Another Titan Passes


harris0581454615581I’ve had the pleasure of being able to meet and work with a number of remarkable people.  My first “real” job after grad school  was at Louis Harris and Associates in New York.  Lou had won fame as John Kennedy’s polling consultant in 1960, and when I knew him, had a nationally syndicated newspaper column on public opinion.

LHA as it was known was an incubator for many market research professionals and major research firms.  It was said that if Lou had been able to keep all of this spinoffs, his firm would have been the largest in the industry, instead of simply one of the most respected.

His emphasis was on understanding people’s motivations — the logic underneath the numbers.  That’s what is missing in a lot of studies of consumers today, and one of the key elements missing in polling for the last election.  Bluntly, if there is no logic underneath the numbers, the numbers are probably wrong.

He passed this week.  I hadn’t spoken to him  in years, but I’m still grateful for the opportunity to work with him.  I learned a lot.

There’s a lot more about him in the Washiongton Post obituary:

The Angry Consumer


martin-luther-king-anger-quote1The conventional wisdom about anger is that it’s bad for both mental well-being and physical health.  It’s something to be avoided, managed or suppressed.

Clearly, that’s not true in either war or sports.  Hatred of the opponent motivates willingness to work harder and take a higher level of risk than one would normally.  The huge difference is whether actions are hastily crafted or carefully designed.

The “revisionist” literature in psychology that talks about the need for anger to achieve a higher level of performance and success.   One writer describes 6 key benefits of anger:

  • Anger motivates
  • Angry people are optimistic  (really?)
  • Anger can help relationships  (clearing the air?)
  • Anger nurtures self-insight  (really??)
  • Anger can reduce violence  (or cause it)
  • Anger can be a negotiating strategy

These are things that can be true, but aren’t necessarily true.  They only work if anger is controlled and channeled.  If not, you have a loose torpedo, capable of sinking anything in reach.

We saw the power of anger in the recent election.  The fact that it worked in the recent election is being taken as proof that anger should be an emotional component in advertising.  Are we now going to see a stream of ads designed to stimulate anger?

What we don’t know is the other side — what happens when angry people are disappointed.  We may be about to find out.


  1. Blasevick, Denise, “Should your advertising anger your audience?” S3 Agency.
  2. Frenay, David, “The Importance of Emotions in Advertising,” EMOLYTICS, 11 July 2016.
  3. Matilda, Benita, “Anti-Smoking Ads Using Anger More Effective and Persuasive,” Science World Report, 30 April 2014.
  4. Oetting, Jami, “Emotional Advertising: How Brands Use Feelings to Get People to Buy,” Hubspot, 9 April 2016.

Fashion: Something New and Genuine


It is extremely rare that I find something in fashion that I feel is really worth comment.  I suppose that if I’d been alive when the bikini was introduced, that event would have qualified.  (Hey, I’m a guy, but the Internet didn’t exist back then and I came along several years later.  No, granddaughter, I’m not older than dirt.)

An online survey introduced me to one this morning.  It’s a boutique firm into green manufacturing that uses recycled flowers to make clothing dyes.  The company is called Calyx,

My initial reactions:

  • Elegant, even sexy in an understated way
  • Something a woman would be very comfortable wearing
  • Probably feels as good as it looks
  • Quality
  • The woman who runs this firm is genuinely passionate about what she does

Here’s a link to a video on Huffington Post about the firm and its products.  This is genuinely worth a look.  Since this was put up for a survey, I don’t know how long the link will be around.


Virtual Walls and Reality Checks


berlin09-1Do you have a business and wonder why customers aren’t pounding at the door to buy your great product?  Are you a high schooler and wondering why every college isn’t recruiting you?  Are you simply a person who wonders why someone doesn’t like you?

Sometimes the answer is both simple and out of your control.  Some people have odd tastes and idiosyncratic needs that you simply can’t satisfy.  That happens.  To repeat something your grandmother probably said, “you can’t please everyone.”

