You're Too Stupid To Read This

& Other Helpful Insights for Marketers by Richard Wise

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"Alfred Hitchcock recorded the agonized complexity of men’s relationship to women - a roiling mass of admiration, longing, neediness and desperation.  Beautiful women are a fascinating conflation of nature and art. They often have an elusive, dreamy apartness, suggesting a remote inner realm to which a man can claim only momentary access."
- Camille Paglia (who spoke with characteristic brilliance on Women & Magic in the films of Hitchcock at the British Film Institute)

"Alfred Hitchcock recorded the agonized complexity of men’s relationship to women - a roiling mass of admiration, longing, neediness and desperation.  Beautiful women are a fascinating conflation of nature and art. They often have an elusive, dreamy apartness, suggesting a remote inner realm to which a man can claim only momentary access."

- Camille Paglia (who spoke with characteristic brilliance on Women & Magic in the films of Hitchcock at the British Film Institute)

Filed under Hitchcock Paglia Rear Window Grace Kelly Glamour Cinema Fashion

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Australia is planning to implement “Plain Packaging” for cigarettes which strips away logo, graphics and trademarks and displays only the name of the brand and the style of cigarettes in the same color and type face in a sliver space of the packaging - the rest of it transformed into a giant health risk warning.  Great Britain is considering doing the same. Given that governments have the ability to declare war, shouldn’t politicians running for office also be required to carry warnings to this effect?  And aren’t their focus-group-tested haircuts and clothing a tricky means of seducing us into trusting them?  Wouldn’t it be better if all politicians were required to shave their heads and wear Star Trek uniforms so we could focus on their message and not their seductive appearance?  Plain packaging for politicians, we could call it.

Australia is planning to implement “Plain Packaging” for cigarettes which strips away logo, graphics and trademarks and displays only the name of the brand and the style of cigarettes in the same color and type face in a sliver space of the packaging - the rest of it transformed into a giant health risk warning.  Great Britain is considering doing the same. Given that governments have the ability to declare war, shouldn’t politicians running for office also be required to carry warnings to this effect?  And aren’t their focus-group-tested haircuts and clothing a tricky means of seducing us into trusting them?  Wouldn’t it be better if all politicians were required to shave their heads and wear Star Trek uniforms so we could focus on their message and not their seductive appearance?  Plain packaging for politicians, we could call it.

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Attention Gender Studies professors.  These bathroom signs were spotted in a Hong Kong office building and I thought you would find them useful for semiotic analysis.

Attention Gender Studies professors.  These bathroom signs were spotted in a Hong Kong office building and I thought you would find them useful for semiotic analysis.

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I am walking on the way of St. James. Walking along with my daughter, I began to feel low in energy and sagging in spirit and I told her to walk ahead without me for a while. I continued along, and then found that she had traced this message on the road for me.

I am walking on the way of St. James. Walking along with my daughter, I began to feel low in energy and sagging in spirit and I told her to walk ahead without me for a while. I continued along, and then found that she had traced this message on the road for me.

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Take a pop cultural icon and turn it into an antiqued wooden bust.  With just the right inflection of expression, it’s now possible to see what an interesting projective surface Mickey Mouse truly is.  Confusion, frustration, hostility - all of these states glower below the cheerful surface of the plucky little fellow.

Take a pop cultural icon and turn it into an antiqued wooden bust.  With just the right inflection of expression, it’s now possible to see what an interesting projective surface Mickey Mouse truly is.  Confusion, frustration, hostility - all of these states glower below the cheerful surface of the plucky little fellow.

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”Popular culture is the new Babylon, into which so much art and intellect now flow. It is our imperial sex theater, supreme temple of the western eye. We live in the age of idols. The pagan past, never dead, flames again in our mystic hierarchies of stardom.”

Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

(via thedirerat-deactivated20130425)

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How to Turn a Psychopathic Narcissist into a Gentle Scholar or How to Build a More Insightful Corporate Culture


“Marketing is all about tapping into human insight,” said VW’s CMO Tim Mahoney when asked by Forbes to explain how his company had succeeded in making its brand the fastest-growing car company in the US.  I think it’s telling that he brought it back to insight.  Ah, insight, elusive friend.  Everyone talks about you.  Few actually know you.

