Canadian Pride

A few months ago when we were still hopeful that the Blue Jays might make it to the World Series, I thought I might have to stop watching the coverage.  No, the problem wasn’t that the game was too exciting for me.  No, I wasn’t overly annoyed by the clearly biased American play by play announcers.  Then, what was it?

I was viscerally offended by the Hockey Night in Canada commercials.

 

Voiced by Ron McLean, the super sappy text, replete with dramatic pauses in its delivery, told the story of the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast as the ultimate in Canadiana.

“This is the story… of a love affair.  Between a country… and a game.  If you want to try… to teach someone about Canada…, you go to the television Saturday night…, and it becomes crystal clear.”

Huh?   Are you kidding me, Ron McLean?!  I love hockey as much as the next average Canadian, and I’ll agree that Hockey Night in Canada has earned icon status, but seriously….. the gossipy, macho banter between you and Don Cherry is going to teach a newcomer all they need to know about Canada?  I assure you Ron, that’s not MY Canada.

MY Canada is the one reflected in a little page 16 news story about the police department in tiny Kensington, PEI who posted a warning to anyone considering driving while impaired this holiday season.  The post on Facebook, promised that those caught drunk driving, in addition to the standard penalties, would also be forced to listen to the Alberta band Nickelback during the ride back to the station.

HA!  When I first heard the story earlier this week, it struck my funny bone.  I too, am a non-fan of this Alberta band’s music so, for me, the tongue in cheek joke was a good one.  And from a marketing standpoint I thought it was a stroke of brilliance.  An angle like this generated press that your standard “don’t drink and drive because you’ll ruin the lives of yourself and others” public service announcement never will.  I admired the small town police department for its’ out of the box thinking and creative approach to getting a big bang from a non-existent budget.

Resourcefulness + Sense of Humor = Canada

The undertone in this story deals with the relationship between Canadian citizens and their police forces.  The Nickelback threat wasn’t a threat of force; while it was intended to be unpleasant it wasn’t intended to cause harm.  There’s something decidedly human about a police force thinking this way, and an understanding that the perpetrator of this drunk driving crime is also a human being with human emotions that are moved by music.

Resourcefulness + Sense of Humor + Human Empathy = Canada

But that’s not the end of the story.  Later this week, the Kensington police department DELETED the post and replaced it with an apology to Nickelback!  It seems that the author of the post, surprised by the attention it attracted, started to feel like a bully.  As the original post had gone viral, the Don’t Drink and Drive message began to be dwarfed by a “love vs. hate” debate about the band.

On Friday the Kensington police department posted: “I am sorry to (band members) Chad, Ryan, Mike and Daniel.  Not as just members of Nickelback, but more importantly as fellow Canadians.  I’m sorry guys because I didn’t take a moment to think of you AS just guys.”  The post acknowledged the charity efforts of Nickelback, in particular surrounding the efforts to bring relief to victims of the Fort McMurray wildfires, and expressed regret about thinking of the band as an entity rather than the band members themselves.

People from other countries might look at this part of the story and say that political correctness is taking the fun out of everything.  But for me as a Canadian, this is EXACTLY what our country is all about.  It’s the strength of character of Canadians to admit our mistakes, learn from them, and strive to do better by each other in the future, that really makes my prideful heart sing.  It’s the exponent in that equation.

We may not agree on what makes good politics, and we may not agree on what good music sounds like, but we all agree that we’re in this together.  One team.  Team Canada.

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LEGO, Parenting Mistakes, and a Stroke of Marketing Brilliance

With the Oscars just a one more sleep away I’d like to say I’ve spent the last week filling gaps in my 2013 movie viewing repertoire.  Unfortunately, the polar vortex and its ensuing cabin fever resulted in the Lego Movie as my last visit to the cinema.

In my opinion, most movies for kids are best viewed after the DVD release.  This way, the kids can watch while we parents do something else.  Those few kids’ movies that earn box office success, do so thanks to reviews that endorse them as bearable for the parent audience to endure.  The very best of these include a hearty helping of pop culture references and adult innuendo to elicit frequent laughs from grown-ups, and the Lego Movie was one of these.  Of COURSE the Batman Lego man is cloaked in a looming aura of doom and will only build with black or “very dark grey” blocks.  Ha!