However, there are times when we’re at least partly responsible for the problem.  We surround ourselves with barriers that discourage others from wanting to deal with us.  Examples:

  • Language: the use of overly formal language or slang makes us seem difficult to understand or standoffish.
  • Appearance:  the initial reaction most people have to you is based on how you look, not what you say.  That’s where the Internet offers a great advantage, because it allows words to come first.
  • Word-of-mouth:  people tend to be skeptical about what you say about yourself, but they listen to what others say about you.

What they say is affected by things you’ve done in the past, some of which you may not even remember.  If you have a business, what they say is affected by what your staff do and don’t do.  However, you can’t deal with an issue if you don’t know about it.

Trust in what others say is what makes bullying so nasty.  Bullying takes a trusted information channel and fills with with lies and slander.  Victims can feel helpless, although they have things they can do.  Identifying the problem really is half the battle.

Every so often, you need a reality check.  That can take the form of a heart-to-heart conversation with people you trust or having a researcher do an audit with your customers.  You need to know what they really think and decide whether you need to make adjustments to achieve what you want.

And that brings us to another old saying inscribed in a wall at UChicago, “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

When was the last time you did a reality check?


Take Down the Walls


Frost wrote the New England adage that “good fences make good neighbors” and that may be true.  However, walls aren’t fences.  Walls block oral and visual communications.  That makes them good for hermits, and problematic for the rest of us.

Humans are social animals.  We require some level of interaction with others for our own mental balance as well as for sheer survival.  Three hundred years ago, an individual could get a patch of land, clear part of it, use the wood to build a house, and grow his own crops.  Even then, the pioneer would have to buy tools, weapons, nails, cattle, seeds, etc.  You have to go back a lot farther in history to find a time when a person could thrive on his or her own.

Walls can take various forms:

  • Physical walls are relatively rare, although walled residential communities are a common site in St. Louis and Las Vegas.  In other urban settings, planners have used a combination of buildings, highways and parks to restrict access between areas of a city — for example, to keep ghetto residents out of college campuses.
  • Some people use pets as barriers.
  • Virtual barriers are quite common.
    • Call screening is obvious and commonplace in both homes and offices.  Are you not there or avoiding me?  If I leave a message, will you listen to it?  Will the message be garbled by your device?
    • Perceptions are barriers.  “I’m not going to tell him about X because he won’t be interested.”  “I won’t shop at Y because they don’t carry anything I can afford.”  “I can’t tell  Z what I really think because it will hurt the cooperation I get from him.”  Maybe that’s true, maybe its not.
    • The there’s the Internet . . . .

The Web and social media were designed to  facilitate communications, but they actually do just the opposite.

  • Posts and emails tend to be cryptic, if only because a lot of people don’t like to type.
  • Posts are devoid of the physical cues that communicate so much about emotional content.
  • Senders spend little time thinking about what they write, so word use is inferior and meaning can be hard to decipher.
  • Safety issues encourage people to communicate as little of substance as possible, since you don’t know who else might see the message.

So we wind up getting messages like “I’m at XYZ Dance Studio.”  Why do I care about that?  What would you really like to tell me?

Barriers are the reasons sales trainers stress the importance of listening skills.  The seller needs to be able to identify and address the barriers to communications in order to get the potential buyer to listen and understand.

Arguably, listening skills are essential life skills and not just for sales.  Doctors and lawyers lose clients because they don’t listen.  Individuals lose friends for the same reason.

Once you learn to listen intently, you will gain insight into why word choice is so important.  That in turn will make the messages you send more precise and effective.

However, you can’t practice listening skills without tearing down the barriers to communications.  That means being available for communications and being willing to listen to people whose opinions may differ from your own.


The Ignorant Writing for the Ignorant


As if we needed it, we got another demonstration that what’s published on the internet is only as good as the person writing it.  Some of it is not good at all.

Inc Magazine reported the results of a poll in honor of the 4th of July about which brands Americans perceive to be the most patriotic.  (See

Now, what every researcher should know — and what any thinking adult could figure out — is that when you ask a superficial question you will get a superficial answer that doesn’t mean much of anything.  Very few people spend time thinking about which brands are most patriotic.  How much time do you spend thinking about that?  The results might be amusing, but aren’t worth anything more than that.

