My son and I walked through Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday at the ungodly hour of 5:30AM and were confronted by a marketing Jackalope (definition: the trophy heads of rabbits sporting small racks of horns you see across the great American South, particularly in Texas; also defined as combinations of objects or concepts not found in nature). We wound our way to the TSA security line and entered what looked like the entrance to either a day spa or a ride at Epcot. Light blue warped walls illuminated with water-like textures, new age music softly playing around us as we dragged our carry-ons forward, and small signs along the way that gently told us, "you might find that you have a lot in common with TSA agents… we all want the same thing…" Jarring, to say the least. Then, we came to the aforementioned TSA agent, so let's all wait for the punchline.
She stood like a marine at parade rest, unsmiling and clearly not someone my son and I would have much in common with. She looked at my ten year old and said in her best parade ground voice, "State your name, first and last, and your age." Being unaccustomed to interrogations at that hour of the morning, he showed her his boarding pass and said his name was Nick. Her voice went up one octave and roughly a hundred decibels. "I said your name, first and last, and your age." He passed the test on the second try. She then turned her basilisk-like eye to me and demanded my papers. I, like Nick, passed on the second try ("Remove your ID from your wallet!"). Nick got the giggles at that point.
Funny how dogs still don't like your dog food even though your changed your packaging.
How did this unfortunate series of events come to pass? Here's a guess. We've got a metric ton of "your call is important to us" 3x5 cards all telling us that this TSA security thing is an unhappy situation. I know! Let's put up blue fluorescent walls, play soothing music, and tell people that our TSA people are just… like… them. Brilliant. And no one thought to move, train, or fire the people who make the entire experience so perfectly awful.
The very astute Noah Brier wrote an article for American Demographics magazine discussing Shepard Fairey's Obey Giant campaign, noting that, "companies need to stop trying to do something because it's cool and try to understand why it's cool." Understanding the "why" is more important than parroting the "what," and this point is usually the one most often missed by marketers looking to capture what others before them have discovered. We all loved BMW Films and many of us copied them, with mixed results. User generated media worked for some and clearly not for all. What works for one brand doesn't necessarily translate unless we've gained the insight that allows us to translate the "why" for our own brand.
- "Your call is important to us": unless it isn't, in which case we'll continue to ignore you for (pause) five more minutes. We can all agree, I hope, that showing people they're important to us, right here, right now, than it is to play them a recording of someone who just says it.
- Innovation always comes from elsewhere: there is nothing new under the sun, at least in this particular market sub-segment, but there is a whole pile of stuff we never dreamed about in other industries that we can translate and use to great advantage if we're bright enough to make it relevant to our own needs. Aliph made a Bluetooth headset that says, "look, a piece of wearable technology that has (gasp!) a sense of style to it!" Whether you happen to like that sense of style is a matter of personal taste, of course, but kudos for doing something.
- Sometimes the right fix is the easy fix: Kenichi Ohmae discussed how Ajinomoto increased sales of their spices not by heavy ad campaigns or splashy packaging, but by increasing the size of the holes in their shakers. If BWI would have fixed the problem instead of packaging it, they would have save countless thousands of dollars, not to mention this glowing post.
The trip wasn't a complete marketing failure, though. Arriving at San Jose, which is under heavy construction, we came across a sign that apologized for the noise – and had a bucket of give-away ear plugs. Funny, light-hearted, and honest, not to mention inexpensive.
As Tower of Power said, once upon a time, "Hipness is what it is… and sometimes hipness is what it ain't."
Stephen Denny has spent twenty years connecting brands to the wants & needs of technology users. His consultancy, Denny Marketing, helps consumer technology companies cut through the ambient noise in the marketplace by distilling the right brand message and then animating it into campaigns that win the hearts and minds of channel partners and end users alike.
He also teaches the Principles of Persuasion Workshop, based on the groundbreaking research of Dr. Robert Cialdini, which explores the application of the social psychology of influence.