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At 4:45am on a recent weekday morning, I was all alone walking down a dark side street in the village of Southampton where I live. The only creatures stirring were myself and a flock of deer breakfasting on a homeowner’s expensive plantings.
I was on my way to the Southampton High School where I was going to work for the Board of Elections as a poll inspector. I had to be there by 5am to join the other poll workers to open the polls.
Since I live about a quarter of a mile from the school it’s a simple walk.
That’s where I was going and why I was out before the sun came up. I live in a rural area where few people walk. Being a city dweller most of my life walking is second nature to me. The thought of driving a few blocks to get somewhere has always struck me as strange and lazy. So I walk almost everywhere as long as my legs and feet can take the distance and conditions.
As I neared the school a glow on the road came up behind me. I then heard the sound of a car engine. Wondering who else would be out at this hour, I turned around quickly to be sure I was seen and wouldn’t get clipped if the driver didn’t notice me walking, even though I was on the sidewalk. A car pulled up alongside me and stopped. I also stopped. I looked over and saw that it was a Southampton Village police cruiser. I immediately thought I was going to be rousted because I was the only person around…it was dark and I was wearing dark clothes…and I was walking in an area where no one walks!
I stood there waiting to get grilled when the car window descended and the officer stuck his head out the window. I was expecting a flashlight to be beamed in my eyes but the officer simply said, “Are you heading to the voting place?”
Surprised I replied, “Yes, I have to be there by 5am.” At that point the policeman did something I never expected. He said to me, “Want a lift?”
I said, “Sure” and instead of jumping into the front seat I climbed into the back. The officer seemed surprised but said nothing. The ride to the school only took a minute so we didn’t have any other conversation other than my thanking him when we arrived.
But when we did arrive my fellow poll workers were waiting outside the school for the security guard to open the door. As the police car pulled up and I climbed out they looked at me and said, “What happened? What did you do?”
I said I was exercising my right as a citizen and taxpayer to get a tax-free ride from a public employee.
On a side-note, there is zero legroom in the back of a police squad car.
This Tuesday, June 26, I’ll be working as an elections inspector during the Republican primaries in my residence town. I’ve done this before and I know one thing, you and all of my fellow Americans can relax.
Even though my day begins at 5am and runs till 10pm, and I’m getting paid less than the minimum hourly wage and not getting lunch or dinner or coffee or tea or anything else for that matter, and this is strictly a voluntary civic duty, I’ll be there.
If Russian hackers try to wield their evil bits and bytes and steal this primary election, I’ll be there.
If Mexican and Central American “terror toddlers” try to sneak across the threshold with drug-stuffed diapers, I’ll be there.
If adult film industry actors, producers and directors try to distract true Americans and cast a pornographic pall, I’ll be there.
If national debt loving tax cutters try to slice their way in, I’ll be there.
If Chinese factory workers try to slip in and steal a job that no patriotic, self-righteous American would be seen doing, I’ll be there.
If FBI, CIA, and “deep state, deep web, deep dish” provocateurs who can’t be trusted try to mislead and brainwash the brainless, I’ll be there.
If extremist environmentalists and a gaggle of global warmers try to force us to breathe clean air and drink clean water, I’ll be there.
And if some crazy politician tries to force America into receiving healthcare and living up to the ideals and standards of the Constitution, I’ll be there….starting at, OMG, 5am.
I’m teaching an online course in Advertising Copywriting for FIT which is part of the State University of New York. For those of you who don’t know what copywriting is the easiest way to explain it is that it’s a sales pitch without the human salesman.
Copywriters sell products, companies, imagery, personalities, causes, movements, virtually anything that requires the recipient of the message to take an action after absorbing the communication. We do it on TV, over the radio, in magazines, through emails, Instagram posts, Facebook banner displays, mail delivered to your home, on billboards, invasive marketing, almost anywhere a consumer can receive a message.
It’s a tough, tough business. Everyone thinks they can sell. Heck, if you’ve seen a commercial or print advertisement or an ad next to your Facebook posting of your latest cooking concoction you most likely think you can do it, too. And you probably can. As to whether you can do it effectively so people actually do respond to it — ah, that’s a whole other proposition.
Any business that spends money on advertising and marketing expects one thing: ROI, Return on Investment. For every penny spent on marketing a business expects to see at least two pennies returned in terms of sales. That’s the bottom line.
