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All Marketers...

What’s up with minivans?

Why do so many people (especially some of the suburban moms I know) hate minivans?

A minivan gets better mileage, is safer and is easier to manage for shlepping a bunch of humans. And dollar for dollar, a minivan is actually cheaper than an SUV of the same size.

So if it’s better and safer and cheaper… why hate em?

Because of the story, of course. Somewhere along the way, we believed a lie about the personality of the person who chooses to drive a minivan. The soccer mom lie. A simple story that cost Detroit billions of dollars–and our economy billions in lost gas mileage.

All Marketers...

Hijacking a story

As we saw in the Easter Bunny example, new ideas can travel with old stories.

Congress succeeded brilliantly with the Easter Bunny technique just this week. By calling Mark McGwire and other baseball players to testify about steroid use (and doing it during spring training), they instantly escalated the profile of the issue of drug abuse by teen athletes.

Now, whenever someone talks about McGwire, they will automatically be talking about steroid use. The two stories get intertwined and are more likely to get noticed.

Yes, smart Congressmen are marketers too (you already knew they were liars).

All Marketers...

Chocolate Bunnies

It wasn’t until 1,600 years after Jesus that the Bunny became associated with Easter. If you think about it, it’s pretty weird (bunnies don’t lay eggs), but it’s part of a long standing pattern of new religions stealing symbols and stories from older religions.

Bunnies are pretty prolific creatures, and thousands of years ago pagans picked them as a symbol of new life. Spring being the season of new life, bunnies were a sign of celebration and good luck. The story is a good one, and it spread.

Just like Christmas trees and lights in the window for the winter holidays, the marketers responsible for spreading the word about Christianity appropriated the symbol to help them market the new holiday.

Have I mentioned that Godiva is owned by Campbell’s Soup? Godiva

All Marketers...

28 or more cameras

On the Henry Hudson Bridge to New York are very stern signs warning, “No Photography”. This is undoubtedly for our own security, as bad guys might take photos to case the bridge. Unfortunately for the security folks, the bridge is surrounded by literally hundreds of apartments, each one of which has a window from which highly detailed telephoto pictures could easily be taken.

The sign to the left is almost 5 feet tall and greets visitors in the lobby of a very expensive office building on the East Side of Manhattan. Not sure where they got the number 28, or why they need to be precise, except that they are clearly trying to tell me a story. The cheesy ALL CAPS lettering ads to the urgency. This is the same story that buildings in New York use when the guy at the front desk asks to see your driver’s license before allowing you to be admitted. How does having a driver’s license change anything? It doesn’t, of course. The act of stopping to show it does.

The implications of lying about security and telling stories to make us feel better is expensive indeed. We’re spending billions in cash (and untold billions in lost time and productivity) pretending to do something, when all we’re really doing is changing the way people feel. At the same time, we ignore the low-profile but high-value acts of, say, inspecting air cargo.

Obviously, we’re not going to eliminate the need to tell stories. What we ought to do, though, is figure out more effective (low-cost and high-impact) ways to tell better stories. El Al (Israel’s airline) for example, dispenses with obvious uses of technology and instead grills passengers at random. It’s not clear to me that the conversations are the answer–it’s the way the conversations make the other passengers feel that matters.

All Marketers...

Block that Umlaut!

Many marketers and millions of consumers are aware that there ain’t no Haagen, there ain’t no Dazs and the popular brand of ice cream is nothing but a lie.

Does it matter?

Two made up words, a product that has nothing whatever to do with Scandinavia and gleaming stainless steel factories pumping the stuff out by the ton–it doesn’t change the fact that we’re more likely to pay extra for a Haagen Dazs than we would for the identical product from Hood or Sealtest.

And knowing doesn’t really seem to matter. Knowing that there’s no truthful difference appears to be irrelevant. I think that’s because there’s a non-rational, even emotional part of our brain that yearns for the story.

All Marketers...

All Hat, No Cattle

Damian Jennings points us to Huhcorp, a brilliant site that demonstrates what happens when there’s all lies, and no time for an actual product.

My favorite part are the stock photos. Perfect. Check out the site: We do stuff.

All Marketers...

Lies = Death

Yes, we all “know” that smoking causes death, that it contributes to more illness-related deaths than anything else we choose to do, that it also degrades the quality of life of those that are addicted.

Marketers know (and always knew) that the combination of its addictive properties and the young age at which people choose to smoke make it a home run in the ROI department.

And yet, deep down, all of us “know” that it’s cool.

How did it get cool? Why do intelligent adults imagine that artfully lighting a cigarette is more James Bond than bowery bum? That puffing is more Marlene Dietrich than emphysema victim?

Because cigarette marketers were genius storytellers. Of course they lied to us. They told us a story we wanted to believe, a story about the wild west and freedom and sexuality and youth and hipness.

This was an astonishingly expensive story to tell, I grant you that. But once told, the meme entered our vocabulary and it’s going to be around for generations.

As you can see, this lying thing is a double-edged sword. More on that soon.

All Marketers...

Jackson who?

If this painting were for sale, you’d have to pay millions to acquire it.

And yet, when it first painted, you could have paid just a few thousand dollars to own it.

What happened? Did the painting change? Is it a better painting today than it was?

What about the Shelby Cobra knock offs you can buy on eBay for $50,000? These are totally awesome cars, insanely fast and in many ways better built than the real Cobras, which are worth five or ten times as much.

Obviously, we’re tweaking on the words “real” and “value” here. If all you’re buying is a car, or excitement or the jealousy of your neighbors, the knock off is just fine. But that’s not all that people buy. Mostly, they buy a story.

All Marketers...

Visa Trickery (one of many)

Perhaps because there’s so much money at stake, but credit card companies do far more than their share of lying.

Eric Myers points out this nefarious fraud. The catch? Even though it seems embossed, there is no credit card inside. It’s designed to trick you into opening a solicitation for a new card, even though there’s no card inside.

Of course, even though envelopes with cards get opened more, I wonder what the rate of success is with consumers who say, “Oh, they tricked me! There was no card. i guess I should sign up for whatever they’re selling… they seem trustworthy.”

ICE – Improving Customer Experience

All Marketers...

Was it the tools that made Ernest…


It’s just a little notebook. Paper. A rubber strap.

Yet the story, the story that says it was the key tool of the great European writers gives me pause every time I pick it up. Maybe this time, maybe, just maybe, some of the magic will rub off on me.

The same thing happens when you use Tiger’s golf clubs or Bob Vilas’ jigsaw.

Thanks to Jason Berberich for the pointer to the story.


berbs.us: The Moleskine Story