by Jeff Hirsch
One day before my regular Saturday morning yoga class not long ago, a fellow yogi told me the story of an interesting text message exchange with her father. Inspired by her yoga practice and not even thinking about it, she had signed off her note with “Namaste,” which is kind of a Sanskrit version of the Hawaiian “Aloha” or the Hebrew “Shalom.” These are words that are used in greeting and parting, but all have deeper meanings than “hello” or “goodbye.” Of the many meanings ascribed to “Namaste,” the one I like best is, “The light in me honors the light in you.”
The woman’s father, clearly not a yogi and without a clue to what his daughter’s sign-off meant, responded to her loving and respectful “Namaste” with, “What are you talking about – “no nasty???””
Nothing like a little yoga humor. We all had a good laugh over that one. Kind of a Monty Python moment, straight from the Sermon on the Mount scene in the “Life of Brian.” “Blessed are the cheese makers!”
The Pythons are among many in comedy who play miscommunication and malapropism for laughs. But “No Nasty” immediately evoked all those times in focus groups when respondents, better known as the people who actually spend money to buy our products, did not hear something quite right or just didn’t have a clue in the first place.
It’s all very amusing to us. We laugh at the old woman in a Memphis focus group who calls casinos “casiners” and the man, who when looking at an idea for a new breakfast cereal called “Cornucopia” asks, “Where’s the corn?”
My favorite incident came early in my career when I was observing focus groups for California Cooler. Led by the great moderator Paul Warner, who became a friend over the years, the second and final session of the evening was humming along with lots of enthusiasm and great insights. Then one respondent, someone from the “older” 35-49 age group, stopped everything to ask a question.
Printed on the label was a reference to the product being made with “Natural Fruit Particles.” Staring at the bottle, this respondent grew quite serious, silencing the room, all eyes focused on him. “I really like this drink,” he said, “but there’s just one thing I don’t understand.”
“What’s that,” asked Paul.
“Why do they have to put “freeway particles” in the drink?
The back room exploded with laughter and the jokes continued at this poor guy’s expense over post-research drinks. Bits of “real freeway?” Really? However, we belittle our consumers and their “ignorance” at our own risk. A failure to “honor the light” in them, to see ourselves as superior and sophisticated, is a terrible mistake.
How many times have we seen the ad agency art director stand in the back room of the focus group facility bitterly complaining that “these people just don’t get my work?”
That’s the point, isn’t it? They are our customers. If they don’t get it, it’s not on them, it’s on us to do a better job communicating.
There may not be little pieces of freeway in each bottle of California Cooler, but this hapless respondent was the first to point out that “particles” might not be the best way to talk about the presence of real fruit in the product. And if people aren’t “smart enough” to know that a cornucopia is a “horn of plenty” and not a corn-based product, well, perhaps that new Cornucopia breakfast cereal isn’t the greatest idea after all.
We in marketing love to think that we’re smarter, hipper and cooler than everyone else. It’s not a good idea. Most of the time we are not marketing to ourselves. We should never forget that humility, open-minds, tolerance, respect and empathy are the key starting points of great marketing.
No Nasty! And Namaste, too.