But for me, the brilliance of the Lego Movie is in its marketing genius. 

When I was a kid, my Lego kits promised that I could build two or three things; maybe a couple of simple houses.  Inside the box were various colours of big rectangles, squares and ‘the little ones.’  If the kit was fancy, I might find a few flat shapes and maybe a window or door.  That was it.  The instructions were simple, which was a good thing because in those days children were expected to amuse themselves with their toys without parental assistance.  Once I finished the structure pictured on the front of the box and used it to elicit praise from the nearest adult, I felt no hesitation in tearing it apart and making something else.  Eventually, the instructions would be tossed and the pieces would be added to my jumbled bucket of mixed shapes and colors from kits gone by. 

For years, I found entertainment in that bucket, never constructing the same thing twice, mixing and matching pieces to build something new every time with only a vague idea of the end game.  I loved my Lego, and so it’s been a bit of a disappointment that my kids don’t share this devotion.   

Lego kits today contain what feels like a million different, highly specialized pieces in every box.  No longer can you simply ask a friend to help you find all the ‘flat-white-eight ones.’  Now it’s a search for the ‘little clear button shaped one with a hinge’, and finding it is like seeking a needle in a haystack. 

Neither Craig nor I would ever claim to be engineering wizards, but we’re not dummies either, and I’m not ashamed to admit that the instructions in Jack and Taylor’s Lego kits can baffle us.  The designs are so complex that following them feels a bit like tackling homework.  There are frustrated voices, garbled comments thrown in from people on the sidelines and occasionally angry tears.  More often than not, a parent takes over; eventually the kid gets bored watching and wanders away. 

When the thing is finally finished though, it’s fantastic.  One of Jack’s kits turned out a garbage truck that was completely operational.  The driver, glorious in his five o-clock shadow, was able to grip the steering wheel, the garbage compartment cantilevered perfectly and the wheels swiveled to produce a remarkable turning radius.  It was so fantastic that today, more than five years later, it remains intact and on display in Jack’s bookshelf. 

And therein lays the issue.  The garbage truck was too good, and the idea of tearing it apart felt sacrilegious.  It took us SO long to assemble!  Where would we put the pieces if we tore it apart?  Certainly we couldn’t fathom mixing them in with other pieces from other kits!  If that one, critically important, unique piece was difficult to find in a kit of 500 pieces, imagine trying to find it amidst a mountain of 5,000!  Never mind the risk that the whole search might be futile, should that special piece have been long ago sucked up by the vacuum cleaner.

When we realized that a finished Lego structure was simply too big to store, and we could finally bring ourselves to disassemble it, the pieces were carefully separated and hermetically sealed in a kit-specific Ziploc bag along with the instructions.  The idea was that one day we would assemble it again.  But once you’d assembled it once, and undergone all of the associated stress and crying, who in their right mind would want to do that again? 

Trying to build something else out of those pieces seemed like a waste of time.  It was patently clear that anything else we might try to assemble from that special mix of highly engineered pieces would be inferior to the thing that was pictured on the box.  In the absence of achieving this level of perfection the entire exercise felt useless.

And so my kids’ Lego collections sit, gathering dust either as completed display models or in collections of lonely pieces in the backs of cupboards.

My kids have Lego because my generation loved it.  While my childhood reaction to Lego was ‘yay”, the mention of Lego to my kids is much more likely to elicit an ‘ugh.’  I hazard to guess that my kids will not be rushing to buy Lego for the next generation.

The future of Lego looks bleak.  A marketing conundrum for sure!

Enter the Lego Movie.

The plotline of the Lego Movie involves an evil overlord that insists on the creation of distinct Lego worlds.  The Lego space world shall remain separate from the Lego cowboy world.  The Lego big city world shall remain separate from the whimsical Lego circus world.  No mixing allowed.   The Lego people in the various worlds follow strict instructions as to how to navigate through their day.  They must ALWAYS follow the instructions. 

