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I’m not one for stories and screeds about how many people live in Asia and how we better get ready.

But this one is sticking in my head and won’t leave:

There are fifty five million Chinese kids that take piano lessons.

On the other hand

Almost every single time I use Google, I marvel at what a powerful tool it is. Search plus billions of pages equals an enormous number of opportunities. Opportunities for education, for commerce, for new ways of spreading ideas and for new businesses.

How can you redefine what you do in terms of a nearly infinite world that might find you?

Web pages are so ugly!

Maybe I’m just in a beauty mood, but I was struck as I surfed around today at how ugly many web pages are (eBay). Typefaces that fight instead of work together. Flashing things that flash for no reason. Hierarchies of size and color that are irrational.

Milton Glaser talks about why the supermarket is the way the supermarket is. Why is Tide in that multi-colored box? It turns out that the original boxes evolved when you still had to ask for what you wanted from the guy behind the counter. The boxes needed to be bright in order to attract your attention from a ways away. Once the vernacular was set for the early winners, everyone else followed.

I wonder if we’re about to get stuck here as well? As we enter a broadband world, with better browsers and all sorts of tools to improve the experience, is everyone going to be stuck emulating what succeeded in 1999?

Search is lousy

Two years from now, people are going look back at Google and Yahoo and marvel at just how primitive they were.

A quick glance at a new search engine (Exalead) demonstrates that while it’s a long long way from perfect, the areas where existing engines can get better are legion.

All Marketers...

Organic cigarettes?

Not just organic, but “all natural” and not tested on animals and certified “cruelty free” by PETA. Did I mention that there’s a native American on the box?

This is brilliant niche storytelling. There’s a percentage of smokers who are able to get by the internal inconsistency (I won’t say oxymoron because the word police say I’m misusing the term) of the term “organic cigarettes” and love the story. No, the Marlboro man isn’t going to switch. But there’s no way this little company would ever get him to switch… not enough money, not enough time.

But for smokers with the worldview that they want to be careful what they smoke, that they want a gourmet product, this is a great flash of insight.

No, I’d never be a tobacco marketer. I won’t even do speaking gigs for them. But once a little company has decided to take that moral leap, the idea of upselling affluent smokers with this story is both hysterically funny and apparently quite effective.

Do you know Rich…

Apparently, the ellipsis is part of his name.

Anyway, the blog book tour continues on his site: "Hello_World": Business Blog Book Tour: Seth "Pinocchio" Godin. The rest of his stuff is worth a read as well.

The Marketplace Radio Interview

Try not to operate heavy machinery while listening.  Welcome to Marketplace.

The Placebo Affect*

PillEverybody already knows how powerful the brain is. Take a sugar pill that’s supposed to be a powerful medicine and watch your symptoms disappear. Have a surgeon not perform bypass surgery on your heart (link.) and discover that the angina that has been crippling you vanishes.

The placebo effect is not just for sick people anymore.

Why do some ideas have more currency than others? Because we believe they should. When Chris Anderson or Malcolm Gladwell writes about something, it’s a better idea because they wrote about it.

Even as your culture of ideas and marketing enters its longtail, open-source, low-barrier, everyone-has-a-blog era of mass publication, we still need filters. Would your iPod sound as sweet if everyone else had a Rio? Would your Manolo Blahniks be as cool if everyone else were wearing Keds?

Arthur Anderson audited thousands of companies, and those audits gave us confidence in those companies, made them appear more solid, which, not surprisingly, made them more solid. Then, post Enron, the placebo effect disappeared. Same companies, same auditors, but suddenly those companies appeared LESS solid, which made them less solid.

The magic of the placebo effect lies in the fact that you can’t do it to yourself. You need an accomplice. Someone in authority who will voluntarily tell you a story.

That’s what marketers do. We have the  “placebo affect.” (* The knack for creating placebos.) Of course, we need to persuade ourselves that it’s morally and ethically and financially okay to  participate in something as unmeasurable as the placebo effect. The effect is controversial and it goes largely unspoken. Very rarely do we come to meetings and say, “well, here’s our cool new PBX for Fortune 1000 companies. It’s exactly the same as the last model, except the phones are designed by frog design so they’re cooler and more approachable and people are more likely to invest a few minutes in learning how to use them, so customer satisfaction will go up and we’ll sell more, even though it’s precisely the same technology we were selling yesterday.”

Very rarely do vodka marketers tell the truth and say, “here’s our new vodka, which we buy in bulk from the same distillery that produces vodka for $8 a bottle. Ours is going to cost $35 a bottle and come in a really, really nice bottle and our ads will persuade laddies that this will help them in the dating department… nudge, nudge, know what I mean, nudge, nudge…”

It would be surprising to meet a monk or a talmudic scholar or a minister who would say, “yes, we burn the incense or turn down the lights or ring these bells or light these candles as a way of creating a room where people are more likely to believe in their prayers,” but of course that’s exactly what they’re doing. (and you know what? there’s nothing wrong with that.)

It’s easier to get people to come to a meeting about clock speed and warranty failure analysis than it is to have a session about storytelling.

We don’t like to admit that we tell stories, that we’re in the placebo business. Instead, we tell ourselves about features and benefits as a way to rationalize our desire to to help our customers by allowing them to lie to themselves.

The design of your blog or your package or your outfit is nothing but an affect designed to create the placebo effect. The sound Dasani water makes when you open the bottle is more of the same. It’s all storytelling. It’s all lies.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In fact, your marketplace insists on it.

We need immediate action!

Will the night sky be filled with giant billboards soon?

JT Hoagland points us to…  FAA wants to ensure no ads in space, preserve dark night sky – May. 19, 2005.

Government: No billboards in space.
FAA says it lacks authority to enforce existing law prohibiting ‘obtrusive’ ads in zero gravity.

If you have a review

Amazon is now willing to let you post it (finally).

Feel free… Link: Amazon.com: Books: All Marketers Are Liars : The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World.

Thanks for making this one a bestseller. And for the very nice words you’ve been e-mailing over. I appreciate it.