Monthly Archives: March 2015

Today’s youth for yesterday’s youth

I’m always willing to go off the beaten path for great social media marketing and promotional campaigns to share with my students.  My favorite one is this campaign from the Belgian bank KBC.  It successfully reaches their target market in an authentic way and their target is one which highly values authenticity.  It connects people across generations through social media and generates enormous free, positive publicity.  On top of all of those corporate goals, it’s just a good thing to do; serving elders, and one can’t help but feel positive toward the brand.  It is quite the accomplishment when you think of the core elements; old people, young people, banks, and music festivals.  But they make it work brilliantly!

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Walk in stupid every day

One of the challenges of approaching marketing in an academic setting is that students often ignore the constraints and limitations that will set the context in their professional lives.  In 1999 (the middle of the stock market, dot com boom) I was a teaching assistant in a marketing management course designed for upper level undergraduates.  The professor organized the class and provided the lectures to the big group on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I met the class broken up in smaller sections on Fridays to work through marketing problems and case studies.  It didn’t matter what the problem was (bringing a distinctive small ice tea brand to a larger market, introducing new diaper technology to the consumer market, trying to expand the greeting card market by reaching out to men) a significant number of students would propose that the company “go public” (sell shares on the stock market to raise money) and use the money raised to hire Michael Jordan as a spokesman/endorser.

When I’d point out that the solution overlooked the deeper nuances of the problem and wasn’t necessarily realistic, students often stated that their plan would surely work, so it had to be solid.  The problem was they were ignoring constraints.  In 1999, aligning your product with Michael Jordan would likely work, but there is only one Michael Jordan and both his brand and value is stronger if he aligns himself with a limited number of companies.  His price tag was also very high.

In many student marketing plans I see today, promotional plans as presented would often cost far more than the company could ever hope to gain in gross sales (an example of why research and external support for ideas in an academic and professional setting is so crucial).

A Beautiful Constraint, A book by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden from the company eatbigfish came out in January and among its examples are the interaction between Nike and its main advertising company Wieden + Kennedy of Portland that grew into the iconic companies we know today.

The theme of the book is that constraints imposed on a situation can lead to transformative results.  In a nutshell, if I have everything I need and feel like I know what I’m doing, my outcome will be the same-old, same-old that I know how to do.  However, limitations in time, resources, talent, objectives etc. cause one to consider new solutions and often lead to ground breaking, transformative results.

Before moving on to Nike and Wieden + Kennedy, I want to point out Wieden + Kennedy’s approach and mindset.  Two of their credos are “walk in stupid every day” and “fail harder”.  I think that’s a great mindset.  Thinking you have things figured out leaves you vulnerable, especially in today’s rapidly changing world.  This also reinforces the importance of being plugged in to your industry and constantly seeking external information.

The “fail harder” element resonates with me in a sport context.  My athletic career was spent in wrestling.  While I did not have great success in any one stage of my career, I ended up being competitive at a high level.  Part of this was because I always sought out tougher competition and bigger challenges, which involved failure and losing and my having to work like crazy to get up to speed at each successive level.  To me, if I already knew in my head and heart that I could dominate at a level, it seemed like drudgery to actually have to go and carry it out, I’d rather direct my hard work and efforts toward more difficult challenges.  The point is that you can get stuck where you are if you fear failure and many of the most enduring and valuable lessons come from failure.

According to the book, Dan Wieden (the company founder) described it as a gift that his fledgling advertising company located away from the mainstream in Portland, Oregon would be the recipient of the Nike (not the iconic Nike of today, but the little known early 1980s version) account and its constraints.  Nike founder Phil Knight personally briefed the advertisers; he didn’t want anything that resembled ‘advertising’, they were not to run the same ad twice, and they definitely weren’t allowed to use models in their advertising.  Among Wieden’s internal constraints were that top advertising people lived in New York and if any were amenable to moving to Portland, they couldn’t afford to hire them anyway.

From the book: “Wieden’s band of misfits seized the opportunity to blend Nike’s authentic connection to athletes with Knight’s own irreverence and a sense that sport deserved to be center stage in culture.  They were soon stirring up controversy using the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ as the soundtrack to the new fitness boom, pairing up-and-coming filmmaker Spike Lee with emerging megastar Michael Jordan and showing a bare-chested, toothless octogenarian running seventeen miles every morning.  The world had never seen advertising like this before.”

This is a great example for students who want to become leaders and game-changers in what they do.  Rather than repeating what has been done, knocking out whatever is asked of you, staying comfortable, and sticking with what you think you know, wake up stupid every day and look for innovative and transformative solutions to your challenges.  That skill and mindset is extremely valuable and will only become more valuable in the future.

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Anyone know where I can get a blue cowboy hat? How I became a biggest loser of 2015

In August of 2003 I was pulling a U-Haul full of my soon-to-be wife’s belongings across America.  We started as a perfect match, apparently, two people who are always looking to do things the hard way.  Her and her things were in Los Angeles and we were scheduled to wed on the Maine coastline.  We didn’t even get to New Mexico when she had all she could take of the road trip.  I, being a man, am driven by an innate need to ‘make good time’ in driving situations.  It can’t be explained or always justified, but if you are a guy reading this you probably know what I’m talking about.  It is what it is.

