our party music came from Canadian punk rock bands like Teenage Head and the raging guitars of April Wine.

Who are the goofs in this “Break Dance Club”? (murmurred explanation) Ahhhh … ok, I “get it”. I’m “in”. See you there. Hey – are you going to the Break Dance Club meeting? Wha? And so on …

What are your brand “shibboleths”?

Do you know the “shibboleths” of your competitors?

I wonder what Chip & Dan Heath would say about the structural factors that make effective shibboleths? I am reading their book about the memetics of ideas, “Made to Stick“. It is great! But it is focused on how to achieve mass viral success. So far I have not seen them elaborate on how a memetic brand can also have elements that are exclusive – maybe to your employees, perhaps to only your most important customers.

I have been thinking of “Social Capital Value Add” as a sort of shibboleth that will resonate with disciples of value based management, economic profit/economic value add and brand valuation. I am not going after a mass viral “Tipping Point” hit. I am trying to bring a message to a small but potent group of executives within a framework that brings them meaning both in terms of how to understand what is happening and what to do about it.

Is that the right approach?

Anywhoo – thank you to my friend Doug Ireland for explaining to me what I am thinking.

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