I once learned a great marketing lesson from a very unlikely source. A good friend, John (now deceased) owned a luxury suite at Texas Motor Speedway. After enjoying a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, John and I left the suite for a fresh-air break. High above the speedway, the breezeway has these narrow little horizontal windows overlooking the parking area. We were leaning on the wall, watching thousands of cars attempting to exit the parking lot.
Note that a NASCAR Cup race at TMS seems to always draw the facility’s estimated 212,400-person capacity (approx. 138,100 seats plus infield spectators, RVs and fans in the suites). There are approximately 80,300 parking spaces.
We were watching at least 10,000 cars attempting to exit a parking lot. The portion we were watching has about four exits. But all of the cars were clogging a single exit.
Now John, though smart, wasn’t an introspective kind of guy. But, after a few moments of observing the goings on below, he said, “DJ, People are sheep.”
“What?,” I asked.
“People are sheep.”, he repeated.
“Look at all those cars, trying to squeeze out that one exit. One car went there and all the others mindlessly followed. The other three exits are empty.” “Sheep.”
Now, I’m supposed to be the big thinker, here. Maybe that’s why I felt the need to respond with some sage wisdom of my own.
I said, “John, we’re up higher. We can see the other exits. Maybe they couldn’t.”
I made my point. But John’s point really stuck with me.
Those TV reality shows come to mind. The number of them is ridiculous. Eclipsed only by the absurdity of some of the premises. I understand that they’re cheap to produce (compared to half-hour sitcoms and hour-long dramas), and thus plentiful. The concept has been around for ages — think Candid Camera, This is Your Life and the original American Gladiators. But it seems that once an excessive amount of deception, backstabbing and conniving was added to the recipe, they took off and spawned one crazy program after another.
The apparent result of another stroke of marketing brilliance was the relatively sudden proliferation of “Sports Utility Vehicles”. What sport? I’ll concede the “utility” in some cases. You see, Chevrolet’s Carryall-Surburban debuted around 1935 and was quite the utilitarian vehicle. But the trend did not explode until some 50 years later. I have been called peculiar and told I look at things from a perspective unlike the rest of the world. If I would have lapsed into a coma as a child and emerged from it in the 90s, one of my first questions would have been, “Why are all the station wagons so tall?”
But, back to the “Sheep” principle: Maybe that’s why we work so hard to convince anyone that will listen that our “old-fashioned”, print-based services are still valuable, viable and effective. Especially when integrated with digital mediums.
Many marketers are like the driver of that second car to go to that single exit. They saw someone go that way and figured it is the ONLY way to go. Then everyone else got in line behind them, leaving the other ways undiscovered.
We’re trying hard to show some new client another (not necessarily overwhelmingly better) way.
We’ll have to show them that way from a “higher perspective”.