Now, if you have some lead in question, like “what’s your definition of patriotism?”, you might get people thinking and get some interesting responses.  There’s no evidence that the people asking questions in this case used a thoughtful approach.

They also didn’t spend much time thinking about the results.  According to this report, the two most “patriotic” brands are Jeep and Disney.  The writer scoffed at consumers for saying that.  What do these brands have to do with patriotism?


Well, think about that.  Prior to Desert Storm and the advent of the Hummer, the Jeep was the go-to vehicle for the US military for more than 50 years — WWII, Korea, Nam and a host of other places.  While current Jeep advertising does wave the flag from time to time, that 50 year legacy is rather hard to ignore.  Gee, what’s patriotic about being identified so closely with the US Army?


Now, why was Disney up there?  Well, history buffs know that Disney produced films for the US government and military during WWII.  However, most consumers probably don’t know that.  What consumers do know is that Disney has an outstanding reputation for quality, epitomizes basic American values, and has been an ambassador for American culture for more than 80 years.  Gee, what could be patriotic about that?

No, what Inc Magazine has given us in this case is superficial analysis by someone who doesn’t have the knowledge base to write something worthwhile.  The article isn’t even cute; it’s just silly in a non-flattering sense.

The fact that this got published represents a failure of editorial controls at Inc.  That unfortunately is typical of a lot of what appears on the Internet.  Fact-checking and thought are often sacrificed in the interest of posting something.  That’s sad.


Marketing and Politics in a Lying Age


“Trust.”  That’s the fundamental building block for personal relationships and business transactions.  Without it, there’s no basis for working with a person or a company.  None.

Perhaps the worst decision in the history of advertising was acceptance of the creed that “perception is reality.”  Or worse, there’s the quote attributed to a well-known therapist that “there is no reality, only perception.”

Lost along the way is the older adage: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”  Further, once you have  fooled a person, he or she will  mistrust what you say.  It takes years to recover credibility once you’ve lied to someone.

Ads are promises.  The (should) showcase product features, but they also promise benefits.  Sign up and you’ll receive good service.  The product will be reliable and safe.

Chevy is trashing its credibility now through a series of creative ads about the Cruz car  model.  Yes, the car has some wonderful electronic features. However, it’s not “magical.”  That word is cute, but should never have appeared in an ad.  I had occasion to rent one last week and discovered that it has horrific gas mileage and — with the A/C on max — all of the acceleration of a  cardboard box.  People who buy it based on the ads are likely to be disappointed, and disappointed customers aren’t repeat customers.  Why would any business want that?

Chevy has built inferior products in the past, and been hurt by them.  It took years to rebuild its reputation, and now the company is repeating past mistakes.  If that’s the best GM can do, short the stock.

Volkswagon learned the hard way that lying about emissions would damage sales.  The damage will take years to undo.  When you lie about software, who’s going to trust you when you say the problem is fixed?  How can you prove it?  What else might be wrong?

Comcast has a history of poor customer service.  Their current ad campaign and “service guarantees” won’t fix that.  (I’ve already cashed in on the guarantee when they failed to make a service call on time.)  It will take years of very good service before consumers believe Comcast has improved, and any slip will convince consumers that the ad campaign is a smokescreen for continued poor service.  And Comcast wonders why so many customers refuse to spend on add-on services.

Advertising has to be based on objective reality.  Tell the customer all of the good things the product does, but don’t over-promise.  Once someone buys your product and discovers it is not what you promised, not only will you have  an unhappy customer, but you will have lost the ability to communicate with that customer.  He or she won’t trust what you say.

Why are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren such potent political figures?  In all of Washington, they are among the few people most voters trust. People accept their statements as honest, regardless of whether they choose to agree or disagree.

Bill Clinton remains a charismatic speaker, but his ability to influence has been diminished by loss of trust.  Donald Trump’s willingness to speak before thinking has cost him as well.

For many people, “politician” is simply a synonym for “liar.”  Lack of trust also explains the failure of the current crop of politicians to be opinion leaders.  That’s the legacy of “spin.”

The cost of lying in business is lost revenue.  The cost of lying on politics is losing the ability to lead.  Both are heavy prices to pay.

We need to refocus marketing and advertising on reality.