“Young people today have been marketed to since they were newborns, because cartoons are made to sell cereal. So as a consequence, they have the most sophisticated bulls*** detectors of all time. ... If something is created in a boardroom, if something is created by consensus, if something is created by a bunch of Baby Boomers who say it will be cool, like, ‘We are going to do skateboarding’ or something, it will not work.”
If you don’t understand that, you’re about to be left behind. That quote is from Shane Smith, the founder of Vice Media, who was recently featured on PBS’s “Charlie Rose.” His company is referred to as the “Time Warner of the Streets” and produces magazines, online videos, and a new, highly acclaimed show on HBO, “Vice.”
“Vice” is your portal into the global youth movement—how they think, what they enjoy, and the tone in which they like their messaging packaged. Watch their online food video series, “Munchies,” (my 22-year-old brother-in-law showed me) and you will get a much clearer understanding of why you need to sell artisanal burgers, locally sourced vegetables, and cold-pressed iced coffee. The “Vice” headquarters are located in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, which some consider the epicenter of the hip, socially conscious Millennial movement.
WHERE: Bushwick, Brooklyn
WHAT: Homemade Charcuterie, Neapolitan Pizza, Artisanal Meats & Fish
The “idea” of Brooklyn—its culture, values, and energy—has manifested itself in every major city around the globe. The hottest restaurant trend in Paris is “Tres Brooklyn,” not haute cuisine. In London, Brooklyn manifests itself in the Shoreditch neighborhood; in Moscow, it is the Strelka Institute. In Los Angeles, it is Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, Roy Choi, and Gjelina; San Francisco has the Mission District, Tacolicious, and Danny Bowien; Texas has Austin; Miami has the Design District; and there is even the “beach Brooklyn,” Montauk, complete with taco shacks, food trucks, surfing, skateboarding, hipster motels, and democratic ideals.
What does this all mean to you? By understanding the idea of Brooklyn, you will be able to tap into the next generation of customers more effectively than your competition. By grasping the core values of the movement and applying them to your everyday decisions, you will be rewarded by a group that is fiercely loyal, pays extra for quality, and loves spreading the gospel of “their” brands quickly. Here are your guidelines:
Full disclosure. If you don’t have anything to hide, then you don’t hide anything. “Brooklynites” want to know the facts behind everything they consume. Where was their food grown? How was it cooked? Who cooked it? Is it healthy? If not, is it at least homemade? The more information you give, the more trust you will build.
Honesty and integrity. Do you treat your workers well? Do you care more about putting out a great product or making money? Anything perceived as overtly capitalistic will be shunned immediately. If you make a mistake, do you take responsibility? Look at the revolutions in Arab countries; this is what happens when you don’t tell Brooklynites the truth.
Sincere look, feel, and voice. How does your brand look? How do your stores look? They should use colors, materials, words, and tones that honestly reflect who you are. For examples of this, look at Chipotle, sweetgreen, Whole Foods, Blue Bottle Coffee, or restaurants by design firm Avroko. Your brand does not have to feature high design, but is better off with minimal design—natural, raw, and true to its ideals. Be who you are.
Democratic and delectable. I used this slogan for Hudson Common, a beer hall and burger joint we opened in the Hudson Hotel. I think it captures the essence of what the Brooklynites look for. Your product needs to taste great and not exclude anyone. It used to be cool to have a velvet rope and a Louis Vuitton bag. Now it is cool to be nice to everyone and carry a handcrafted bag with no logos. Brooklynites want to share with as many people as possible and consume products with depth and meaning.
Charity and community. Wherever you are doing business, you are part of a larger community. You must be active in that community and take care of that community. Whether it is donating to the local Little League team or planting an herb garden, the same rings true; a rising tide raises all the boats and a passive existence is not acceptable.
By entering into the collective consciousness of Brooklynites and gaining their trust, you will no longer have to invest in marketing or advertising. Once they “buy in” to you and your brand, they become an unstoppable force driving customers to your business. For an example of this, check out Roberta’s Pizza in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a small place started by a few musicians. Roberta’s is an artisanal restaurant on the outskirts of hipster Brooklyn in a location with zero foot traffic that for some reason never has a seat available. How do you explain it? Carlo Mirarchi, Brandon Hoy, and Chris Parachini did not have a vision when they opened in 2008. Hoy says “everything happened, for lack of a better word, organically.”
The absurdity of the modern condition is that in order to thrive in the idealistic meritocracy that is Brooklyn, all you have to do is put out a good product and be a good person. In other words, don’t bulls***.