The big question facing a business used to be “where should I market?” Digital media and particularly social media have made targeting a specific consumer for your specific product has been made much more efficient thanks to algorithms and a bunch of other technical stuff I don’t claim to understand. Today, it is much, much easier to reach the exact demographic and psychographic profile that is a perfect fit for your product.
BUT…and this is the big, big problem facing marketers today…more and more consumers today are totally turned off by marketing messages. People, especially young people, no longer watch TV for two reasons. One, they want to be able to watch the TV programs they want when they want. And two, they don’t want to be interrupted and bogged down by watching commercials.
It’s not called “streaming” viewing and listening for nothing. A stream flows. It’s something you can float down in peace. Commercials are like logs or rocks in the middle of the stream that you have to stop and navigate around. They make the experience less than tranquil. The viewing consumer knows it and they don’t want to be bumped off course when they’re watching/flowing with their programs.
So what should a business do? Not market their products because consumers are bothered by marketing messages? Look for new places to put their marketing messages that consumers won’t find bothersome?
Shouldn’t consumers have the right to be made aware of products and services that can improve or enhance their lives? Of course! But what do you do when consumers don’t want to hear good news?
Imagine you have a new widget and you put out a message that says, “Oh boy, are you going to be happy. I have a new widget!” And the response from consumers is “Don’t tell me about it. Don’t you realize you’re interrupting my binging or twittering or social media plunging?”
I’ve been asking experts in advertising, marketing, social media, traditional media, consumers of all ages, and trust me no one has a rational answer to this dilemma.
Fact: A business needs to market in order to grow and thrive.
Fact: A consumer needs to receive marketing messages in order to get the best deal and benefits possible so that business can deservedly grow and thrive.
But what happens when you are trying to do all this in an era of consumer doubt and distrust due to over-promise, traditional-digital-social-media clutter, and marketing message mediocrity?
Honestly, I don’t have a clue.
And that boys and girls is a very true story.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in June of 1993. I was walking on East 79th Street in Manhattan with a group of friends. We had just come from a church basement after attending a meeting of an internationally known support group.
Our small group was heading to a coffee shop on the corner of East 79th Street and 1st Avenue to sit together and shoot the breeze. It was just friends going to spend a little while talking about this and that.
As we neared the intersection we saw a small group of men gathered. What made them stand out was what they were wearing — suits on a summer Sunday! Who were these guys? Were they police looking for someone? A religious group preparing for some passionate proselytizing?
What also made them noticeable was the film crew that was gathered nearby. A camera operator and a sound engineer were leaning against a wall, smoking cigarettes, and waiting for something to happen.
As we got closer the film crew pushed themselves away from the wall and got their gear ready. The group of men in suits looked in our direction and seemed to be preparing themselves for our arrival.
What was going to happen? “We” were going to happen!
One of the dark-suited men broke away from his group and walked towards us with his hand outstretched and a big, toothy, beaming grin on his face. The film crew gathered right behind him, aiming their camera and microphone at us like fishermen focusing fishing poles toward a particular spot in the water, expecting a trout to jump out and gobble the hook.
I stuck out my hand to shake the hand of the grinning suit because I’m courteous and I have to admit I was curious who this person was who seemed so eager to meet us.
“Hi, I’m Rudy Giuliani and I’m running for Mayor of New York City”, the smiler declared to me and our group. “How are you guys doing today?”
Holding his hand in a tight handshake, I matched him smile-for-smile and said, “I’m doing absolutely great. I just came from an AA meeting!”
Suddenly the smiler ripped his hand from mine, frowned ferociously, turned his back on me and made the “cut camera” motion with his now-free hand to the film crew. The men in suits scuttled away from us as fast as possible, followed by the crew, presumably to find less tainted subjects to sidle up to.
At first I was dumbfounded but then it dawned on me what I should do next. It became as clear as the blue Sunday sky on that June afternoon.
I knew who I wasn’t going to get, and didn’t get, my vote for Mayor in November of 1993.
I’ve been watching all the outrage about the use of social media data and the targeting of people through demographics and psychographics to persuade them to one particular political point of view.
Putting aside the legalities and morality of using personal data without the permission of the social media subscriber, I must admit I’m amused at the outrage by journalists about using techniques that have been used by marketers for years.
