Tag Archives: unanticipated effects

Many of Us Do Our Own Stunts

For an underwater sequence in the film "Mission Impossible--Rogue Nation," Tom Cruise learned how to hold his breath for six and a half minutes, according to the film's director.  
                                             -The New York Times.

Tom Cruise is surely an all-purpose actor. The press is full of stories about his prowess in doing hair-raising feats for the camera. But he doesn’t have a lock on the idea that you don’t necessarily need a double.  For years many of us have been pulling off feats others would think improbable and unlikely.

Here’s a personal shortlist:

  • I managed to have the speed-limit on the narrow one-lane road in front of my house raised after a sustained effort to have it lowered.  This provides evidence that (a) some of us are better at teaching persuasion than doing it, or (b) like its federal counterpart, local governments can be completely unresponsive.

  • After a long-running struggle with a publisher to include larger text and bold graphics in a new book, the eventual product featured print with letters the size of poppy seeds.  And there are about as many graphics as might be found in a book on contract law.  Without trying, I have apparently done my part to revive the sale of magnifying glasses.

  • Long ago during in mid-performance with specially selected high school musicians from around the state–and with no help from anyone else–I managed to stumble and pull a number of metal folding chairs off an elevated stage. This clamorous and improvised fortissimo was in addition to what had been written for those of us in the percussion section.  The guest conductor was nice enough to stop the performance and wait for me to climb back on stage, giving more meaning to the phrase, “my last shred of dignity.”

  • High school is when intent and action often diverge. As a supporting actor in the senior play I seemed to have a natural gift for “stealing scenes” from the lead actors by randomly moving around  the set while they were talking. I think I heard my drama coach comment under her breath that my performance was “never to be duplicated.”

  • In a pattern that suggests mastery of the form, a few times over my 45 years of teaching I’ve managed to show up a week early for a committee meeting.  It’s always good to check out a room before an important gathering.

  • I’m most proud of the “magic” set I had as a teenager, and the opportunity it provided to plant a tiny explosive in one of my father’s cigarettes.  As intended, it went off when he lit up.  That it exploded in the middle of a business meeting in his office was not an outcome I anticipated.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing my part to combat the effects of secondhand smoke.

Who said that all stunts have to go off as planned?  I’d argue for a broader definition; a stunt is sometimes whatever happens.  Planning for specific outcomes can be overrated and–more than we might wish–beyond our grasp.  The perfect response is always a goal. But sometimes we just have to accept events, like the concert that literally brought my inflated teenage ego back to earth.

Fighting Social Media Storms

As a Wal-Mart executive noted at a recent marketing conference, “the customer is in control,” meaning individuals now have social media power to disrupt a marketing campaign.

The recent uproar about data mining on Facebook and elsewhere can easily leave us with the impression that consumers not only have little privacy, but that they are also pawns in the hands of shrewd marketers. There is truth to these fears.  Online users do have less privacy; and sometimes we are the victims of campaigns that can seem to make us easy marks.  Russian online disinformation is, without doubt, a serious threat to our sovereignty.  But as is true with so many claims about advertising and marketing, we often assume an organization or company has more control than is actually the case.  Like all of us, advertisers have been brought low of internet contagion that sabotages their best efforts.

For example, several years ago the marketing staff managing the beer Bud Light decided to tinker with the labeling. Building on a campaign running in multiple media and using the slogan, “Up for Whatever,” the label on some products was redesigned to include an additional hashtag and bold letter wording that said “The Perfect Beer for Removing ‘No’ From Your Vocabulary for the Night.” Obviously, the campaign was meant to appear relevant and responsive to quips that fly between users of social media. But since beer drinkers are often younger adults, it might have been expected that a social media backlash could result. And it did. Complaints poured in. Anheuser-Busch-InBev was forced to formally apologize, acknowledging heightened sensitivities about unwanted sexual advances abetted by too much alcohol, especially on college campuses. New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey was one of many Americans to express their displeasure on Twitter. She asked followers to write the company “if you agree” that the “Up for Whatever” “campaign should promote responsible—not reckless—drinking.” Her hashtag was #NoMeansNo. In a follow-up e-mail to the New York Times she noted that “We need responsible companies to help us tackle these serious public health and safety problems, not encourage them.” That was enough for an Anheuser representative to admit that “the message missed the mark, and we regret it.”

The Customer is now in control.

To be sure, this was a small moment in the nation’s busy marketing landscape. But it is representative of how quickly a campaign that seeks to tie itself into social media can go off the rails. As a Wal-Mart executive noted at a recent marketing conference, “the customer is in control,” meaning that individuals now have the social media power to disrupt a marketing campaigns that might have once unfolded with no mechanisms for immediate public rejection.

With this view in mind, a couple of short observations:

  • Trump the tweeter may his own worst enemy.  When the  time between a thought and its dissemination is nearly simultaneous, there are bound to be unanticipated and unwanted effects.  His tweets are like firecrackers landing at the feet of revelers.  A few may be delighted; most others are horrified.
  • Strong opinions made anonymously generally deserve their fate of quickly disappearing in the internet maw.
  • The old adage to never argue with an organization that buys ink by the barrel is no longer so accurate.  Quarreling with a media outlet carries fewer risks.
  • All of us want to believe–and most marketing organizations sell the idea–that there are clear pathways to managing public opinion.  But social media contagion can be triggered by nearly anyone from almost any corner of the culture.