Seth Godin recently blogged his distaste at the Xanadu Shopping complex in New Jersey being renamed ‘The American Dream’. Sorry Seth, but I think that you’ve missed the point.
Reason One / Three: What’s Xanadu anyway? And who’s dreaming what?
Beginning at the beginning, Xanadu was the summer capital of Kublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty in China.
It sounds exotic; it sounds intriguing. When applied to a shopping complex, it sounds either cheap or expensive depending on how you view such names. It could be a run-down strip mall with an ironic name, or a glittering futuristic complex.
However, it doesn’t really sound like something that you’d find in New Jersey.
Let’s flip the sheet to The American Dream for a moment.
My impression of the American Dream (the concept, not the shopping centre) is this:
And so on.
So, by changing the name of the shopping complex, I feel that the owners have done something incredibly subtle, yet fundamental.
They’ve rerooted the complex in ‘down home America’. The part of America that still believes in the dream. Gone is the mystery of the Orient. Gone is the pretentious exotic name.
Out with crème Brulee and in with Apple Pie and Ice-cream, if you prefer.
That’s a big tick in the cognitive consonance box for a start…
Reason Two / Three: You’re not buying what you think you’re buying
Think about why you go shopping, or why you buy anything.
Then consider this:
You never buy products. You buy enablers.
You see a great couch, you buy it. The result: you stop sitting on the floor.
You see a natty nick-nack, you buy it. You feel a guilty pleasure about buying it. The result: you’re having an experience. And you’ll remember that experience later on.
The couch, the nick-nack – these are things that enable you to experience something different to that which you’re experiencing now.
And you buy the things, especially for your home, your piece of this great Earth, that reflect you and your personality. A lamp isn’t a lamp, it’s a complement to the décor, the rug, the art, the faux-stone fireplace and stuffed animal heads (or whatever does it for you).
We’re back to the American Dream and the individual building their own Brand You. And we’re still not getting to far away from cognitive consonance…
Reason Three / Three: It’s the time for a change
This is just a personal theory, so bear with me here.
Things go in cycles. War and peace. Good times and bad. Stability and instability.
And we as humans can’t help but react to that.
Let’s rewind to the early 1970’s. Interior décor was brown, and lots of it. If it wasn’t brown, it was pastel. It was all soft and flowing.
In the outside world, there was war. There’s hardship. There was a global oil crisis.
And individuals, consciously or unconsciously, retreated to a colour palette not far from the earth under their feet. Something stable, something that they can rely on. Something that, for all intents and purposes, will be there tomorrow.
Now let’s fling forward to the 2000s. The Towers fall. The Western world goes to war against an enemy so disparate, so hidden, that the person next to you on the bus could be a bomber (or so the media would have you believe). The Reds aren’t under the bed, but a pound of Semtex might be.
Global warming melts the ice caps faster than ever before. Glaciers stop regenerating.
We’ll all be under water by the turn of the next century, or something.
Polar bears drown.
Corporations hold more data on individuals than ever before. Corporations get hacked more than ever before. People lose money as their cards are cloned, skimmed and copied. Vegetarians find their hard earned money spent in some far flung KFC by the card rings (no, I’m not bitter).
Bankers make money. Bankers lose money. Innocent people lose their homes. Desperate people do desperate things.
BP manage to blow up a rig causing $billions of financial devastation, and a planetary lifetime of ecological wreckage.
And, in the early/mid 2000s, the colour palette changes again to something more resembling the trusty earth beneath our feet. Fashions follows, becoming softer and more flowing.
Folk music starts to make a come-back.
People start to over-run the waiting lists for allotments and buy solar chargers for their smart phones.
Street parties start to happen as technology becomes the enabler for bringing people together, not keeping them apart in their back rooms.
Individuals turn from maintaining distance to realising the strength in numbers. The support that a neighbour can give. The benefit of being part of a community. The realisation that people pressure can enact real change, but to bring pressure, we must act together.
This is why The American Dream is a much better name for the shopping centre.
It suits our times. It suits a need for connection into something bigger than ourselves, something more permanent, something that we can share with our neighbour.
It suits this moment in our history, in our collective story…
So, I’m sorry Seth, but I think you’re wrong.
The renaming of the centre isn’t selling a dream cheap in pursuit of a quick buck. Now isn’t the time for exotic names and far-flung mysteries. Today’s the day for reconnection, reaffirmation and rejoining the greater American Dream. And if a part of that is consumerism, so be it.
At least they’re being honest about it.