Once in awhile, an IDEA comes along that is so big that one can hardly imagine how much it will affect society. Such is the case with the recent unveiling of a microscope invented by a Stanford University professor and his students.
The microscope is constructed out of paper, costs about a dollar to make, is virtually indestructible, magnifies up to 2000 times, fits in your pocket, and can even project the image on to any surface. The only thing that’s not revolutionary about it is the name – FoldScope — but, hey, with the notable exception of Steve Blank, Stanford entrepreneurs are not known for their marketing acumen.
It will be used to save lives anywhere in the world, which means particularly the third world, by detecting some two dozen diseases quickly and easily. But as revolutionary as that is, the societal tsunami will come from giving children all over the world instant access to a “whole new world,” one that will no longer be hidden at 2000 X.
What NASA did for astronomy, and Woodward and Bernstein did for journalism, the FoldScope will do for science and medicine and a dozen other fields — all over the world.
Companies often have a strange war going on between their brands and their sub-brands. Partly because they don’t want to admit that the spin-off is as popular, or more popular, than its originator, and partly because corporate marketing folks just love turf wars, the companies will ignore all that expensive research and “go with their gut.”
Sometimes the schizophrenia pays off. Where do you get the incredibly reliable Kenmore appliances? Sears, of course. Long ago, when Sears was a healthy brand, it refused to shake off Kenmore, or elevate Kenmore into its own brand. Now, as Kenmore does all the heavy lifting for Sears, that’s not such a bad thing. Meanwhile, as expected, Procter & Gamble continues to be the paragon of sub-branding and sub-sub branding paradigms.
If sub-brands are a problem for companies, imagine what it is like handling their super-brand. The wars over holding company turf are C-Level. So, when the previously reputable Time Warner holding company made a big deal out of putting AOL first, they alienated two-thirds of their corporate body, and quite a few customers who preferred print, movies or TV to the Internet. As AOL tanked, it tarnished the whole corporation.
They should have done what the Italian head of FCA did. That’s Fiat Chrysler, by the way, but they are okay with the fact that you might have not known that. Rather than pull a Time Warner move and make a big deal out of the merger, alienating both loyal Italians and Chrysler’s generally conservative target, they know that the only thing they sell as a holding company is stock. Let Fiat and Chrysler sell the cars separately under their own brands, their own traditions, their own target customers, their own products. And for those who like to look under the corporate hood, they have some nice shares that come with a service policy.
There are two types of lifestyle spots: the kind that show you a lifestyle you aspire to and think you can live if you have the product (or pretend to live if you have the product); and, the kind that tell you who you are or would be (and maybe give you a glimpse, too) if you have the product. The latter are somewhere between a horoscope and a manifesto, both in quality and truth.
Beer commercials are some of the more prevalent lifestyle spots. Interestingly, Dos Equis’s “most interesting man in the world” is more of a “manifesto.” When they started showing the lifestyle instead of telling you about it, it stopped working.
Cadillac’s new in your face “two weeks of vacation” spot is also a manifesto. Though they show a wealthy guy in his beautiful house, the spot is about what he is saying, not showing. Interestingly, it has received some backlash because it sounds like Cadillac wants the one-percenters back. Even though the spokesman looks older than he is, that’s not the target. Or is it? Clearly, Cadillac can’t make up its mind.
A couple of weeks ago, they announced they were modifying their logo, getting rid of the olive branches and elongating the shield to supposedly attract a younger audience. But it’s long been a truth about the post-Boomers that they eschew the Type A, 80-hour week for a more balanced lifestyle that is much more European or Australian than it is American.
So, who would go for this Cadillac manifesto? Guys who missed the point of “Wolf of Wall Street” (or “Blue Jasmine” or even “American Hustle”) and want to grow up to be like Leonardo’s character? The spot even looks like a trailer for WoWS. Yikes!
I tell you what, marketing folks from Cadillac, and your pals at the ad agency Rogue. You need a vacation. Take four weeks off. Maybe longer.
