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Will.i.am + Intel. What does it mean?

will.i.am performing with Black Eyed Peas at O...

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So the news broke yesterday that Black Eyed Peas singer Will.i.am is the new Director of Creative Innovation of chip maker Intel. It seemed to catch everyone by surprise. Well it shouldn’t really surprise you because it was only a matter of time when a major corporation would call on a ‘celebrity artist’ to collaborate on a deeper level. What is surprising are the protagonists: Will.i.am and Intel.

You see, innovation and design consultancies such as IDEO, Jump Associates, Frog Design have been collaborating with artists for a long time. It’s standard practice for them to bring them into the ideation and design process because they understand that innovation comes from anywhere including the creative arts. Now these are not ‘celebrity artists’, they’re artists from a local bar, freelancers or a friend of someone.

And that’s the difference. Big names joining forces gets noticed.

Examples of collaboration between celebrity artists and corporations exists already: Polaroid named Lady Gaga Creative Director of it’s imaging products last year and the result were the sunglasses that incorporate both a camera for taking pictures and video and an LCD screen for playing them back. HP brought in Dr. Dre and his Beats Headphones from the simple sound guide website to help freshen up their Envy line of laptops.

And this is only the beginning…

But what do these collaborations mean?


As tech companies try to figure out how best to sell their growing multimedia firepower to consumers, they are turning to creative types like will.i.am for ideas and insight into the tastes of a younger demographic, as well as looking for their star power to add some sheen to their products.

What these artists have in common is they’re part of the culture of fashion, music and design. They have huge audiences of fans and have a thorough understanding of what their fans like. They can move masses of people because they understand culture. They also have a sense of technology. These insights are extremely valuable to corporations.

Some may see this as a simple marketing gimmick. I disagree. What I think is this points to a much larger trend, and that is the need for corporations to understand culture. Grant McCracken dedicated a whole book to expose why corporations fall behind in understanding consumers and how this is simply a problem of not understanding that the world they live in, is much different than the one their customers live in. It’s rallying cry for the need to understand culture. To not just observe it but to live it and bring it into the corporation.

Insights are the seeds of great ideas and you have to understand the world your customers live in to uncover those insights. These collaborations help bridge that gap.


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