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June 2008

Narratives and Consumerism - Creating A Story Through The Things We Buy


Ryan Bigge, Toronto author and freelance writer, wrote an article recently in the Toronto Star called "Unlocking the desire code" - a summary of how "Marketing meets the modern psyche in a blend of business reportage, cultural anthropology and spikes of scepticism."

Bigge reviews a book by New York Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker called "Buying In." The book aims to show how meaningful objects are rarely chosen through rational means,but rather through narratives that we generate about ourselves in choosing a particular product. He claims that by unlocking the "Desire Code", consumers will go through a whole series of rationalizations that justify paying a $3 price for a tin of Red Bull. Rather than let marketing and branding campaigns try to create meaning for us, consumers should take the lead and generate stories about the stuff we buy. This story generation leads to greater word of mouth advertising on the basis that consumers will advertise and recommend stuff to their friends.

While this doesn't seem earth shattering from a marketing perspective, what's interesting is Walker's citing and use of research by famed professor and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Consumer products and buying decisions aren't always based on a rational approach...and objects often have underlying meaning based on how we define the narrative of the product and our interaction within it.

Why is it that nostalgic items often carry the most meaningful narrative? Do older objects carry with them a sense of connection? Do you think consumers believe the meaning that marketing and branding campaigns create for us - or are we becoming more cynical and skeptical about how products are presented to us? 


Proctor and Gamble Adds 'Bounce' to Storytelling


Proctor and Gamble has come up with a new twist on storytelling for their line of fresh scented dryer sheets. Bounce sheets come in a variety of colours, and help freshen your clothes and reduce static in the dryer.

Turns out that Bounce can be used for more than just laundry. In a new television, interactive and print campaign, consumers are invited to share their stories about the product by submitting them to the brand's website. The title is intriguing and begs for interaction by asking consumers: "Do you bounce beyond the dryer?" The copy contains the line: "Behind every good idea lies an even better story."

Stories must be based on true personal experiences, and other Bounce users are invited to rate the stories based on a "Clever Level." One lucky author will be chosen every week to win one month of free maid service.

The campaign is interesting and innovative on several levels:

1) It draws on the experiences and stories of people who actually use the product (adds credibility by making the campaign more believable and "real")

2) It combines print, interactive and television ads making the brand more memorable

3) There's a payoff for people who choose to share their stories prefaced by a "call to action"

4) People are engaged to participate in the "Bounce Community" through a storytelling component that draws on their competitive spirit (the stories are rated)

5) The final media ads (also involving intriguing stories) are also featured on the website should consumers wish to view them

6) It helps increase sales by introducing other uses for the product

This type of storytelling used in advertising is nothing new, but it's the way that Proctor and Gamble does it that draws the viewer into the experience of the brand. Who knew that one could get all that from a small, scented Bounce sheet!

What other brands encourage participation through storytelling? Are you surprised that more companies don't take advantage of this technique?

Chicago Takes Customer Experience To A New Level

Cloudgate There are few places where the words "customer experience" leave you with a positive impression. Having recently returned from a trip to Chicago, I have to say that I was duly impressed.

As a tourist (and a Canadian) I always felt welcome, and the locals were more than happy to chat if I needed help with something. On the streets playing tourist with a map in hand, I was amazed that people stopped to ask if I needed help (having lived in Toronto for almost 10 years now, I have to say that rarely happens!)

While browsing the stores, staff were helpful - especially in the Macy's flagship store on State Street. From the moment I entered the store, I was amazed at the depth and variety of the displays. I was surrounded by an incredible combination of sights, sounds and aromas! If I needed help, the staff didn't look the other way as if they couldn't be bothered...they picked up the phone and didn't stop asking questions until they found an answer! (for all you Canadian retailers wondering how to stay competitive, take a lesson from Macy's).

People who worked in the restaurants and bars were equally friendly and helpful. Tables turned over quickly, and there was none of this "I really don't like my job" mentality that's so prevalent in other places that I've visited. On several occasions, my husband and I took public transit. The first day we took it, there was a closure at one of the major stops along the Blue line. Our shuttle driver knew of the closure, and dropped us off at the closest alternative station. Once in the station, we were surprised to see Chicago Transit staff directing people where to go...and offering a helping hand to tourists who weren't familiar with the fare machines (again, Toronto's TTC could take a tip from Chicago).

From the architecture, to the sprawling the wonderful personality of its residents...Chicago left us wanting more. For anyone who has not had a chance to visit this great city, I would encourage you to go.

The cynic will say that we were treated this way because we were tourists. Even if this were true, would it really matter? When I compare our treatment in Chicago with that of some other cities, Chicago is a first class experience that leaves you begging for more.

What other cities have left you with such a positive experience? What happened to make you feel this way? What can other cities do to be sure that visitors are given the same type of positive customer experience?