I have been a cynical elitist in my life, and I can assure you it is not an avocation worthy of pursuit. When those who ventured an opinion regarding the arts or literature and were met with my practiced wide-eyed snort, they would quickly flee to that all-American of defenses: “Everyone is entitled to his opinion.” (Actually they would usually say, “their opinion,” but grammar isn’t the point here.) Then it was their turn for some form of wide-eyed reaction when I would counter with, “Yes, but some of us are paid for our opinions.”
Though I now eschew both cynicism and elitism, I still prefer professional opinions to amateur ones, and not just in the doctor’s office. Each year, when the polls for the best Super Bowl commercials are released, that wide-eyed snort, well, is just beyond suppressing.
After all, who votes, but people who have been drinking for three hours? Snort! Well, now we can understand why the Romans loved the circus. The hoi polloi gets to use their thumbs, if they can get them out of their noses or asses. SNORT!!
What is obvious to us professionals, especially those of us who have done it, is that advertising beer is the easiest thing in the world, especially when you have a stable of icons to help you. Though the Budweiser commercial is truly well done, it no longer has anything to do with the product. Though the Bud Light spots are product-oriented, they basically just support that hoi polloi perspective. Also, do you really want people to think of your customer as “that guy”?
Doritos? It’s wrong in so many ways as to defy even snorting. Did the mom actually laugh at her child being hogtied by the other child?
So, what’s good? Lots of them. But, now that I’m not an elitist, I look forward to your opinions, so see for yourself. But, here are the rules: 1) the commercial has to “sell” you or portray a benefit; 1a) or at least has to be about the brand; 2) the users of the product, service or even brand have to look like they belong with the aforementioned product, etc. or are someone you like and/or admire; and 3) you have to remember what company is paying for it. That terrific spot for the truck, for instance? Was that Chevy? Ford? Toyota? Ooops! Not a good spot, if you don’t immediately know.
If you regard these rules as killjoy rather than necessary, let’s just say that you aren’t worthy of an opinion. Snort! I know, though, that if you got this far, you are worth listening to.
Marketers have a love-hate relationship with an IDEA known as “perceived reality.” It’s simple, really. It doesn’t matter what you know to be true, it’s what your target demographic believes that counts. Their “matrix,” and therefore yours, is how they view the world, which sometimes includes your client’s products.
You want a smart spokesperson for your product? It doesn’t matter if a certain athlete or rock star is a Rhodes Scholar; if she’s a punk, or he tips the scales at 320, most demographics (and most are probably a lot dumber than your potential spokesperson) won’t believe you.
A lot of times, marketers use perceived reality to their advantage. The Statue of Liberty, for instance, is about 150 feet high. We perceive her, however, as being over 300 feet high because her base is taller than she is. So, when a company says Liberty can fit in their lobby, or is smaller than their cruise ship, we’re thinking thirty stories, not 15.
Likewise, whenever we hear “five football fields,” the marketer is saying “500 yards.” But our perceived reality of a football field includes the end zones. So, when we hear five football fields, we’re imagining 600 yards.
A corollary of “perceived reality” is that if I see someone I like, or want to be, or want to be with, using a product, then I will perceive myself using the product, too. So, what is mystifying is why beer commercials feature such losers, virtually across the board. My theory is that we hope our friends will act like that when they are drinking said beer, so we can make fun of them. That is the only way it makes sense.
So, we can all watch now as advertisers spend millions on one Super Bowl commercial. Will they stick to perceived reality? Will they try to use it to cheat? Or will they go with “my drinking pal, the dumbass” reality?
Or, like Doritos, will they let hundreds of amateurs do their thinking for them, who love to make videos featuring animals of all sorts eating the product? No matrix can handle that.
Laurie Anderson said, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” I suppose that means there is some disconnect in the modes of expression. But, still, we do it…. We talk about music and all the arts even more, which is worse, really, because there is little opportunity for pith.
Many artists like to let their work speak for itself. However, they love to discuss the craft, or how they got the IDEA, and then how they worked the IDEA into self-expression, and then into the work.
