You know you’ve crossed over culturally when the music video for your song about Norse mythology featuring erotic robots becomes a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, prompts analysis like “Boundary Transgressions and the Cyborg Body in Björk’s Music Video ‘All Is Full of Love,’” … and wins an MTV Video Music Award.
The first thing everyone says about the video is that despite being almost two decades old, it looks like it could have been made yesterday. Great design stands the test of time: partly because it’s prescient, like the hauntingly real vision of tomorrow on display in “All Is Full of Love”; partly because it’s timeless, like the video’s themes of love and rebirth; but also because it shapes the culture that follows in its wake, becoming something that we now identify as a piece of our collective human story.
It takes fearlessness to strive for something that big. But Björk has always been unafraid of innovation. She defies classification with a catalog that spans punk rock, ambient electronica, dance music, and melancholy film scores. Time and time again, she has confounded her critics, finding mass appeal for seemingly niche source material. Even her once-ridiculed swan dress was honored at the MoMA’s 2015 retrospective of her work.
How does she do it? In a word: trust. She has trust in her instincts — and, importantly, trust in her creative partners. The Icelandic songstress has an eye for talent, particularly bold and unique voices like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, both of whom helmed videos for her in the ’90s before becoming successful feature film directors.
For “All Is Full of Love,” Björk chose director Chris Cunningham, who had previously made music videos for electronic artists Autechre and Aphex Twin. She wanted someone she felt confident giving a great amount of creative freedom to, and reportedly, when the two met, “she brought Chinese Kama Sutra prints as her only guiding reference.” Additionally, she only had one firm request for Cunningham: make the video as sensual as possible without triggering TV censors. Cunningham opted for a robotic motif — “because of the surreal nature of the images, they could be sexually suggestive as [they liked] and get away with it.”
Like most major stars, Björk is a brand unto herself. A brand is a valuable commodity, and one that requires diligent stewardship. Established stars like her often find comfort in stability. But Björk has instead found long-term success by continually reinventing and experimenting with her image, and she has become adept at finding the right guide for each transition.
Finding the right partner and taking creative leaps is more important now than ever for all brands. The advertising market is changing; it’s going inbound, social, and transparent. But big brands move cautiously. The most recent C-level position to join the executive suite, the chief brand officer, is tasked primarily with safeguarding brand equity. Most companies would rather play it safe with their image than tread into untested territory.
The tried-and-true approach is not without its downsides, though: “…universally safe ideas run a serious risk of being forgettable.” A recent study shows that possibly even sex doesn’t sell reliably anymore. What’s more, ad blocking and DVR technologies give consumers more power than ever to filter the advertising they are presented with. If consumers have more choice in what ads they see, advertisers have to work harder to generate worthwhile content.
In today’s global, online marketplace, consumers have access to more information than ever before. That means differentiation is increasingly important in brand management. To win mindshare in a crowded room, brands need to take calculated chances that separate them from the lookalikes. So don’t be afraid to take your brand to places it hasn’t been before — just make sure you have a creative partner you believe in.