Every evil overlord these days needs a weapon of mass destruction and in this story, that weapon is the dreaded Kragle (aka Krazy Glue).  Once an army of ‘Micro-managers’ gets every piece in the perfect position, the plan is to Kragle them in place so that eventually the worlds will be permanently sealed in their most perfectly, perfect state.

As you can imagine, a hero emerges to save the Lego worlds from this grim fate.  He sets out on a mission to free the Lego people, encouraging them to unleash their inner ‘Master Builders,’ casting instructions aside, and intermixing pieces from various worlds to create unlimited construction possibilities.

For parents of my generation, the movie connects with our memory of the Lego of our youth and the sadness we feel about how Lego isn’t as fun as it once was.  Interestingly, although it’s us parents that mourn the loss of that historic Lego experience, it’s also us that, like the evil overlord in the Lego movie, are robbing it from our kids. 

It is us that demand instructions must be followed (‘at least once!’).  It is us that feels compelled to save that remarkable item once it’s built.  It is us that shudder when our kids dump the pieces on the living room floor and some of them tumble under the couch.

From a marketing perspective, the Lego Movie is admirable in its potential to drive demand for a decades old product.  However, its true brilliance lies in consumer insight into the barriers that will inhibit sustained demand. 

It was my kids who wanted to see the Lego Movie, but the more I think about it the more I realize that perhaps it wasn’t intended for kids after all.

Target Practice

I pretty much stopped clothes shopping three years ago, when I decided to leave my job.  Economy was the name of the game and so I made do with the many things I already had in my closet.  The long neglected casual part of my wardrobe began to get more regular circulation and in time I lost touch with our local dry cleaner.  I revelled in the comfort of my new best friends; my Lululemon yoga pants. 

My consulting work was done largely at my dining room table so there was no need for office wear.  Teleconferences rendered my clothing choices open to my colleagues’ imagination and even the odd Skype meeting only required semi-professional clothing from the chest up.  However, this summer a consulting project came my way that required a fair amount of face to face client meetings. 

After months of professional isolation, dusting off my career wear was fun; I felt like I was getting ‘out there’ again.  But I couldn’t help wondering if some of my career separates had seen better days.  My friend Georgina has been working on a couple of blog posts around the topic of returning to work after a career hiatus, and more than once she’s referenced the ‘faux pas’ of showing up to interviews in dated outfits.  No one wants to look like they’ve fallen behind the times.

So with Christmas behind us, The Williams family took advantage of a free day last week to travel across the border to gorge ourselves on gross consumerism and some American size meals. 

After a full five hours trolling the Fashion Outlets mall, accumulating a gaggle of shopping bags full of stuff we did (and didn’t) need, and stuffing ourselves overfull at Applebee’s, we were ready to go.  But there was just one more item on our list… a pharmacy product.  Weighing the various retail options, we found that there really only was one answer in all of our minds…  Tar-get! 

Indeed, the addition of Target to our Canadian retail landscape is something we’re all eagerly anticipating.  I think of it as a fancy Wal-Mart full of stylish merchandise at affordable prices.  Every time I drive by their illuminated logo on the slick head office building off the 401 in Toronto, I find my gaze drawn to it, wondering what merchandising delights they’re cooking up for us inside.  Even the least enthusiastic shopper in our family, Taylor, was eager to say she’d been there.  It might even warrant taking a photo of her ‘in situ’ that she could then post on social media with the hope that her friends would be jealous. 

Target Canada has been doing a simply fantastic job marketing their brand in this pre-launch phase.  Their pop up stores have attracted crowds of Canadian fans and garnered media attention.  What impresses me most about Target`s efforts so far, is the degree to which they are taking a regional approach.  Oddly some Canadian retailers forget this simple fact, but Target has recognized that Canada is not Toronto and have embraced the vastness of our country in their marketing plans.  Check out the coast to coast Holiday Road Trip promo they ran in the weeks leading up to Christmas:  http://pressroom.target.ca/pr/tgt-en/default.aspx

Unfortunately, our first human interaction at Target in Niagara Falls, NY was an intoxicated hobo shuffling through the foyer.  I suppose that can happen in any store, but you know what they say about first impressions.  Our second impression was one of disarray.  Far from the ‘healthy mess’ merchandising strategy of legendary retailer Jean Coutu, this could only be described as a dirty mess.  Shopping carts were tattered, and staff wore wash weary red pinnies.  Merchandise lay strewn on the floor, having tumbled from half empty shelves, and Taylor slipped twice on a slimy substance in the middle of the aisle.  Unlike the spirited crowds we had encountered at the Fashion Outlets, only a handful of desolate looking shoppers wandered this sad store. 

