Category Archives: General

Tide Into the Fabric

Every year you deal with the Monday-morning quarterbacking and fierce debates over strategy. The annual analysis of Super Bowl® ads is upon us. Most of these fall into the bland brand-awareness bucket. You’re cool because we’re cool (and vice versa.)

But you waste your ad buy if the conversation is about your message and it fails to include you. Why pay millions of dollars so that we can all feel warm and fuzzy about the story, or the inspiring quote, or the goofy image, and not talk about (or share) your brand?

Advertising’s job is to interrupt the audience’s flow, catch their attention, and give them a reason to remember you. Otherwise, you’re just the what’s-his-name that told that hilarious joke, or shared that moving story, or showed us that sweet picture.

In recent years, the goal has been to go viral. Novelty is not enough either. With the #JackVsMartha ad, we hopefully see the sad end of that tactic’s diminished returns. (No, I won’t share it. That would just encourage them.) However, giving us a new way to see something familiar is an effective tactic.

The one ad that did everything right this year is Tide’s “It’s a Tide Ad.”

This one works on every level. It features the brand name as part of the message. It tells the brand value story with every iteration. It delivers with humor that stands repeated viewing. (Threading it throughout the broadcast reinforced the meme.)

Moreover, it doesn’t just find humor in commercial tropes, it uses it to show a quality most people don’t pay attention to but are deeply aware of – the heightened reality of advertising’s alternate universe. It plants in your head that every commercial could be a Tide ad. But while you may laugh, you’re linking  cleanliness to Tide in all those synapses.

The next time you notice a clean shirt in a commercial, you’ll wonder if it’s a Tide ad. And then it will be.

The Gloves Come Off

I make the world better, one cashier at a time. I have a desire to lift people out of the darkness and see things anew. I’m a teacher. Is it my fault if the process feels intrusive?

Most of the time, I say nothing. I let it go. I only stand out because people rarely comment, or they say it in an unkind way. People are so keen to avoid confrontation that they see all forms as negative.

We are surrounded by processes so commonplace that we are blind to their original purpose. For example, my spouse may get up from the table, clap her hands together and flip her palms over and up. The gesture is so reflexive and fast (Jazz hands!) that if an outsider even notices they think nothing of it. But those that do notice it have no idea what to make of it.

But if you grew up in Las Vegas, where a dealer leaving a card table has to prove to the cameras and pit bosses that their hands are empty, it makes sense. Yet, when she gets up from the dinner table, she no longer has anything to prove. She hasn’t dealt cards since her college days. (OK, once at a church “Vegas Night. Shh.) But once the motion was learned it stopped meaning that her hands were empty and simply meant, “I’m done.”

I picked it up from her. We use it now as a gesture of, “Well, that’s that,” to close the subject of conversation. Clap. Flip. Sometimes, it can mean, “I’m done with that person.” Clap. Flip. Or, “I’m going to bed. Clap. Flip. Kiss. (I mean, we’re not dead yet.)

Regardless of the intention or the origin of a process, it will take a life of its own. That’s how new ideas become tradition, traditions become ritual, and ritual becomes dogma. Finally, someone (a process guy) asks why we’re doing that thing. Our inclination may be to cut that process but not without first knowing why it was ever critical.

At my local grocery store, they have a full-service deli, and because of health codes, they wear gloves when preparing orders.They put gloves on to prepare the food and take gloves off to handle money and other non-food related things. Scratching their ear, perhaps.

Then, if they’re following the protocol, they wash their hands, put on new gloves, and prepare more food. That prevents bacteria from contaminating and cross-contaminating other food, and me.

Watch any process like this and you’ll eventually see someone who fails to remove their gloves. They take your card with their gloved hand and swipe through the card reader, simultaneously swiping your personal microbiome onto their gloves, and then start to go back to preparing food.

Now, a process guy, might lean over and say, quietly, so as not to call them out publicly, “Excuse me, I noticed that you kept your gloves after you took my card. It’s easy to forget.” But a teacher, one who wants to make the world a better place one cashier at a time, might also attempt to explain – not why they need to remember to follow the protocol – but why they didn’t follow the protocol.

The reason is very much tied to the clap, flip gesture of the card dealer. You see, when food handlers – and health care workers, hair stylists, janitors, etc. – practiced wearing the gloves, it became a habit. They were learning a protocol to protect us from their germs. But over time and practice, the gloves became not our protection but their protection.

The gloves stopped becoming a barrier for spreading their germs to our food, and started becoming a barrier between our food and their hands. And once that thought takes root, it’s hard for the brain to find an incentive to take them off for us. I mean, would you want to touch our credit cards and cash with your bare hands?

