The Renaissance of “Me”

By default, we tend to look at one thing as “better than” another.  It doesn’t really matter what it is.  You can believe that “more is better than less”.  Or “less is better than more.”  It’s that one is “better than” the other.   Coke is better than Pepsi.  Pepsi is better than Coke.  Red is better than Blue.  Blue is better than Red.

And so here we were.  People divided in half, by nearly any measure, drifting further apart.  A product of the forces that drive us apart, arguably more apart than we really are.  But I digress. 

The point is, that with any division, a space is created in between.  What we see emerging in this divided space, is a greater sense of self.  Of who I am.  Of what I need.  What’s best for me.  Let the politicians, pundits and powers-that-be argue who’s right, I’m gonna do what’s best for me.   

At Interbrand, we think of this emerging sense of self, as the “renaissance of me” – an elevated form of self-expression, that we increasingly see driving people’s behaviors. 

Since the start of COVID in March 2020, with our partners at C Space, Interbrand has been engaging in an ongoing dialogue with consumers around the world to understand how people are changing on the inside, as the world changes around them from the outside. 

While there are lots of stories to tell, one of the big themes we see is in people’s ability to adapt…from surviving today; to challenging the past; to re-imagining the future.  The constant in it all has been the steady evolution of “me”.  Given the time we’ve spent with ourselves, we’ve thought and rethought everything we do; the people we do them with; what we think, feel and believe…about ourselves, more than anything. 

We are seeing, overall, people have determined that “I am the priority.”  That I have one go-around on this planet, and I am going to embrace the best of it…as I determine it to be the best…for me. 

It sounds rather selfish at first, right?  Me, me, me.  It’s all about me.  Very 80s.  But we see a far more enlightened expression of “me” in 2021. 

Ashok K., from India simply said, “When I buy something…it’s because these are the best for me…”

A consumer in Japan told us, “It took me a long time to buy this [Mercedes], and I finally can express myself.  I worked hard for a long time to get to this point in my life and I feel I deserve to live my life the way I desire.  You only have one life and I feel I want to live it the best way I can. 

Ran T. from China talked about both making her own beauty products and being a big fan of Kiehls because, as she said, “It’s a very effective product for me. At the same time, it is committed to public welfare and environmental protection.  I want to tell the world to respect women and treat women equally.” 

Some REALLY interesting ingredients to unpack in just these few examples:  The best for me; living the life I want to live; and being part of a bigger movement, making the world a bit more right.   

These decisions don’t say, “look at me” or “I’m better than you”.  They say, “here’s what I care about…what’s right for me, so this is the best for me.”  It may seem subtle, but in reality, this is a huge shift in expression: From “better than you” to “best for me”.  To express the best of me, with the best for me. 

This shift is a hard one for brands to get right.  But take a look at Ford.  Ford!?!?!  Yes, Ford.  Ford made two big moves with two of its best known and best-selling models: The F-150, not only the best-selling truck, but the best-selling vehicle in North America; and Mustang, arguably the muscle at the heart of the Ford brand.   

With the F-150, Ford introduced an all-electric model, the F-150 Lightening.  Within the first week of its unveiling, 90% of the pre-orders for the Lightening were for the highest trim level…priced around $90,000 – more than twice the base price of the F-150 Lightening and 3x more than the starting price for the traditional, gas-powered F-150. 

Not to be outdone by its hardworking sibling, Ford’s Mustang rolled out an all-electric model of its own, the “Mustang Mach E.”  While the horsepower and 0-to-60 stats are impressive, what we find most interesting is that 70% of the “Mustang Mach E’s” initial sales were from customers new to the Ford brand. 

In both cases – of the F-150 Lightening and the Mustang Mach E — Ford is creating new relevance for the brand – building a greater premium into the brand and bringing in new-to-the-brand customers.  Ford is re-setting the bar on “best” — not by being a better EV than the market-darling Tesla; or by being an alternative to its gas-powered models; but by crossing electric horsepower and capability with platforms core to its brand, to create new ideas of what “the best” can be. 