I’ve worked in the “Insights” business for more than two decades now.  I give presentations to people who have “insights” right in their job titles if not their job description.  I have clients who require that there be an “insight” on very brief they make.  And I would have to say that those “insights” often really do merit their quotemarks. 

Have you noticed how many briefs are full of drumrolls about the importance of this project and its high priority to the C-Suite?  That contain several words about the brand that you’ve seen before on many other briefs?  These words often include “sociable,” “approachable,” “authentic” and “open-minded.”  The insight itself is usually just something to rationalize the thrust of the brief using pseudo-psychological language.  “Influential consumers are looking for more authentic experiences and respond well to brands that are approachable and open-minded.”

But, as I think Tim Mahoney implicitly observes, if you want great results, you need great creativity.  And there’s no great creativity without great insight.  Creativity is nothing more than the ability to see that which doesn’t exist yet – along with the ability to express it.

And when we say that someone is “insightful,” what do we mean by that?  That they see below the surface.  That they grasp the essential quality of things.  That they apprehend reality intuitively.  In other words, that they are creative.

If you ask the C-Suite in most big companies if they would like more of these fine qualities in their own people, they will invariably say, “yes, absolutely.”  If you ask them why they don’t already have more of it, you will get fairly vague answers like, “there’s too much bureaucracy, too many committees.” 

There are four things that contribute to corporate life being so often antithetical to creativity and insight.

1) The confusion of professionalism with lack of empathy.

Did you know that you are 400% more likely to encounter a psychopath in the C-Suite of a corporation than you are on the streets of any randomly chosen city?

Such are the findings of Dr. Robert Hare, professor of experimental psychology at the University of British Columbia, inventor of the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) and an advisor to the FBI on serial killers.

The defining characteristic of a psychopath is high self-regard combined with little or no capacity for empathy.  Intelligent psychopaths can discern your emotions quite skillfully but they remain unaffected by them.  Are you in pain?  They could care less.  What matters is how they’re going to get what they want.

The modern corporation is all about succeeding at objectives and offering valuable rewards to those who can bring them about.  It frowns on people who lack emotional self-control and favors instead a cool, detached “let’s weigh all the variables” style of decision making.  The energetic psychopath can walk into this environment and do quite well for himself.  And he often does.

Fortunately, for the rest of us, only 1% of the general population are genuine psychopaths and therefore only 4% of the C-Suite is genuinely psychopathic. 

But the influence of the psychopathic personality extends far and wide.  The willingness to fire lifelong employees to save some bucks, the stiff smiles in the hallways, the pervasive fear, the cluelessness about cultural change, all of these are the distinctive signs of an organization bereft of empathy. And who else but a psychopath would foster a marketing vocabulary in which prospective customers are referred to as targets – whose motivations are studied behind the cool anonymity of a one-way mirror.  Such activities pass as part of the “insights” the corporation is charged with getting.

Corporations, by contrast, prefer to discuss that which can be measured – and nothing is more measurable than a surface.  They live quarter to quarter.  And they vastly prefer linear and logical to empathetic and intuitive.  The same thing that makes them effective as cash generators also erodes their ability to be genuinely insightful.

Best practices: start asking your top people how much time they’ve spent with consumers last month (focus groups don’t count).

2) The catastrophic effects of success

Corporations also must struggle with the crippling effects of past successes that made them a corporation in the first place.

Great success isolates you and fosters an insidious narcissism.  Do not underestimate the threat this poses to your company’s culture.  As Andreas Kluth wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “success imprisons its owner.”

The key is to understand that success itself is something you need to break free of.  Think of Paul Newman and his line of consumer packaged goods, Newman’s Own, that he created after a dazzlingly successful acting career.  He triumphed against the catastrophe of his own success. 

