Corporate Brands From an Open-Source Perspective

In this blog post I will describe the most interesting theoretical and practical elements of the paper ‘The penguin’s window: corporate brands from an open-source perspective’ by Pitt, Watson, Berthon, Wynn and Zinkhan (2006), which relates to session 3.

The traditional New Product Development (NPD) model, where companies are exclusively responsible for coming up with new product ideas, is increasingly being challenged. For instance, innovative success stories of Open Source (OS) projects suggest that customer empowerment makes sense economically. This customer empowerment affects internal NPD processes (companies more actively and directly integrate customer ideas about new products), but also how companies are perceived in the marketplace.

The article introduces an OS lens to review traditional corporate brands. The term OS originated in computer programming, ‘in which a program’s source code is open to view and modification, and there is no charge to download and use the program’. Nowadays the term is used to describe movements that have similar philosophical underpinnings to OS software (e.g. Wikipedia). OS brands have been created in nontraditional ways at minimal cost and thus challenge accepted knowledge of brand building and maintenance. It is important for traditional marketers to understand that organizations behind OS brands do not behave like their traditional competitors. They do not compete in the same way, do not produce their offerings in the same way, are frequently difficult to monitor, and are mostly not motivated by the same financial incentives as traditional branded sellers.

Historically, power and control were centralized and hierarchical with corporations: the producers produced and the customers consume. However, OS decentralizes power and control and makes it heterarchical: producers and consumers are merged into ‘prosumers’. Thus, companies should rethink how to respond to customers becoming its coproducers, its collaborators and its competitors.

Therefore the authors came up with sources of an OS offering (physical, text experience and meaning) and considered these in terms of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ dimensions (figure 2). Interestingly, the authors state that ‘even the most traditional corporate brands are not as closed as managers may think’.

fig 2

A brand’s meaning cannot be solely determined by the corporation, e.g. the meaning of the Harley-Davidson brand is largely determined by the type of people who drive the motorcycles.

Corporations want to direct appropriate experiences in their offerings. According to the authors there is an ‘experience economy’, wherein the participation of the consumer is actively sought and cultivated to create the brand experience (e.g. in Disneyland).

The rise of fast processors and adaptable interfaces has fueled the rise of interactivity, in which text (stories) become partly open and shaped by readers.

The physical aspects of a brand offering have traditionally been closed and determined by corporations. As discussed in class, there has been a rise in mass customization and nowadays in cocreation of physical products.

Using this framework can help to revision corporate branding towards an open perspective wherein prosumers create the physical offering, author the text, generate the experience, and evolve the brand meaning. This results in a loss of organizational control over the brand.

The authors view OS brands based on the social capital theoretical framework and a specific form of ‘gift economies’, where goods and services are given to others with no reciprocal obligation from the recipients (e.g. creativity, innovation, and development services provided by members). Conversely to economic capital, the more one gives away, the more symbolic capital one accumulates in the form of prestige, status, and reputation.



Fuchs, C., & Schreier, M. (2011). Customer empowerment in new product development. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 28(1), 17-32

Pitt, L. F., R. T. Watson, P. Berthon, D. Wynn, and G. Zinkhan. 2006. The penguin’s window: Corporate brands from an open-source perspective. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 34 (2): 115–27.

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