Monday, August 14, 2006


Did you have a good weekend? Really? Isn't it tough to get them to balance like that? Oh... nevermind, thought you were talking about something else.

Me? I had to work this weekend. Nah, it was ok, just a lot of running around.

Funny thing happens though when you're busy and on the road. On Saturday, I found myself in three unfamiliar parts of LA. This wasn't a conscious decision but in each new area when there was spare time to kill, my travel companions and I found ourselves heading to a Starbucks. I'm not a coffee junkie so it wasn't that I needed a hit of caffeine. I think it was simply because we were familiar with the Starbucks brand.

Now when I say Starbucks brand, I don't simply mean the sign on top of the store. I'm talking about the whole familiar motions from finding a Starbucks, to walking up, to ordering, to sitting down on green chairs outside. You could go through those same exact motions across our entire Starbucks-dotted country and you'd never be surprised. What I began to realize was that when you step into a Starbucks, you don't step into the literal one in front of you, you step into Starbucks Nation.

You know how the embassy system works? Like say you're in France and you've just opened up a huge can of whoop-ass on some Frenchy boy who made fun of baseball. Before you know it, he starts screaming at the top of his lungs like you just stepped on Pepe's tail or something. Next thing you know, torches and pitchforks are handed out and you're running the other way. The only thing on your mind at this point is, "Must find US Embassy!" This is because you know that once you get to the embassy, you're home. Embassy land is US land. Heck, they fly the right flag there and the guy guarding the door knows Topeka from Detroit. What else do you need?

So the same goes with Starbucks. A Starbucks is not an independent store. It is the gateway to Starbucks Nation. Though no one has actually gone to the Starbucks homeland, we can all imagine what it'd be like. Tinker cars running on steamed milk! Whipped cream clouds!

Brands are like little embassies we take with us whenever we travel. You may not know you're bringing all these embassies with you, but like the drug mule busted for possession, when they're found on you, you wonder outloud, "How'd that get in there?"

Here's another example. I read once about a guy who traveled for a living and always had a bottle of Tabasco with him. He liked it at home and he reasoned that no matter how bad the food was while he traveled, he could always rely on the Tabasco to cover things up.

Now I know preferring a brand to something new is not a new insight. This is well-tred territory. What this weekend reaffirmed to me is the notion that brands have a very spatial feel as well. I could be at any Starbucks and feel like I'm at the one at home. It provides a coccoon from everything outside of it and makes me feel comfortable.

Other products do that too. Making a sandwich in Tennessee with Hellman's is not the same as making a sandwich with Best Foods at home (same exact company, different names across the country). If I swapped things up and used some Hellman's at home, I'd probably feel like I was in TN. The where of your brand consumption attaches to you and you carry that with you as you carry your brand loyalties with you.

So all this got me thinking. Do online brands have this sort of spatial effect? The only one I could think of was YouTube. When you run across YouTube videos on other sites, there is a sense of familiarity and safety. You're ok with clicking on it and you know what to expect in terms of performance and content. I embedded a video below and I'm sure you know what to do. I'm also sure that you're not going to worry that this will send you somewhere else or make you download new software. Welcome to the YouTube embassy.

But where else do you get this effect? In regards to games: Can a game title create embassies outside of the game world or are game titles forever trapped in their own medium? I thought about this a lot and I can't come up with any examples of someone that has done this with games.

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