Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Good Word Revived

 It’s been some time since I’ve had occasion to use the word “grotesque,” but it’s made a dramatic comeback in the last few weeks, and I have television to thank for it.

Two separate instances brought it to mind, one suggesting it as an adjective and one as a noun in the architectural sense.

The first was an ad for an insurance company in which a distraught individual sees his car as his baby. We’re  not just talking figure of speech this time; it’s an actual infant, several times life-size -- about the size of a car. When the car is damaged we’re spared any blood, thankfully, but when repairs are completed he is reunited with his oversize baby.

This is a literal manifestation of an idea neurotic in itself, the whole thing qualifying as grotesque for me.  

In the other instance, three gargoyles sit in judgement of supplicants asking them for money to fund businesses; a hillbilly “Shark Tank” (itself a power trip for some rich people to dominate some poorer people). This group is from Texas, which may explain things. Apparently people in Texas you might not expect to have money have it. In any large Eastern city these three would be told by police to move along, but here they’re in charge.

I have no complaint against them; they’re just good ole boys having fun and looking to make an extra buck off someone else's idea. It’s the situation. If they're all real and not actors, I pity the poor sods who decide, or are forced by circumstances, to grovel in front of the three for money; and I blame programmers or producers or whoever put it on television. Or maybe it’s the television audience. People must be watching it, which encourages sponsors to sponsor it, which keeps it on the air.   

I’ll admit it: my tastes may be too refined for the times. I see financing a business as a discussion  between an individual and a banker, not Christians and lions. I think a  car is a tool for getting you from here to there. I don’t care how much you’ve paid for it; it’s still a hunk of metal. Equating it to a living thing could be the first lurch down a slippery value slope. How much will it cost to replace baby's headlight if I hit the blind man in the crosswalk?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Market Jargon

Two items of jargon popular in the marketing community currently are “touch points” and “pain points.” Near as I can tell, “touch points” are where the seller makes contact (as it used to be called) with the prospect, with emails, blogs, or whatever. “Pain points” are what we used to call problems, and they belong to the prospect. The question I just have to ask is, “Is touching a prospect on his pain point good strategy or bad?”

I can remember once when I had a broken toe, and believe me that’s a pain point. Someone touching me there would have gotten one helluva negative response. You don’t want that if you’re selling something, so at first glance it would seem to be bad practice. Approaching someone else’s pain can be tricky. But today’s marketers have the answers; there’s lots more jargon  in the armamentarium.

Chief among these is “engagement,” a soothing balm to be applied liberally to the affected area. The sign on the side of the wagon promises business people that it will not only get flaccid prospects up and about, but will convert them into evangelists for the seller's cause. Progress toward the promised result will be measured in likes, views, shares, and tweets.

Surprisingly, there are also throwbacks to old practices among the recommendations  --“relevance,” “credibility,” “trust”  -- ingredients formerly available over the counter that apparently now need to be prescribed.   

It’s depressing to think that marketers would need to be instructed in simple truths and that others would be able to make a business of instructing them. I have recently seen at least two articles on the subject of credibility in which the authors posit that the way to attain it is to be truthful. 

Why didn’t I think of that?

The cause of it all is “content marketing,” the nostrum that has replaced traditional and well-proven advertising practices. Laying out the benefits of using one’s product or service is no longer permissible, which creates the need for “content,” which creates the need to try to bend extraneous information to a commercial purpose (see Dos Equis beer’s tutorial on creating fire with dry sticks).    

There are dozens if not hundreds of people practicing without a license, lecturing on dozens if not hundreds of websites, some self-accredited as marketing “universities.” I have not yet seen one, but can a marketing ER be far behind?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Another WWII Guy

I can’t in good conscience neglect saying something about another of the WWII men I came to know. I wrote about some of them around D-Day, but V-J Day was August 14 -- still is, as far as I'm concerned -- and it's the appropriate time to write about this one.

He was  the second of the men coincidentally named John I got to know, and the time was during our stay in the mountains near Yosemite National Park. The scenery was beautiful, but the area was desolate  people-wise, and when Jean said, “You have to meet this couple who’ve opened the Bear Creek CafĂ©” I grasped the chance like a drowning man.

John and Fern had run successful food businesses in Southern California, and I never heard their story exactly of how they wound up in the boondocks with us. Probably something like our own story: seduction by the beauty of the place followed by a willing suspension of business judgement.

They were consummate professionals; they turned a rundown roadside diner into something great. The silverware matched, the dishes matched, the salt shakers gleamed (and matched), and the food was terrific. They put their hearts into it, and anywhere else it would have been a success. We were in a sort of time warp, though, and they succumbed a year or two before we did.  

After Jean and I packed it in, too, and moved back to Southern California, we renewed our friendship. Lots of rueful laughs about what we’d shared in the mountains, and the inhabitants thereof. Later on, John developed a heart condition. His medications put him into a kind of walking-sleep condition so different from the outgoing, optimistic guy we’d known that it was painful to watch. I guess it was painful for him, too, because finally he quit taking all his meds, and just died.

