Archive | March, 2012

Real Street Marketing

27 Mar

The weather has been unseasonably warm here, culminating in a record 25.5°C on March 22.

It’s like Christmas in July for one of Toronto’s much maligned and marginalized groups; the panhandlers are back out in force.

These other boys of summer may be underrepresented, but they are highly vocal.

On my 10 minute stroll to and from work through the Annex, one of the city’s prosperous but still gritty hoods, I get a snapshot of marketing at its rawest.

Panhandlers don’t have MBAs or Clios; they have a split second to engage you.

Selling yourself is never easy and as with any trade there’s a knack to it, maybe they can even teach us marketing sophisticates a thing or two.

A Sherlock Holmes story, The Man with the Twisted Lip tells of a protagonist leading the double life of a London beggar while making enough income to also be a respectable country gentleman.

He accomplishes this by virtue of, “A facility of repartee, which improved by practice and made me quite a recognised character in the City.”

The Holmes story chronicles a practitioner at the pinnacle of his trade.

Unlike the first guy I usually pass.

A 20 something, who gruffly demands “Spare change?” and whether you give him any or not, follows up with “Nice day” making both phrases sound like a proposition.

He certainly lacks the silver-tongued delivery of the man with the oversize white cane.

 “Can you spare a nickel a quarter a dime or a dollar?” delivered in the breakneck rhythmic sing-song, if not the accent of a Kentucky horse auctioneer.

I appreciate his attention to syntax, in putting quarter before dime to improve the flow, almost enough to overlook his breaking one of salesmanship’s fundamental rules, by asking a yes – no question.

Then there’s the nondescript guy although that’s not entirely accurate, because I can describe him as the guy with the best tagline.

“Something is better than nothing.”

A line I appreciate enormously for being both optimistic and philosophically unassailable.

I usually pass the 40 cent guy on the way home.

His strategy is one of deceptive simplicity.

“Do you have 40 cents?”

I admire the cleverness of this, because first, by asking for a specific amount he legitimizes his request to some degree.

(A specific amount surely infers a specific purpose.)

Second 40 cents cunningly requires a minimum of 3 coins, greatly upping the probability of getting more, because who is going to search for exact change?

Do I give them money?

Sometimes yes sometimes no.

I side with the character in Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink, who asserts:

“Begging is a profession, like dentistry, like shining shoes. It’s a service. Every so often you need to get a tooth filled or your shoes shined or to give alms. So when a beggar presents himself to you, you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I need a beggar today?’ If you do, give him alms. If you don’t, don’t.”

Put another way, if I’m not in the market for what you’re selling, it doesn’t matter how good your presentation is, I won’t be buying.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate a good one.

And I can think of a few brands that don’t handle their messaging with such smarts.


The Strange Allure of Losers

13 Mar

In a world enthralled by winners, sport reminds us there are also losers.

Last weekend I watched Spurs (that’s Tottenham, not San Antonio) lose their third Premier League match in a row.

Although the team is still in third place, their lead over Arsenal (our arch-rivals) in fourth place, has evaporated to a solitary point, from 10 points, in just two weeks.

As a longstanding Spurs fan this is disappointing, but not altogether unexpected.

It’s the price of following a club with a tradition of swashbuckling football and a masochistic tendency of giving up soft goals.

A club that hasn’t won the game’s top honour since 1961, and could well go another 50 years before winning it again – but still sells out more or less every home game.

In a society that idolises winners, sport may be the only area where associating with losers is considered acceptable.

Even losing sports brands are incredibly powerful, with teams getting passed down through generations of families like blue eyes, or big ears.

In many communities it’s OK to change your spouse but not to change your team.

In sports, even losers have allure.

History, on the other hand, is said to be written by the winners.

Maybe so, but there are losers who capture our imagination across the centuries, with a grip most brands can only dream about.

Napoleon may have lost the battle of Waterloo, yet he’s certainly defeated the Duke of Wellington in the battle of pop culture.

There are innumerable films about Napoleon, including Abel Gance’s 1927 epic, in most of them Wellington is relegated to a minor role.

While Wellington can lay claim to a boot and a beer or two named after him “Napoleon” is the term given to a whole category of Armagnac and Cognac.

Oscar Wilde died broken and penniless.

Since then, practically all his work been filmed, he himself is the subject of numerous films and Wildean has become an adjective.

His epigrams endure and he’s the subject of numerous biographies.

Van Gogh never sold a picture in his lifetime and cut off his ear.

But two of his paintings are among the 10 most expensive ever sold, (adjusted for inflation).

And his pop cultural influence ranges from a portrayal by Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life, to the song Vincent by Don McLean and at least 5 other films.

We’re fascinated by Van Gogh’s brilliance, his madness, and his persistence, in death we accord him the place he was denied in life.

Napoleon died in exile, but is still regarded as one of the finest military strategists ever.

Oscar Wilde’s wit overshadows his fall from grace over something as commonplace as homosexuality.

In life, as in sport, the best players don’t win every time.

But sport at least gives us transparency along with victory or defeat.

A transparency that can be missing in life, where sometimes the game feels rigged before it begins.

And there’s something heroic about rolling the dice for really big stakes.

Whether the winners write history or not, the losers are often more interesting.

Even if, when it comes to sports, they break your heart every time.