Having secured the item we were looking for from Target’s half-hearted effort at a pharmacy department, we continued around the perimeter of the store.  There’s nothing more American than baseball, right?  Surely the sporting goods section would be better and Jack would find something to satisfy his growing baseball obsession.  But sporting goods was just as threadbare and, to my dismay, so was the selection of home goods.  The clothing section was so disturbing that we felt compelled to avert our eyes as we passed by. 

Before we left, I dictated that everyone should visit the washroom on the premise that crossing the border might take a while.  I’d call the condition of the Target washrooms the icing on the cake, but just thinking about that analogy makes me gag a little.

If this is the Target that is coming to Canada then we`re all in for some serious lunchbox letdown. 

My humble prediction though, is that this won`t be the case.  My marketing spidey senses tell me that the first Target stores that open in Canada this spring are going to be awesome.  Their pre-marketing activities have primed us to Expect More (the first part of their customer promise) and I can`t imagine that they will disappoint us.  My fear is that in time, the second half of their customer promise, Pay Less, will make it impossible to sustain.  Trying to out-discount the competition can prove a slippery slope, squeezing margins until inventory is so tight that shelves become sparse and the cleaning regimen begins to slip.  With this, the upscale clientele begin to drift away and the product selection begins skew to a discount mindset.  Until…. voila!  We`ve got our crummy Zellers back again.

To Serve and Protect

It’s on those windy autumn days, when just looking at the ice cold rain outside sends a chill to the depth of my bones, that I’m grateful we’ve managed by some miracle to keep our garage clear enough to pull the car inside.

Our garage door had opened and closed almost 20,000 times over thirteen years, far outlasting many of the other builder-installed add ons in our home, when even the most generous squirts of WD-40 would no longer silence the ear-splitting squeals of failing mechanics.  One day it refused to open at all.

Our new model came with an exterior keypad so we could open it without the ‘clicker’ by punching in a series of numbers (which I can never seem to remember).  I didn’t think we needed this feature and in keeping with my reputation for frugality, I tried to negotiate a better price to exclude the keypad.  What if rain causes a short circuit and the thing goes berserk, opening our garage door while we’re out one day?  The salesman reassured me that a protective cover on the keypad would keep this from happening.  The price was a package deal with no option to omit the external unit.

So you can imagine my dismay when I returned home last week, in the middle of a driving October rainstorm, to find the protective cover lifted and the keypad exposed.  A plastic bag containing a “Water Analysis Data Form” and a small plastic bottle had been hung from the unit.

I was alarmed by the prospect that there might be something wrong with our water.  But reading more closely I realized that this wasn’t a public health initiative.  It was a marketing ploy.

The form read like an official notice and carried a number of logos, including the Canadian Water Quality Association and the Better Business Bureau, along with instructions for collecting the sample.  A series of questions asked, ‘When was the last time you had your water tested?’ and ‘Is drinking water quality important to you?’

Looking beyond my own driveway, I could see that my neighbourhood was littered with these bags.  They were hung on garage door keypads, garage door handles and even the odd light fixture.

This kind of marketing really bugs me.

Years ago, while chatting to our neighbours we learned that they had signed up for a long term fixed price gas contract.  Debating the merits of fixed versus market pricing for gas, we quickly came to appreciate that this seemingly bright and well-educated young couple had entered into the contract with little thought.  The salesman had seemed official, and gave the impression that everyone in the neighbourhood was making the ‘obvious choice’ and signing on.  I had often wondered how these door to door companies stay in business; doesn’t everyone know to shut the door in their face?  Apparently not.  It’s not just elderly grannies who get duped.

