What Brands can Learn from Summer Camps

My daughter just left for summer camp. She loves camp more than anything in the world. Her closest friends are the ones she has made at camp. When she talks about camp her eyes light up. The camp has one of those typical Wisconsin Indian names and does all the typical summer camp activities. These include things like:

* Becoming part of one of the camp’s “tribes”
* Living with your tribe under a set of strict rules and taboos
* Competing in activities with your tribe-mates in causes that bring honor to your tribe
* Singing the tribe’s signature songs together at the top of your lungs in the cafeteria
* Acting out stories around the campfire–sometimes scary ones or camp legends from the early days
* Ritualistic initiation ceremonies to secret societies conducted during middle-of-the-night abductions by senior campers

These camps understand the hunger we all have for ritual and belonging. The connection they establish with their campers is so strong that they are able to entice most of their “junior counselors” to work unpaid at the camp for years.

The strongest brands understand these deep tribal connections and engage their tribal followers in the mythology. Brands like Manchester United, Mini, The Grateful Dead, American Express and Harley Davidson. They establish brand rituals that connect very deeply and leave us with a feeling of belonging to something greater than ourselves. They connect at both a conscious and subconscious level, binding us with our tribe-mates and the tribe in powerful ways. They evoke the psychic inheritance of our hunter-gatherer ancestors who shared the spoils of the hunt equally with the tribe around the fire, and whose very survival depended upon close cooperation and strict adherence to tribal codes.

Just for fun, try thinking of your brand as if it were a “tribe” at summer camp. What would be your cause, your quest, your camp song, your rules and taboos, your foundations stories? Do you have any rituals that initiate brand users into deeper levels of brand engagement? Can you establish them?
 The rituals should always grow authentically from the brand story. After all, we don’t want to lead our brand followers on a snipe hunt.