Imagine wanting to find out what a particular group of customers might want and prefer before sitting down to craft a message. What a shock! Please! If someone didn’t sit down and do just that they would be a lousy salesperson. Do we give people what they need or what they want? What do you think?
I was taught many, many years ago the art of salesmanship by a very wise man known as Izzy.
When I was 19 years old I worked as a salesman in a men’s retail clothing store on Fordham Road in the Bronx, New York. I would watch the salesmen in action to learn the selling ropes. Some of the salesmen would pounce on a customer the moment he walked in the store. Other salesmen would allow the customer to browse through the aisles and shelves for a bit and then they would approach. Each had their own style and demeanor. Some salesmen were gray-haired, frumpy veterans. Others were young, stylish and energetic. But one of them stood out to me — Izzy.
Izzy was in his 60’s. He stood 5′ 8″ tall, smoked whenever he got a chance, wore pants that sagged and bagged and ties that had seen better decades. He was everything you would normally think wouldn’t be appropriate in a men’s apparel store. Yet he was the best salesman in the place. Maybe it was the yellow tape measure he always kept draped around his neck like a second necktie.
When Izzy had his eye on a customer he would watch the man eyeball the clothes and maybe pull out a shirt here or a pair of pants there before he approached. Izzy wasn’t being lazy or uninterested. He was sizing up the customer – like a cobra sizing up the mouse that was happily munching away on a nut or berry, totally unaware of the snake laying in wait just inches away.
Izzy would be evaluating and determining the customer’s apparel taste as well as his patience. As long as the customer was looking at the product, Izzy would hang back. Once the customer raised his head Izzy would be the first thing he saw. Brushing back his always un-combed hair and wiping the cigarette ashes fro his dangling tie, Izzy would smile and say, “Need help?”
Izzy was the data analyzer of his time. He knew what the customer would ultimately buy before the customer did. He was a genius at measuring and evaluating from behind his cloud of cigarette smoke. All Izzy had to do was steer the customer in the direction he was already going.
That’s exactly what the data analyzers of today are doing. Nothing new is at work here. They’re just doing it using fancy terms like demographics, psycho-graphics, etc. Except the slick group doing it today are working in the faceless digital world and pirating other people’s information to create their profiles.
If Izzy was around today I bet he would be smoking, or probably vaping, in Silicon Valley and making a fortune in commissions.
The other day it was suggested that teachers be armed while working in schools. Yes, that’s what I heard — arm teachers with lethal weapons to ward off potential mass shooters in schools.
I thought this was a spoof or a very bad joke. But the speaker appeared to be serious. Very serious. So I took it seriously. Not because the message made sense but because it was coming from the President of the United States.
Do you remember a President ever suggesting that teachers be armed? Teachers actually carrying guns into classrooms and through the school halls? Being a military veteran and a teacher I was amazed — and disheartened.
So I contacted the head of the department in the college where I teach. The first question I asked was, “So where are we going to keep the gun rack? And the ammo magazines? And the gun cleaning kits? And the gun holsters? And the practice targets? And the phone numbers for the lawyers we’ll need when someone is shot or killed accidentally?”
He didn’t have an answer. Neither does the person who came up with this suggestion in the first place.
True story — unfortunately.
This morning a group of us had a discussion about happiness. One person wasn’t happy and couldn’t figure out how to be happy or at least find some sliver of happiness. He was doom and gloom personified! Long face, grudging smile, sagging shoulders, you get the picture.
Various suggestions were offered to cheer him up — go out, meet someone, take a trip, indulge a personal desire, eat good food, etc.
Then someone offered a novel perspective. She said when you take the word, “blame” and remove the “me” then you’re left with “bla…bla…bla”
In other words the only one, at the end of the day, we can point at a finger at for our unhappiness is ourselves. Unless there is some sort of organic, congenital or chemical reason at work, happy or sad is largely a function of attitude.
So how does one shift the attitude? One way I have found is to shift the word “me” to “we.” Go out and help someone else and see what happens.
I can’t guarantee much in life but I can guarantee one thing and it’s from personal experience. Money can’t buy it. Status can’t acquire it. Fame or celebrity isn’t going to collect it.
Helping someone other than yourself is a sure-fire cure for the self-imposed blues.
Works every time. Really. Truly.