Contrast Paul Newman with Eastman Kodak Company whose account I worked in the late Eighties.  The handwriting was already on the wall that the future belonged to digital – no one in fact had done more on a scientific level to pave the way for digital imaging than Kodak.  It was a flush, rich company with huge margins and an awesome brand.  But the “yellow bloods,” the old timers in Kodak’s sales and marketing were drunk on the company’s success and split film and digital, never realizing that they needed to destabilize what they had in order to get what they wanted.

Best practice: start using the phrase “the catastrophe of success” and see what kind of conversations it can provoke.

3) The fear of death

Those who work for corporations are drawn to them because they seek refuge from uncertainty.  Unconsciously, on a deep level, they seek some protection against the inevitability of death. 

And what happens when we go to do something creative?  It often creates unconscious revulsion.  This effect was studied by a team of psychological scientists at the University of Pennsylvannia.  Their study showed that activating the creative centers of the brain also triggers associations of the unknown and the uncertain.  And that produces a sharp sense of anxiety.  We smilingly tell ourselves and our fellow team members: “Let’s get creative!”  But deep, down inside, we often don’t like it. 

Ever been at an exploratory creative session when a senior manager asks, “tell me again why are we doing this?  What’s the process?  Who has a map?”  Subtext: “I dislike this because I don’t know in advance what the outcome is.” 

Most corporations are sitting on goldmines of creative ideas they have rejected.  The ideas persist in the memory of the people who still work there like unrealized dreams. But the ideas can’t be brought back to life because they were ritually killed and thereby conferred a symbolic immortality on all involved. 

Best practice: stop looking for brand new ideas and start asking why your company has already rejected so many.

4) The fetish of overwork and over analysis

When people come back from vacation, rather than enjoying their new-found serenity and freshness of spirit, they inevitably pay the piper by slogging through a hillside of emails demanding responses and within a few hours are once again mentally exhausted.

Working in a corporation is a social experience of fundamentally belonging: sharing in the system of speech and dress codes, using agreed-upon ironic statements and, of course, strictly observing unwritten taboos.

Being overworked is one of the easiest ways of signaling your belonging.  But read Jonah Lehrer’s round up of the latest studies in neuroscience that make this a fact: you are better able to recognize a good idea if you are well-rested and in a positive mood.

Then there’s the “deep dive” which often means surrounding a simple question with so much data, that everyone involved feels free from any vulnerability to being criticized for not having “done their homework.”  But as Prof. Gerd Gigerenzeri said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, “fast and frugal” questions help us arrive at reliable answers far better than complicated decision trees.  As Peter Drucker once observed, exhaustive corporate fact gathering is often in fact an elaborate attempt to hide from the truth.

Best Practice: Start encouraging people to get lots of sleep. Stop fetishizing overwork and its evil twin, over-analysis.

Here are four things corporate leaders need to do to foster a more insightful and creative culture.

1) Go to the Empathy Gym

It’s fashionable now to talk about being an empathetic company – and it is often treated as something you can learn.  But remember: empathy is not a cognitive skill.  It’s a perceptual ability that can only be strengthened by action and by a humble attitude.  You want to make progress?  Volunteer.  Go to the homeless shelter, the soup kitchen, the hospital, anywhere you have no choice but to be of service to people who need it. 

And isn’t it good to know that while corporate life provides favorable breeding grounds for the psychopath, humility and modesty do in fact get noticed and bring favor?  Baylor University studied hundreds of employees in different companies and different states.  When they compared standard psychological evaluations with supervisors’ performance reviews, they found a direct link between humility and modesty and superior job performance.  And Anne Kreamer has written in the Harvard Business Review about studies showing that voracious readers of fiction tend to cultivate their empathy and advance in their organizations faster.  You want your people to be good at pattern recognition, right?  Well, another study has shown that simply reading a short story before completing a pattern recognition test boosts your score.  Enough said?

Best Practices: 1) Volunteer and don’t publicize it. 2) Read novels voraciously.

2) Be humble enough to recognize your gift for creativity

True humility is recognizing our gifts precisely for what they are, thinking neither too high nor too low of them.  You and I - we each have the capacity to be creative.  If you ask Ideo’s CEO David Kelley, we can indeed all do it, it’s just that somewhere around fourth grade, we lost that belief in ourselves.  Find it again and you can do pretty much anything.