At the very bottom of the “Water Analysis Data Form” there was a telephone number.

“Yes, I’m calling to complain about the marketing materials that your company has littered throughout my neighbourhood.”

“One moment please.  I’ll put you through to the marketing manager in charge of that program.”

Several minutes of on hold beeps gave my blood ample time to reach a rolling boil.  While I waited, I dropped the bag of marketing materials into the kitchen trash can.

When the marketing manager finally took my call, I gave her a heady blast.  I criticized the company’s marketing practices and called them unethical.  And I fumed about distribution people having the nerve to fiddle with my private property and expose my garage door keypad to the elements.

“I am so sorry!” she said.

She really sounded sorry.

“The delivery team should never have touched that.  It is most definitely not the way we want our materials to be delivered and I completely understand why you’re upset.  On behalf of the company, I want to sincerely apologize.”

Well, that really took the wind out of my indignant sails.

“I want you to know how much I appreciate you calling to let us know.  I’m sure there are many people in your neighbourhood upset about this, but it was you who took the time to pick up the phone and call us.  You see, we hire distribution companies to deliver the materials and although we give them instructions as to how this should be done, we would never know they weren’t following our instructions if it wasn’t for you.  Thank you so much for calling.”

I didn’t quite know what to say in response – you’re welcome?

“We’ve been in business for many years and have a reputation to protect.  I want you to know that we will make this right.  Can I ask your address so that I can contact the team responsible right away?”

This woman was AWESOME at her job.  In just a few minutes she managed to completely diffuse my anger and endear herself to me.  She was just the kind of authentic, empathetic and articulate person I enjoy working with and she was incredibly passionate about the company she works for.  In fact, I was so taken with her, that after I hung up the phone I reached into the trash and retrieved the flyer to look up the company name.  And I started to wonder, “Maybe we should get our water tested.”

Now, I’ve come to my senses since then.  I still think the best water out there is the stuff continually monitored by municipal water professionals that pours straight out of my kitchen faucet for practically nothing.  But I share this story because it’s an illustration of the power of fantastic customer service.  There is no more difficult job than that of the complaints department.  The people who do it really well have a special gift, and the potential to save a company from damaging word of mouth that can render marketing efforts useless for years to come.

I worry about the future of customer service in a world where it’s farmed out to faceless call centres.  It’s easy to tell when someone is reading from a script; there’s no heart baked into the words they say.  When customer issues become ‘transactions’ billed by the minute, with the objective to mark the issue closed as quickly as possible, the true nature of customer service is lost.

And marketing for these companies, gets a whole lot harder.

Apple Seed

I take full responsibility for the fact that my kids are late adopters of technology.  And while I’d like to say this is because I’d rather them play real sports than wave wands in front of a television screen, the truth is it’s because I’m cheap.

I’ve always been tight with a dollar but when I quit my corporate job the household budget came under new scrutiny and my frugal tendencies kicked into full bloom.  I became the electricity police, trailing behind family members unplugging devices and turning off lights.  I began to consider whether expiry dates might be a suggestion rather than a rule.  And I made every effort to ensure that my kids knew the full cost of things.

“Why can’t we have a pool?” they asked.

“We could have a pool, but Mommy would have to go back to work in order to pay for it.”

Today, Jack and Taylor stroll home after school with their friends, enjoy a homemade snack and plop down in front of the television.  Comparing this to the alternative of a YMCA after school program where chaotic groups of ill-behaved kids amuse themselves until their work-weary parents arrive to pick them up, my point was crystal clear.  A pool wasn’t worth the price.

To drive home the point that life’s extras need to be earned, Craig and I insist that Jack and Taylor save their allowance to purchase their own big ticket items.  Jack eventually saved enough to buy an iPod, and thanks to an infusion of cash a couple of Christmases ago, Taylor was able to purchase her first Lululemon sweater.  But something as expensive as an iPad was out of reach.

That is, until one day a leaflet fluttered out of our community newspaper advertising jobs for carriers in our area.