Only indirectly, I was able to pick up on what John had done in the war. I had to put one and one together; that was all I had. There was a framed photo of him in Navy uniform; but tellingly, he left the table one of our evenings together to watch a television documentary about the invasion of an island in the Pacific. The anecdote about swallowing a borrowed chaw of tobacco when the big Navy guns went off -- that was his. I figured he must have driven a landing craft, but the case was circumstantial; he never talked about it. That was the thing about the WWII guys.
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You may find that V-J Day is "officially" September 2. That's the textbook date. That's when the surrender documents were formally signed. There's also some debate about whether it should be August 14 or 15, the surrender or the announcement of the surrender. It doesn't matter, and it didn't then, either.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The L.A. Phil Plays Okinawa

There are unreal experiences that seem real, but what about the reverse: things that you actually experienced but over time become hazy? If they were unlikely to begin with, there’s a risk they’ll slip into a sort of dream category: Did I really do that?

These 50-odd years later I had to ask myself if I’d really gone to a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra on Okinawa. The question intrigued me to the point where I had to contact the orchestra and ask.

As I recall it, I had settled in at my posting, a fenced-in enclosure on top of a hill overlooking the airbase we were to defend if necessary. It was a decade and more since the end of WWII and the airbase had restaurants, a PX, and a movie theater -- relatively luxurious recreational facilities. Our barracks had a pingpong table -- I became fairly proficient -- and a TV set tuned to a military channel. There’s a surprising amount of down time when you’re in the army, and I and the other members of our short-handed crew spent most of it in that barracks on that hill.

I doubt you can imagine my feelings when I learned about the concert. This was the one you swapped  guard duty nights for, two for one. I vaguely remember some walking to get there, and   I really believe I attended that concert, but the rest of the details are gone. That’s what gives it its dream-like quality.

But the LAPO archivist confirmed it; the orchestra had toured the Far East that year, performing in Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Taipei  and, unaccountably, Okinawa.  It would have been the equivalent of including a stop in New York but playing it on Governors Island.

I suppose I could have asked for the program and the conductor, but it wouldn’t have added anything. I’ve probably heard the music, whatever it was that night, hundreds of times since, and the nuances of individual conducting styles are lost on me. Confirmation of the event itself is what I was after, and now         I know for sure I enjoyed it.    

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Acronyms Gone Wild (AGW)

OK folks -- this has got to stop somewhere. Some of us in marketing need to step back and review what acronyms are supposed to accomplish.

There is reason for using acronyms -- judiciously -- in technical fields where terminology is difficult or lengthy and will appear in a document often. A three-letter acronym is a considerable saving of space over a 25-letter subject phrase in a page-limited government proposal, where engineering style dictates that the subject be repeated at least several times on each page. 

Where acronyms do not need to be is where there is no complexity and no space limitation; where the intent is purely to try to give a technical flavor to something that ain’t.

“Content marketing” is filled with examples of that already:     you see CX and UX and CTA for the perfectly pronounceable and un-technical “customer experience,”  “ user experience,” and “call to action.” 

(Those “experiences” are an odd concept to begin with; often they posit a relationship to a company before the individual has bought the company's product. But wouldn’t it seem the customer's experience (the CX) happens only after he or she finds whether the product works or it doesn't and the customer service department is helpful or isn't? But that would be logic, not Content Marketing.)

So the acronym generator grinds on.

I have now seen the acronyms WOMM and UGC. Oddly, while they appeared in unrelated articles, they mean the same thing.  

The first appeared, unbidden, like a toupe in the punchbowl, in an article on a website called Econsultancy. This is a venue in which I’ve had disagreements before. Contributors there are concerned with furthering the idea of ”content marketing” and the industry grown up around it. This is something I’ve railed against in more than one previous post. Anyone who’s been listening, if there is anyone, will know I think it’s snake oil in new bottles, if I can mix a metaphor.

I have also noted in earlier posts my distaste for acronyms as a species, acquired over a dozen years in the defense/aerospace industry, where they run rampant and are invariably over-  and incorrectly used. Here, then, we have the worst case: the combination of acronym and “content marketing.”

The first phrase being acronym-ized is a well-established one often used in the past, that comes up exactly twice in the thousand non-technical-word article in which it was found. So how much has really been saved? Since it had to be written out the first of the two times to define the acronym, the author saved 19 characters in the whole article using WOMM instead of word-of-mouth-marketing. But look: we have another excuse for a glossary!

“UGC” is the discovery of another breathless article that reveals what it is, why it’s good, and how to create it and use it in marketing. It’s based on the premise that the marketer’s “content” will be so intriguing that people reading it will feel compelled to talk and write about it themselves. 

It's not that hard to get people talking, if you aren’t particular about the type of response you get. I myself have responded to marketers’ "content" and discussions about it. I’ve done it in the “Comment” sections of numerous websites. I’m doing it here.     But is this the kind of  user generated content -- the WOMM -- marketers really want?