The first way to awaken it in yourself? Find out the facts.  The second thing?  Come up with a solution and make a prototype right away.  Now test it.  And make another one.  Stop looking for big ideas, as David McMamara recommends, and start looking for really small ideas, the kind that you can move on – right now.

Best practice: Don’t make a powerpoint about your new idea.  Make a prototype and get it in the hands of consumers.  Think of it as a small idea – at first.

3) Do something curious today – and make sure you screen potential hires for their curiosity.

Sophie von Stumm at the University of Edinburgh has led a large scale study of the personality traits of students who are high performers.  Of course, successful students are conscientious and hard working.  Less obvious, though, is the importance of the personality trait of curiosity. 

Curious students are more apt at learning.  And the same applies to employees.

“A curious person who likes to read books, travel the world, and go to museums may also enjoy and engage in learning new tasks on the job. It’s easy to hire someone who has the done the job before and hence, knows how to work the role,” von Stumm says. “But it’s far more interesting to identify those people who have the greatest potential for development, i.e. the curious ones.”

“Associational thinking” is one of the hallmarks of the innovative person, reports Innosight’s Scott Anthony and one of the most powerful ways to grow it is to deliberately make yourself uncomfortable by trying new things and going to places you’ve never been before.  And what makes it easier to confront all that uncomfortability?  Curiosity. 

Best Practice: Banish the dismissive phrase, “So what?”  Try saying something more like “That’s interesting – I wonder what it could mean for our business.”

4) Cultivate your inner depth.

The Golden Rule is a terribly simple idea and when it is put into practice, it changes everything.  It is simple and it is deep.  The obsession with KPIs and their accompanying relentless measurement of surface reality stymies depth and simplicity both.

The nature of insight itself is depth: seeing below the surface.  How you can possibly hope to be insightful if you’re not going deep, letting things accumulate and reorganize in your creative unconscious?

Corporate culture often treats leadership development as a cognitive task and mindfulness and inner life go neglected.  Polly LaBarre has written eloquently about this in Harvard Business Review.  Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a religious practice – it’s a habit of mind that consists in keeping the attention patiently focused on a quality you’re trying to develop or a problem you’re trying to solve.  It is the opposite of the hard-charging, confrontational dialogue that is considered “dynamic” at many corporations and is in fact nothing more than a fearful skating across the surface of things.

Best Practice: Be patient with thoughtful silence. Have large parts of your day free of the mobile device and the pinging of emails.

Best Practices Round Up

-      Start asking your top people how much time they’ve spent with consumers last month (focus groups don’t count).

-       Start using the phrase “the catastrophe of success” and see what kind of conversations it can provoke.

-       Stop looking for brand new ideas and start asking why your company has already rejected so many.

-       Start encouraging your people to get lots of sleep. Stop fetishizing overwork and its evil twin, over-analysis.

-       Volunteer - and don’t publicize it.

-       Read novels voraciously.

-       Less powerpoints, more prototypes.

-       Banish the dismissive phrase, “So what?”  Try saying something more like “That’s interesting – I wonder what it could mean for our business.”

-       Be patient with thoughtful silence. Have large parts of your day free of the mobile device and the pinging of emails.

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"Only members of Annie’s secret club can decode Annie’s message." Marketers invest tremendous amounts of money to build a frame in which to create consumer connections and are very likely to squander it on a banal and self-serving message.  This should be required viewing before "content strategy" meetings.

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This is a sublime meme. The barrier to creativity and innovation in corporations is the fear of death. The predictability, the structure, the ego-mask of control and competency - all pathetic denial shields to the fact of one’s own mortality.  (Steve Jobs to Stanford graduates: remember, you will die.)  In the sixth sense, “dead people” are projections of our problems: we’re dazed by our psychic wounds and can’t accept our mortality, that we’re just part of an ever-unfolding story. Dead. Stupid. Corporate.

