Wednesday, November 19, 2014

You’re Touring Hogwarts: The Psychology of Illusions (Part 2)

This is the second of two posts on the psychology of illusions. Read the first post here.

I hate waiting. I'll bet you do, too. My vision of hell involves waiting in a long line that never ends.

Smart marketers know people hate to wait, so they create illusions to trick us into thinking that we're not waiting. Theme parks have gotten really good at this.

These days, every major new ride created at a theme park includes things to see and do right in the line.

Example: Touring Hogwarts
When Universal Studios Islands of Adventure opened its Wizarding World of Harry Potter park in 2010, my wife, sister, and I were among the first to visit. We happily waited in line for nearly two hours to ride the main attraction: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Why were we happy to wait in line? Because it took us on an awesome tour through Hogwarts.

In each room we waited, magical things happened to us. The Sorting Hat sang us a song. Harry, Hermione, and Ron cast spells in a classroom — one of which caused snow to fall from the ceiling. Portraits on the wall talked to each other and to us. It was fantastic. We even stayed in one of the rooms longer than we had to just so we could see everything.

We were waiting in line the whole time, but it was an illusion: we were being entertained.

The "You Are Not Waiting" Illusion
This illusion is meant to distract us. Brilliant theme park employees have created lines that are sometimes just as good as the ride. They're entertaining us and it doesn't even feel like we're waiting.

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Sometimes we can't prevent our customers from having to wait. But we can entertain them in the process. We need to get creative about it. Uber shows customers exactly how far away their ride is after ordering it. And it's kind of entertaining to watch our ride navigate the streets around us as it makes its way to pick us up. If we have to wait, we might as well follow along.

Take a page from theme parks and Uber: When it comes to handling a waiting customer, distract her, entertain her, and set reasonable expectations. She just might find a little joy.

There's never a lack of ideas.

Photo: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Credit: Me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Poop in the Pool: The Psychology of Illusions (Part 1)

Illusions are everywhere in marketing.

I'm not talking about the kind of illusions David Copperfield performs nightly. I'm talking about the things organizations do to make customers think something is true when it's not.

Because my wife and I are going to see Penn and Teller perform in Las Vegas soon, I thought I'd expose some of the most popular illusions in marketing and then identify what we can learn from them. Let's go...

Example: Poop in the Pool
A friend of mine recently told me this story from his time as a lifeguard at his neighborhood pool:
Whenever someone pooped in the pool, we cleared the area and then fished it out of the water. Then, we were trained to grab an empty two liter bottle we had on hand, go into the bathroom, fill it with water, and dump it in the area in which the poop was found. We'd wait a few minutes, and then open the pool back up.
Yikes! My friend went on to say that the pool was already treated heavily with chemicals and if they if they actually dumped more into the water, it would destroy the PH balance, causing bigger problems. They were trained to pretend like they were dumping chemicals into the water because that's what people expected them to do in order to feel like the situation had been resolved (or, perhaps... dissolved?). Boom.
The "We're Doing Something About This Problem" Illusion 
This illusion stems from the fact that when things go wrong, we expect them to be fixed. "Somebody needs to do something about this!" We want answers and we want action. We can quickly move on from problems if we feel like there has been an adequate response. 
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Problems always arise. It's our response that matters most. I'm not advocating for fake responses like dumping pretend chemicals into a pool. I'm advocating for genuine responses to making things right when they go wrong.

Often times, it's our response to bad situations that define us. The best we can do is respond quickly, honestly, and in the best interest of customers. We don't need illusions to do that.
There's never a lack of ideas. 

PS Special thanks to Kyle Welter for inspiring this post. 

Image: Caddyshack pool scene

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When Selling Lawn Ornaments, Fill Your Lawn with Ornaments

My wife took this picture while we were in western Illinois on vacation a few weeks ago. I had to do a few u-turns to get the perfect shot. It shows the sign in front of a business that sells lawn ornaments. But where are all the lawn ornaments?!

I commend the business for having a sign that is very easy to read. That's a big part of my first marketing must-have. But in this instance, the company owners need to fill their own lawn with tons of ornaments so we can see what they sell. Fill that thing with all the gnomes, birdbaths, orbs, fake flamingos, artificial deer, and metal art they can possible cram onto their lawn. They have the perfect opportunity to display their products in the exact way they are used.

The sign is fantastic. Just go one step further.

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Review the five marketing must-haves and ensure you're doing each one as well as possible before moving on to any other marketing tactics.

There's never a lack of ideas.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What’s the ROI of Sponsoring the Name of a Sports Stadium?

This should be named the
United Airlines Center
There's no easy answer to that question. Perhaps it doesn't even matter.

While there are a few published methods for calculating the brand value of buying the naming rights to a stadium (example), I'd argue that the decision to buy these rights is based more on emotions than any sort of rational return on investment calculation. It's much more likely that a CEO or CMO simply thinks their brand closely aligns with their local sports franchise and they want to see their name atop its stadium rather than a situation in which CEO or CMO estimates how much sales will increase as a result of their sponsorship.

Some research suggests much of the value from a stadium sponsorship actually comes in the included tickets a brand receives and can use to entertain its most important clients. So maybe those CEOs and CMOs really just want to go to events at the nearby stadium and they figure if they can also bring along some clients then in makes financial sense. And there's nothing wrong with that.