However, I happen to suffer some internal turmoil in those situations being drawn by what, to me, is the ‘romance’ of the road(side): walnut bowls in Missouri, Huddle & Waffle Houses in the South (along with pecans, peaches, and $5 t-shirts), FIREWORKS!, South of the Border, truck stops, Stuckeys, gas stations, diners, overlooks, and in the southwest; trading posts, turquoise, Navajo bread and Kachina dolls. So, when Kristina couldn’t take another minute in the car and there was a trading post in sight, it was “forget about making good time” and I’d pull right in.

Browsing around in the first trading post we visited, a row of royal blue, velvety cowboy hats caught my eye.  It was one of those things that rarely if ever happens to me, but I thought to myself, “I need one of those.”  I was suspicious that it might be the monotony of the road or something else, but I had a strong urge to get one of those royal blue hats.  I started to think of a royal blue cowboy hat stowed away somewhere and the possibility that what felt so necessary at the moment, would seem pretty dumb when I put my hat on to walk out the door of my Ithaca, NY apartment.  So I exercised my better judgment and pushed my desire for the blue hat into a pit inside my stomach never to be let out (hat tip to Hank Hill).

A few hours later, we hit another trading post and while I was poking around, I saw another row of velvety, royal blue cowboy hats.  I took it as a sign.  I needed one of these.  So I mustered up the courage to ask my betrothed what she thought about it.  I was greeted with a tired look of mild shock and overwhelming disappointment.  She spoke a polite, diplomatic, thoughtful version of what her look communicated, and I reflexively tried to make my case why a velvety, royal blue cowboy hat was a good thing for me to have.  The compromise?  She said that if I could get my weight to under 200 lbs, she’d be all in on the hat.  I thought that was a great deal.

Context: I hadn’t weighed less than 200 lbs since I represented the US Air Force in the All-Military wrestling championships in Quantico, Virginia in 1990.  Out of wrestling season, I normally weighed more than 200 pounds in college.  I did have a year in the mid-1980s where I spent a good deal of my winter bicycling along the traffic filled roads of Florida, walking the Gulf Coast beaches, swimming in the surf, and hiking and camping in the Ocala National Forest.  At the end of all that, I was well under 200 but that didn’t last.  When I was in the Air Force in my 20s, my weight limit (to stay off the fat boy program) was a strict 205 lbs and I had to watch myself when weigh-ins came around.  I also spent a half year in sub-Saharan Africa in 2000 where I felt like I turned in to a stick carrying my belongings all over the place, but when I came home and hopped on a scale I was 203-204 lbs.

For the most part betweem 1993-2003 (the time of the velvety royal blue hat), I weighed somewhere between 220-225 lbs.  Fast forward 11 ½ years later to fall of 2014 through to today.  I lost 40+ pounds since November.  I’m under 200 for the first time since that wrestling event.  I want my hat.  But, short of getting in the car and driving out to New Mexico, I don’t know where I can find one.  Internet hasn’t helped.

So, 40 pounds of weight loss is a pretty big deal, I guess.  How did it happen?  The real story is kind of dull.  It involves signing up with Dr. Douglas Farrago’s direct primary care practice when it opened in October and the results of a blood test.  I pretty much did everything the guy says in this video +  Bulletproof Coffee every day (yes, the recent celebrity fad).  But I’d rather share a more compelling story that’s not entirely true, but inspired by true events.

In my role as a sport management professor, I was engaged in a discussion one day with students about how the business has developed over the decades.  If you go back and watch a summer afternoon Major League baseball game from the 1970s, you will likely see a variety of shirt sleeves and t-shirts in the crowd and a fair amount of men with bare, hairy chests.  Today at almost every professional sporting event, the majority of the crowd is decked out in the home team’s licensed apparel.

The conversation came around to my personal relationship with licensed apparel and, maybe with the exception of caps on clearance, I really don’t see any personal value in it.  A student asked me if I were to buy a replica jersey, which one would it be.  I thought long and hard.  Players switch teams, teams switch directions, athletes get involved in scandals and you can often find their dated jerseys at TJ Maxx for $12.  I just never felt the urge to run around looking like a player ready for the game, but wearing jeans.  But I thought about it and thought about what athlete or moment I’d feel good about representing with my choice of apparel, and I kept coming back to this Eric Cantona goal (or at 4:37 on this video.  It’s the last one of the compilation if you like watching great goals).

The goal, the reaction.  It’s the best, it happened a long time ago and it’s never going to change.  Eric Cantona the soccer player, is what he is and the controversies have faded with time.  To see him do that in the midst of a personal and media firestorm, that’s the best.  I love it.  That’s the replica jersey I decided I would wear.  One like he’s wearing for that goal.  The red, Manchester United jersey with the collar and the Sharp logo from the 1990s.

When I got home that night, I started to wonder if I could find one of those jerseys.  I searched all over the internet and found one option, one size, one left.  It was from a company in Taiwan and the price (less than $20) had me suspicious regarding its authenticity.  One left at that price?  I ordered it.  The picture looked great.  A few weeks later it arrived with a tag indicating authenticity, so it must be so, right?  Tried it right on and felt like this with more skin showing, especially coming out of the bottom of the shirt:

Fat guy in a little coat

So, if I wanted to wear my Cantona replica jersey, the only size available, I had some work to do.  After months and months of disciplined effort, it easily fits and I can wear it.  I’m not sure where or why I ever would, but I could.  And I’ve even earned my velvet royal blue cowboy hat today, if I can find one.  So if you see one let me know!  I’m under 200 lbs!

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