Pushing Toward the Gray

“Take advantage of the ambiguity in the world. Look at something and think what else it might be.”
–Roger von Oech

Marketing’s Needed Partnership with Ambiguity
If you asked me a year ago where I thought aspects in my personal and business life would be now, I certainly would not have expected it to look the way it currently does in certain respects. It’s clear that “the plan” for 2014 has not followed script to be as projected or thought. Some days this strikes me as “Whoa, what happened here” and other days as “Wow, this is cool”. I have had this conversation with several friends and colleagues who have experienced the same. The symmetry is that we all feel that there’s a certain something in the wind signaling more of this ambiguous “gray” is headed our way. Wow, that’s cool – right???

This issue trickles down toward marketing and advertising. It has been spurred by technology with consumers driving brand conversations and our economic challenges in recent years. This has certainly changed the way marketing and advertising does business and paces with customers. I believe that the same reality for me in embracing 2014’s unscoutable path is the same reality now for marketing. It is a big change, something permanent and broad; something requiring more than the normal pragmatic reaction to change.

A good example to demonstrate this shift is in the recent response from Honeymaid Graham crackers to consumers’ response to their “This is Wholesome” campaign which showed families of different sexual orientations, racial backgrounds and contradicts the “nuclear family” representation as part of their message that different family make-ups are indeed “wholesome”. It was met with an enormous amount of criticism, contempt and prompted a response from Honeymaid. Their reaction was to commission two artists to take the negative messages and make them into something else. In doing so, they took printed copies of these messages, rolled them up and made them into the word “Love”; yet, the thoughtful and genius twist was to take the even more numerous positive responses and have them surround the “Love” message so that the negatives were stifled in the positive responses.

Regardless of your viewpoint, the purpose of both the original campaign and even more with its response is the resourcefulness of the company to react. In a more normal reaction, a statement would have been issued without giving a clear apology or defense of the campaign allowing them to disengage from any dialogue. Honeymaid’s response did just the opposite by inviting consumers to have a say and allowed the company to respond with a purpose while not alienating a significant group. It is a great example of giving greater control to consumers to direct where things go.

So, I’ve come to a few simple thoughts regarding this increasing grayness and its relationship to marketing.
• Start a spark. Plant a seed. These are both ideas to convey the importance of realizing that there’s less control in planning everything out. While marketing has traditionally been a discipline that is driven in research and insight, this idea may seem a little bit of a counterpoint. It’s still important to gain insight, learn about current and prospective customers and come up with a plan, but the key is to spark and seed vigorously to accumulate momentum.
• Resourceful reaction. It’s like playing Whac-A-Mole where there is no known predictive factor and being nimble is what counts. Honeymaid, is a good reminder that resourceful reaction may create huge value.
• Ambiguity is good. This is about our mindset to not only recognize increasing ambiguity as reality but also to embrace it. This perspective allows for opportunity’s to arrive and be recognized. Some of the best ideas can develop when acknowledging that a little obscurity is a gift and using that as an advantage opens possibilities.
When I was young, my friends and I would take our Schwinn Sting-Ray bikes back in the woods and ride trails which were hilly and winding where every movement forward was essentially blind. We wrecked a lot trying to manage the trail until we discovered that it was better to steer going fast and not manage so much. I remember thinking “Wow, this is cool.”
Speaking of Ambiguity

Here’s “World’s Toughest Job” a great way to head into the special weekend ahead.

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