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The point of all of this is isn't to knock the business of stadium sponsorships — I happen to think there are a lot of stadium sponsorships that make a lot of sense. My point is to say that some decisions are based more on emotions than rational thoughts — even big, costly decisions. At the end of the day, executives and employees at Lucas Oil probably think it's really cool to see their name atop the Indianapolis Colts' stadium. They probably enjoy their luxury box for events in the stadium, too. And to them, that's worth a few million dollars a year. If you were trying to sell Lucas Oil on a "better" way to invest their money, there's probably not a rational argument you could make to change their mind. So why try?

There's never a lack of ideas.

I have always thought the most poorly named stadium is the United Center in Chicago. The stadium should be called the United Airlines Center, as I think many people who have never been to the stadium do not realize that the airline pays to sponsor the stadium and that it's not, in fact, named after a Kumbaya moment in which we are all united. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ultimate Warrior

Check out this picture. That's me all the way on the right. I was about eight years old and I was at my first World Wrestling Federation event with my cousin, dad, and uncles (left to right). Our faces are painted as the Ultimate Warrior, my favorite wrestler growing up.

I brought a sign to the event — I had a blast making it with my mom. There were a handful of other signs throughout the Rosemont Horizon, but none were as good as mine. The sign said, "The Macho Man is Not So Macho! The Warrior Rules!" I actually liked the Macho Man, but he was fighting the Ultimate Warrior so by default I was cheering against him that night.

I still remember the moment the Ultimate Warrior won the match. He climbed up the ropes like he always did, raised both arms in victory, and then he pointed right at us and gave us a thumbs up. He saw my sign. He saw our faces. And he appreciated it. We could tell.

I like to tell people that moment changed wrestling forever. It's what led to modern wrestling events in which practically every person brings a sign with them, hoping to get on tv. But there weren't any cameras at my first wrestling event — just us with our face paint and me with my sign. You could see our passion on our faces. And we started a movement that night.

Rest In Peace
The Ultimate Warrior passed away on April 8th. I was a little surprised at how sad that made me. But the more I think about it, the more I realize the sign I made for the Warrior was the first in a long line of signs I made and brought to sporting events. Thinking up ideas for creative signs and then drawing them up was something I loved doing with my mom, who is a very creative woman and a former art teacher. I think creating those signs contributed to my decision to pursue graphic design and marketing in college, and ultimately as a career.

I want to say thanks to the Ultimate Warrior for helping inspire my career. After he died, I asked my mom if she still had my Ultimate Warrior "Wrestling Buddy" doll. She did and she brought it to my house. I put it in my kids' playroom and we've been having fun with it ever since. The second picture here is a gif of my oldest son wrestling with my Wrestling Buddy.

I don't know what my kids will care about when they get older. But I hope that whatever it is, they have the confidence to tell the world about it — and maybe they'll paint it on their faces.

Rest in peace, Warrior. And thanks for the memories.

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If you'd like to make a gift in honor of the Ultimate Warrior, his family has asked that we support Operation Family Fund, a noble cause.

There's Never a Lack of Ideas.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Perfect Invite to Harry Potter – Diagon Alley

Can't see the video? Click here.
See more photos here

Today is opening day at Universal Studio's new theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. I don't understand why this isn't a national holiday! While I'm sad I'm not there today, I know I'll get there soon. And I'm still coming off the high of doing this just a few months ago.

To promote the opening of the new park, Universal invited members of the media to an exclusive preview event a few weeks ago. A friend of mine scored an invite and she was kind enough to give me the invitation she received. Check it out in the video and photos. My friend was sad she couldn't make the event (and so was I!), but at least we have the cool invitation to drool over.

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Grand opening events are huge for generating word of mouth and PR. If you're going to have an event like this, go big. This invitation is the perfect example of getting the details perfect. Everything is just right, down to the heavy bar of "gold" from Gringotts.

There's Never a Lack of Ideas

PS Special thanks to Becky Thalmann for giving me the invitation.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hops for Flops: An Ad Campaign Idea for a Beer Brewer

Image from Wired.
A beer maker needs to create an ad campaign making fun of the worst part of soccer: the flops. Flopping has become an epidemic, rendering some games almost unwatchable. The Wall Street Journal even published an article (premium) analyzing the worst offenders so far in the 2014 World Cup. From the article: "During the first 32 games [of the World Cup], there were 302 players who could be seen at some point rolling around in pain, crumpling into a fetal position or lying lifeless on the pitch as the referee stopped the match."

There are two ways to make the flopping more bearable, and both could be combined into a great ad campaign for a beer maker. Let's call it "Hops for Flops."

  1. Turn all of the soccer flops into a drinking game. Buy your favorite brew and take a drink of your hops with every flop.
  2. What if flopping extended beyond soccer and into peoples' every day lives? Wouldn't that be ridiculous? I can see the ad campaign now:

    A guy spills a tiny bit of water near the water cooler and his friend slips and falls, clutching his ankle and writhing in pain. His friends yell, "Hops for Flops!" and they take a drink.

    A carpenter gets a small sliver in his thumb while working and then drops to the ground, crying out to a referee who doesn't exist. Several fellow workers haul him off on a stretcher while others at the construction site raise a beer and yell, "Hops for Flops!"

    The final example is one in which someone really gets hurt. Maybe a car backs over a woman's foot and she falls to the floor. But her friends think she's just faking it so they yell, "Hops for Flops!" and take a drink.
If the beer maker opened this campaign up to user-generated submissions, it could become something shared by millions of people. So which beer maker will seize this opportunity and run with it? I'm looking at Budweiser first because it's the official beer of the World Cup. But any beer maker could do it. Take the idea and run with it if you'd like.

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How would you flop for some hops? Would you get a paper cut and start to cry? Would you get pinched by a baby and hit the deck? I'd love your ideas.

There's Never a Lack of Ideas