For a whole year, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Taylor lugged bundles of newspaper and flyers from the base of our driveway into the house, where she assembled them.  Inky fingerprints dotted our foyer walls and elastics found their way everywhere.  Through all sorts of weather she dutifully delivered papers to 51 houses in our neighbourhood, encountering yappy dogs, terror-inducing bees and a cranky old man who declared, “This rag isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on!”

But when the iPad3 was released this spring, she was finally ready to purchase.  It was a proud day for all of us.  In short order, Taylor accumulated a stunning library of music, photos and unflattering video clips of her family and friends, and mastered a plethora of apps.  She was rarely without her iPad by her side.  It came to Jack’s hockey games.  It went on sleepovers.  And on a family camping trip this summer, she even took it to the beach.

But it’s risky to take a fragile device everywhere you go.  A couple of weeks ago, in a split second of carelessness, Taylor leaned on her precious iPad and sent a spiderweb of cracks across the screen.  She was furious with herself.  Horrified.  And grief stricken.

The web is full of tales of woe from iPad owners who have experienced similar mishaps, and Taylor and I were pleased to discover that many had received remarkable service and sympathy at their local Apple store.  Some even claimed that Apple had replaced their device for free.  Well, what could be more sympathetic than a 12 year old girl who saved for a year to purchase her own iPad, only to have it meet this untimely demise?

So off we went to our nearest Apple store, conveniently located 35km away, to plead our case.

The store’s sleek design dazzled us, as did the table groups of Apple devotees raptly absorbing information from user tutorials.  Employees strode purposefully past us, and Taylor and I paused for a moment in the midst of all this activity wondering what we should do.   Was there some sort of secret signal we were supposed to make to indicate that we needed service?

We cautiously approached a rectangular table at the back of the store where a number of employees were talking to each other.  After some time, I found a break in their conversation and interjected.

“I’m wondering if someone can help me.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“What?”

It had never crossed my mind that I’d need an appointment to ask a question in a retail store.

“I really just wanted to speak to someone about my daughter’s iPad.  She cracked the screen the other day.”

“You need to see someone at the Genius Bar about that.  We don’t have any appointments today but I could fit you in tomorrow afternoon.”

Genius Bar?  Really?  I mean, I know Steve Jobs was really full of himself but isn’t it a bit of a stretch to start calling the guys who work here geniuses?  What do they make; maybe $15 an hour?  I began to wonder if I might be on some kind of candid camera show.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware I’d need an appointment… and we’ve traveled a bit of a distance to get here.  We can’t come back tomorrow afternoon; my daughter will be in school.”

“You could try the Burlington store.”

“I guess I don’t understand why someone who is here right now can’t answer our question.”

With a heavy sigh, he turned to one of three employees next to him, who were leaning idly against the table.  “Can you deal with these people?”

In the end, I suppose we got the information we needed.  No free replacement.  No interest in hearing our tale of woe.  No sympathy for the little girl who saved for a year, only to see the fruits of her labour damaged in a split second of poor judgement.

The cost of repair was close to the cost of a new iPad, and came with a stern warning that we really should purchase AppleCare to protect us from such mishaps, and a ‘tut tut’ that we didn’t do so the first time around.  The sad fact was that Taylor didn’t have enough money in her bank account to pay for the repair that Apple offered, never mind the extra cost of AppleCare.

The whole experience left us feeling somewhat sour.

A non-Apple repair shop is a less expensive option that Taylor has enough money for today, but with a bit of time to think it over she’s not sure it’s worth it.  Right now she’s thinking she’ll keep her money in the bank and work around the cracked screen.

My tree.  My little apple.

This is What Happens When Worlds Collide

One year ago today, momversusmarketer was born.  Like all milestones, it seems like I was slugging it out on the elliptical just yesterday when the idea hit me.  On the other hand I find it hard to picture a time before the blog existed.  With 34 posts under my belt, I’ve covered a lot of territory.  Everything from strategic commentary on RIM’s management re-structure to personal reflections on my Mother’s life and the lessons she taught me.

Before I quit my corporate job, I kept my work-self and my home-self pretty separate from each other.  But now, working on marketing consulting projects at my dining room table with a load of laundry tumbling around in the background, my worlds collide.