This is a sublime meme. The barrier to creativity and innovation in corporations is the fear of death. The predictability, the structure, the ego-mask of control and competency - all pathetic denial shields to the fact of one’s own mortality.  (Steve Jobs to Stanford graduates: remember, you will die.)  In the sixth sense, “dead people” are projections of our problems: we’re dazed by our psychic wounds and can’t accept our mortality, that we’re just part of an ever-unfolding story. Dead. Stupid. Corporate.

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Six ways to future-proof your digital strategy

You don’t have to hire a futurist.  Just read Mashable’s intelligent predictions for 2020 which include:

    • Virtual retail avatars 
    • Intelligent agents and credit cards embedded in our mobile devices 
    • Everything’s on the cloud 
    • We’re using digital jewelry and video visors
    • Finally, cellphone service will stop sucking.

#1: move your consumer-facing content to a mobile platform and make it searchable and intelligent: the smart consumer is going to have a pre-read agent scanning your content and offers which better be good or they won’t even get looked at by the consumer.

More than 1/3 of consumers no longer look to the Sunday paper for coupon values.

That’s according to online couponer CheapSally’s latest infographic which says that 47% of online consumers in the U.S. used coupons last year.  Now that finding codes online has become mainstream, consumers can more conveniently find offers from the categories, brands and retailers they want by just going online.  

#2: move coupons from paper to digital and run experiments with ideas that might have seemed far-fetched ten years ago.  The cost of learning from trial and error gets much less expensive and the results are faster in the digital world.

Keep your eyes on NFC for the future of painless locative marketing.

Near Field Communication (NFC) lets you activate credit card, loyalty marketing and locative perks just by tapping your phone to a retail sensor.  The question is whether or not mobile phone manufacturers and retailers will create the critical mass for it to go mainstream.  In the meantime, LG’s new smartphones will now adapt to the setting they’re in to perform relevant functions (example: you’re in your car, so it turns on GPS).

#3: get ready for a future in which a retail sensor automatically turns on the consumer’s coupon and loyalty apps as soon as they walk into the store.

Think of Pinterest as a platform for shopping, bonding, collaboration and inspiration.

Pinterest has rapidly become the third largest traffic generator on the Web.  Like Instagram, it’s simple and richly visual.  And forward brands and retailers, as Ad Week reports, are already making good use of it.  But perhaps the most inspiring piece you can read on Pinterest is on the HBR blog where social media guru Alexandra Samuel boils it down to: shopping, bonding, collaboration and inspiration.

#4: Got a hot team project going on?  Try building a visual inspiration board on Pinterest.  It’s easy and it gets everyone’s feet wet in this new medium.  From there, you can figure out how it might be useful to your fans if you create a brand board for them.

The Facebook backlash begins in earnest.

For the first time since it went mainstream, there is a small decline in the number of Millennials using Facebook.  Read this young adult Millennial’s reasons to leave Facebook (time waster, TMI, awkward social situations) and this disturbing article on apps enabling predatory stalking, and you start to see how this trend is developing.

#5: For every trend, there is a counter trend: watch for more influencers to trim their use of social media and start enjoying more digital privacy.  Engage with them on a more intimate, exclusive basis.  “What happens here, stays here” has never sounded more appealing.


Two future-proofing brand tools: content strategy and social media conductors.

When you read your favorite magazine or watch your favorite TV channel, you’re interacting with content that emerged from a careful strategy and was typically planned out months in advance.  Are you doing the same for your brand?  If so, kudos.  If not, let’s get started.  Organic’s Marita Scarfi makes the point in Forbes that there is much opportunity buried in the social media about your brand.  Is your company responding intelligently to it all and assigning responsibility for follow up whether in customer service, insights or sales opportunities?

#6: build content strategy into your brand pyramid/onion/grid thing.  And if you can’t hire a social media conductor, figure out who’s kind of already doing this and give them formal recognition and responsibility.

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"I like rap music. But bragging about being rich to poor people is really offensive. I want to hear a gangsta rap song about buying a Cy Twombly painting or dating a museum curator. I want to hear about that kind of rich. Of course, the worst is having a convertible if you’re over 20 years old. If you’re 50, please, buy a painting."
- John Waters

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This is a beautiful future view of touch-sensitive smart displays seamlessly surrounding us and letting us live more graceful and enriched lives.