US Highway 90 is a road of yawns, stretching out in southwest Texas with a landscape like white noise. And then there’s Prada Marfa, a storefront installation set against the backdrop of the desert, a study of contrasts, and an example of inventive branded content. But definitely not just another roadside attraction.
Located 26 miles up the road from Marfa, a town with a population of 2,000 colored by a creative culture that emerged in the ’70s, Prada Marfa was designed to be a “pop architecture land art project” by Berlin artists Elmgreen and Dragset. Since it was built in 2005, it’s become clear that Prada Marfa can be defined in many ways, but it was first of all a conversation.
That’s held true, even as legal challenges change that conversation (with lots of uproar). Today, it stands as a piece of content so conversationally powerful and visually arresting, that it sets a standard for other brands struggling fatefully to build story archives, launch social pop-ups, or react in real time to every culture phenomenon or meme that captivates the internet.
Because all of that takes a lot of effort: teams, time and dollar signs. And that’s why Prada Marfa is different. It’s not responding to the conversation, it’s starting it. And that’s not an easy task either, but it’s one that’s infinitely more rewarding, relevant and authentic.
So what can other brands learn from Prada’s example?
It’s about knowing your brand.
Knowing who you are, how far you’ll go (in your content) and who else out there thinks like you. Content should start from the inside.
It’s about being aware.
Once you know your brand, give yourself license to look outside for inspiration. Prada Marfa wasn’t Miuccia Prada’s idea. The internet has made information and ideas instantly searchable and scoutable. It has made following culture as simple as following a feed. Stay alert for opportunities for collaboration, derivation and provocation—and then act.
It’s about packing a punch, not packing it in.
When you do act, act thoughtfully. No spamming, no over-sharing (unless your audience needs, wants or can’t live without that constant dialogue). Remember that you don’t have to be digital to be shared. Ask yourself: Is your brand adding to the conversation in a meaningful way, or are you talking just to talk? Does this have impact or is it meant to check a box on a spreadsheet? You’ll have to be more nimble in managing the content you create, and divvy up your resources in new, maybe scary, ways.
But a trip down US Highway 90 will show you where it can get you: over 10,000 photos tagged #pradamarfa on Instagram; organic editorial inspired by a place both timeless and immediate; and a stark, beautiful source for ever-evolving brand content.
—Corey Lewis is a writer and consultant in New York who is really bad at talking about herself in the third person. Follow her @hewey_lewey on Twitter.