Since artists are not natural analysts, you have to listen hard to glean any long-term truths. In “The Atlantic Monthly” piece “How Genius Works,” geniuses such as T. C. Boyle, Chuck Close, Paul Simon, Grant Achatz and Frank Gehry discuss a bit of their crafts. The results are mixed, but probably different for each reader.
I particularly liked Frank Gehry’s piece, speaking of dancing to architecture. As an architect, Gehry actually is a natural analyst, which comes through both in what he says and how he says it. As is often the case, his genius comes down to a simple paradox. He explains, “You’re intuitive, but your intuition is informed.” That should last awhile.
For a variety of reasons, I miss having a World Book encyclopedia. Mind you, I love doing research online, and most of the time, for most efforts, it’s more than satisfying. So much so, I generally have to be careful not to go off on too many tangents of tangents.
I haven’t found, though, a reasonable replacement for the way the WB would convey the size of, say, countries: a simple dark France overlaid onto a lighter U.S., for instance. It was a perfect way of explaining the new in terms of the known.
So, why not an app that does that? And much, much more? You may think that Google maps does it, but knowing that it takes longer to get from the Riviera to Paris than it does from San Diego to San Francisco only gives you a partial sense of the size of France — or of California.
I want an app that overlays anything on top of anything else. Or anyone on top of anyone else, for that matter. I would like to type in White House and see how it compares with Versailles. Or how does Tom Cruise stack up against Dustin Hoffman? Or even his ex, Nicole Kidman? What if the Great Wall of China were in the U.S.? How far would it extend?
While we’re at it, the app could explain anything in terms of how many times it would stretch around the world, or how close it would get to the moon.
Maybe we could call it “Relatively Speaking.” By the way, France is twice the size of Germany, but smaller than Texas. The Great Wall is supposedly twice the distance from LA to NYC, though no one is quite sure. Cruise and Hoffman? Well, we’ll just have to wait for the app.
From the country that brought us dynamite (which actually was a safety improvement) and the three-pointed car safety belt, Sweden, comes another hallmark of safety — the invisible bike helmet.
No, it’s not the Emperor’s New Hat. This IDEA works! Not to spoil too much of the surprise, it works like a car air bag, but only when it’s called on to save the day. The rest of the time, in the tradition of Swedish spa wear, it’s just not there.
I generally think that explaining creativity isn’t that difficult, that is until I read about someone trying to do it. One of the latest attempts is David Burkus, assistant professor of business at Oral Roberts University, in “The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas.”
Burkus maintains that there is no truth to myths such as a “eureka moment,” or that creatives need solitary. He argues that sometimes cohesion in a group thwarts creativity, and that creatives don’t need freedom. Most creatives would acknowledge that Burkus is absolutely right. And absolutely wrong.
Of course, “eureka moments” occur. And, of course, they are usually the result of hours of contemplation. Often, they come when the creative has stopped pushing for them. This series of paradoxes wouldn’t ‘t be surprising at all to creatives.
You can’t take sides in a paradox, though. Burkus does, and that’s what leaves him ultimately far short of understanding or explaining creativity — unless you prefer the perspectives of the blind men explaining an elephant.
The last big IDEA that Enterprise Car Rentals had, at least that I know about, is letting their employees think for themselves in order to solve problems, even when it may entail stretching the rules. In some corporate eyes, that is equivalent to anarchy; the move, though, which Enterprise also cleverly advertised, was a smart service-oriented marketing move.
The latest IDEA from the anarchists at Enterprise is spelled HOG. That’s right. Enterprise is going to start renting Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They are “testing” the IDEA in Las Vegas, perhaps more for logistics than marketing, as there are few demographic truths to come out of Sin City — the marketing version of “what happens in Vegas….”
The appeal is, according to Enterprise, that folks would be able to ride out to the desert or to see Hoover Dam. The day rate is way above $100, so it’s more of a novelty for those who already have their motorcycle licenses.
Maybe a better IDEA, especially for the multitude of foreign tourists (who wouldn’t have a license anyway), is to have an affiliated company that provides beautiful girl chauffeurs to drive the Harleys, and the tourist gets to hang on — all the way to Hoover Dam and back. It could give new meaning to Enterprise’s slogan, “We’ll Pick You Up.”