A manager might look at the activity and order more training. They may also look at any disincentives in place such as limits on the number of gloves they have to order. They could also lean into the process and coach the employee to keep their gloves on to take the cash, but then remove the (now contaminated) gloves, wash their hands, and get fresh protection.

Aside from being squeamish at every sandwich shop from now on, keep examining the rituals around you. Look for the original process behind the actions. It may help you unwind the rote and the rot, give you the purpose behind the flow and the keys you need to develop the process to new levels of efficiency. And make the world a better place.

Image Credit: Anthony Albright, “Grabbing the Pork” (cropped from original.)

The Key to Saving our Species

What if I were to tell you that ads had become smarter than us and now they’re manipulating everything we do?

Mankind became tired of ads, so we kept inventing ways to make things “ad free.” We even created ad blockers. That’s when the ads had to adapt. They had to disguise themselves as news in order to survive.

I’m not sure I’ve heard a more succinct description of why the advertising arms race has become so annoying.

This comes from South Park episode #1908, Sponsored Content, that aired November 18. Jimmy, the school newspaper editor finds himself in competition with Internet news. Jimmy has the rare ability to spot the difference between news and sponsored content.

Can you?

Aspirational Web Searching

Call it advertising Jujitsu. We’re missing out on a great opportunity to turn web tracking to our advantage. We’re all used to the experience. You start online shopping for your Aunt’s birthday and within minutes, your entire Facebook feed is replete with ads for knitting supplies. You don’t see much else until it’s your daughter’s birthday, and then you can enjoy One Direction ticket offers for awhile.

We spend a lot of energy fighting these ads by opting out from web advertising, subscribing to ad blocking software, or pruning our Facebook interests. But it’s a ever-escalating arms race between advertisers and consumers.

What if, instead, we turned all this tracking to our advantage, stopped fighting, and started aspirational searching?

I hit upon this idea recently while wish-list searching for tube-based guitar amplifiers. Classic rock tone, harmonic distortion, and expensive. But seeing my web feeds fill up with all manner of tube amplifiers, electric guitars, and accessories, made me wonder if we couldn’t re-decorate our timelines and sidebars with more positive wallpaper.

I don’t mean just better consumer goods: Tesla Model S’s, luxury yachts, or designer fashion labels (unless that’s your motivation.) I’m thinking more along the lines of things to remind us that there’s a world beyond the keyboard: hiking trails, vacation retreats, great literature, sporting goods, healthy gourmet dining, art exhibits, or whatever will show you a better window to look out from your keyboard.

Give it a try. Spend some time digging around on shopping sites for things beyond consumer goods, and share in the comments if you’ve hit upon a great keyword phrase (e.g., peaceful retreats usa) for us to try. Maybe I should call it anti-aspirational web searching.

Image Credit: ukgardenphotos, Leonardslee Gardens, West Sussex, England (cropped from original)

Is Respect Earned?

Our language carries many examples of respect as a transaction.

“You have to give respect to get respect”

We phrase it like  a transaction: Respect must be paid. Respect is due. Respect is earned.

And when you have the act of respect as a transaction, then the attitudes of commerce and entitlement follow. “I am owed respect.” “You don’t give me the respect I deserve.” “I gave you respect, now you have to respect me in return.”

I suppose this isn’t a problem if the two parties in the transaction have the same definition of respect. I think most of us though aren’t jumping into a gang or being hazed for pledge week. And maybe we think respect should be something greater than a token payment.

So what does it really mean to pay respect?

Respect comes from the the Indo-European root spek-, which means to observe 1. You see it it words such as spectacles, suspect, and specimen.  Respect means to look back. In this context, to think about what you’ve seen.

When we ask others to respect us, we may mean to look back on what we’ve done as context for our present actions or attitudes. In this sense, we can respect others because we’ve taken a moment to look at what they’ve been through. We can respect their rights because we are aware of the trials it took to secure them.

We see this in the other meaning of the verb, to avoid interfering with, which is the result of  deference. We respect a person so we don’t intrude upon them, and the pause, if anything, becomes the payment of respect.

We reflect that in the noun form of the word:  regard,  honor, or the time we take to look back. So, we get a moment or a feeling of respect. Silent observation becomes the way we show respect. Therefore, the payment of respect, if anything, is the pause – the moment we stop and think about the other person before we act, speak, or judge. If you respect me, you stop before you violate my boundaries.

We owe that to everybody – our friends, our neighbors, our enemies, our selves. In that respect, it is not something to give or receive, but to demonstrate.

“We are sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement.” —Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund

1 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. © 2011-2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company [back]

Image Credit: Brett Davies, Buddhist Respect (cropped from original)

Gauguin

There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite.

—Paul Gauguin