In Japan, we see a similar example, albeit in the VERY different category of fashion.  Prada’s newly appointed co-creative director, Raf Simons joined forces with Miuccia Prada to debut a new line of men’s wear at AW21 fashion show globally launched online, earlier this year. One of the highlights was this oversized bomber jacket – a combination of Simons’ street style with Prada’s exquisite materials and bold expression of pandemic emergence.

The overwhelming desire to have “the best-in-show” is strong validation of getting it all right — the moment, the customer and the brand.  It signals a widely successful debut of a new collaboration and direction for the brand – one that builds up from “the street” and collides it into Prada’s fashion heritage to bring new and different customers into the brand who wants – not the best of old, but the best of what’s possible. 

In both examples – from Ford to Prada — we have new combinations, new energy, new connections.  All born from things that aren’t necessarily new.  Electric vehicles?  Bomber jackets?  Not new.   

And this is why we call it a Renaissance.  It’s a rebirth of what’s possible – in ourselves and with brands.  When we stop looking at the divisions created when we focus on this being “better than” that; but instead we create new space from the cracks – to create new expressions of what “the best” can be. 

Great Art: The Best of Humanity

As a “rebirth”, the “Renaissance of me” is built on ingredients from the past and provides clues for our future. 

With this next piece, we wanted to explore some of the “best” expressions of “me” through great works of art.  To inspire us.  To get us to think differently.  To learn something new about ourselves.

Great artists inspire the best in us. They take us to a higher and better place.  And it’s people who make and who experience art…and that’s what we really celebrate when we experience great art – the human experience.

Here we share a small selection of artists’ works to see what connects them to each other and what connects these works to “the best in us.”

Japanese Zen Calligraphy – Hitsuzendo

The breath taking, seemingly effortless brilliance of Zen Calligraphy is said to be achieved not as a product of consciousness but rather more of a state of higher level of spirituality or no-mind. You almost don’t see these paintings as feel them – like they were just made, fresh to paper and pulsating with life. This mark making is all-in, and you sense the whole self, not just the hand that’s required to create these wondrous marks.

Enso, The Zen Circle
Claude Monet’s Impression Soleil Levant

Impressionism The 19th century

Paris based movement focused primarily on the depiction of light on ordinary things (think Van Goff’s Chair with Pipe). Their art captures the beautiful stillness of time and fixes it permanently to canvas for us to gaze at – so that time literally stands still when we’re doing that.

Feel how this painting pulls you, and how you drift off into another world… now where did all that time go?

Stevie Wonder

The Legend and musical genius that is Stevie Wonder.  Musician, singer, songwriter of R&B, Blues, Pop, Soul, Gospel, Funk and Jazz.  Wonder’s music soothes and stirs. His songs shine light on profound human issues and he also gives so much in the way of simple joy too. Isn’t She Lovely on the album Songs In The Key Of Life celebrates the joy of birth, with life affirming lyrics and a harmonica riff that feels like it was created to heal the world.

The Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku

Zaha Hadid, Iraqi-British Architect

Known as the “queen of the curve” Zaha was concerned with an alternative system to traditional architectural drawing. On seeing her buildings – they have an ‘other world’ ness to them.

This remarkable building, unquestionably strong yet as is if made from liquid with seemingly no start or end brings to mind the wonder of the universe.  With it’s infinity-esqe shape, it makes the building feel both rooted and floaty at the same time – effortlessly beautiful and simply genius.

 American Utopia

A concert film directed by Spike Lee from music and screen play by David Bryne is a wonderous musical celebration of human energy and movement. 11 musicians perform together using wireless or portable instruments brings a story that balances hope in a troubled world. 

The energy and movement amongst the performers both mesmerize and metaphorically grab us by the arms and limbs into the dance itself.  Bonkers, exhilarating and uniquely uplifting, the performance surges with a flow of life and vitality throughout.  It’s clear these folks are having a great time together and to watch them play makes you feel like your also part of the band.  

So what unites these expressions of brilliance?  

Well, for us it’s not only the personal connection these artists feel themselves to their art but how their art makes us feel connected to ourselves.  Art is fundamental to being human and when great artists express themselves to their best, they bring out the best in us too.