The Pirate’s Dilemma

What it means to be a brand has changed. Once products and services became so similar to each other, then differentiation and identification were not enough for a brand to stand out and appeal to people. Corporations began to try to use brand to ‘humanise’ themselves, to create communities and movements around themselves rather than simply encouraging consumers to buy their things.

But whilst corporations were trying to create communities and movements, there were communities and movements which already existed. Punk, hip-hop, rave, graffiti, gaming, they all have the elements of a modern brand – a creation story, a look, shared behaviours, a culture, an opposition. Now, in the digital age, many of the ideas and innovations of youth culture have become more personal and at the same time increasingly global.

This book by Matt Mason is quite a fun, left-field look at capitalism, but his points are generally extremely important to the future of brand. Should you want to shape a community around your brand, then this irreverent look at some of the most influential ‘bottom-up’ communities and movements in youth culture will give a great deal of insight.

What’s the connection between the nun who invented disco, and the effect of file sharing? How does hip-hop manage to be an underground movement and a multi-billion dollar business – at the same time? And how are pirates, of the kind who started commercial radio in the twentieth century, changing society in the 21st?

The Pirate’s Dilemma tells the stories of youth culture uncovering, for the first time, what it is that transforms underground scenes into global industries. Matt Mason, successful entrepreneur, argues that that from youth `culture, out on the edges of the mainstream, come the ideas that ultimately change the mainstream itself – whether it’s graffiti, piracy, hacking, open source culture or remixing. In the course of doing so he unravels some of our most basic assumptions about business and society and pinpoints trends to look out for in our future.

Because right now, everyone, from the ceo of a mainstream company to a teenager wanting to start the next youth culture revolution, is struggling with a new dilemma: that we can all – companies and individuals alike – be pirates now. And as piracy increasingly changes the way we find, use and sell information, how should we respond? Do we fight pirates, or do we learn from them? Should piracy be treated as a problem, or a whole new solution?

Mason, M. (2008) The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Hackers, Punk Capitalists, Graffiti Millionaires and Other Youth Movements are Remixing Our Culture and Changing Our World. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


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