And it’s not just me.  The digital age is bringing all of us together in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways.

I heard a debate recently over whether it was appropriate for a company to demand access to a potential employee’s facebook profile as a condition of employment.  As you can imagine, the candidate was hesitant to grant this access.  What if someone, somewhere in the annals of the monolith that is facebook, tagged a photo of her from years gone by wearing a wet t-shirt and drinking beer from a funnel?  Would it cost her the job?  As long as she didn’t wear that wet t-shirt to work, or drink beer from a funnel at the company picnic, it shouldn’t be a problem, right?  But the nagging question is whether or not the company would be willing to see beyond the photo and trust that most people have the good sense to know there is a time and a place for this sort of thing.

We worry that a temporary lapse in judgement will be taken out of context and used against us.

While working as a waitress at Pizza Chief one summer, I deeply regret the angle at which I was holding a young family’s pizza while focussed the jug of root beer I was placing down.  Much to my horror, the pizza slid from the pan onto their table, partially upside down in the ashtray.  With two hungry kids and a 1980’s industrial oven that required 20 minutes to produce a fresh pizza, the mother chose to brush off the ashes and eat the messy pie rather than wait for another.  Imagine the YouTube potential had all this been caught on video!  Most restaurant servers have at least one embarrassing story to tell, but what if all these mis-steps were posted for pre-employment scrutiny?  Would we eventually all end up having to dine out buffet style?

Transparency is something we demand of corporations, something we desire of our government and something that we count on in our closest relationships.  But when it comes to our interaction with the world at large, transparency makes us vulnerable and that can be scary.  By far the most frightening blogs I posted over the past year were the ones about my Mom.  After posting each one, I closely monitored my readership statistics.  I could see that people were reading them but the posts received no comments.  I worried that my brothers had taken issue with how I described our Mother.  I worried that my business colleagues were thinking that the disciplined business professional they once knew, had into a sappy navel-gazer.

Interestingly, although the online comments were thin, I have since learned that these were some of my readers’ favourite posts.    In writing these pieces, I exposed a part of myself that few had seen before.  Private thoughts turned public.  People got a more complete picture of who I am, where I came from and the experiences that shaped my whole person.  And having this insight has made all my writing a little more interesting to read.

So perhaps more transparency is a good thing.  Sharing our flawed human experience can help us connect to each other.  It can give us broader insights that might make us more forgiving of future mistakes.  And knowing that passing words and actions can have permanence in today’s digital age may even contribute to increased civility at large, by motivating people to hold themselves to a higher standard in their day to day lives.  Wise words to live by — If you won’t be proud of it in the morning, don’t do it tonight.

I must admit, I’m pretty proud of momversusmarketer.  By merging multiple sides of myself (mom, marketer and writer) I’ve developed new insights that I think have made me better on all three fronts.  Inner collaboration.  Like swamp-water from the soda machine; the magic is in the mixing.

Inhaling Your Dessert ….. literally!

I have never understood the Red Bull phenomenon.  It’s clear that these high octane caffeinated beverages are selling like hotcakes; I see end aisle displays piled high every time I stand in the Tim Horton’s lineup at my local Esso station.  Perhaps the crackdown on drinking and driving that has compelled twenty-something men to resort to these as a means to demonstrate their macho-ness during the day?

But now there’s a whole new way to get a hit of caffeine without the calories.  It’s an inhalable product called AeroShot.   $2.99 gets you a lipstick sized tube that contains three pumps (doses?) of various B vitamins and 100mg of caffeine, about the same amount you would find in a large coffee.  Don’t ask me what B vitamins have to do with caffeine but the concept is made only stranger by the fact that the puff is delivered in the form of a lemon lime flavoured powder.

I wish them good luck.  Somehow I can’t imagine that holding this odd looking device to one’s lips and tooting down a powdery puff is going to be nearly as satisfying as pounding back a can of Rock Star or savouring a Starbucks.

The maker of AeroShot is a UK based company called Breathable Foods.  In April they’re set for the European launch of ‘Le Whaf,’ a line of drinkable dessert clouds that you pour into a snifter shaped glass and breathe in instead of consuming the calorie laden alternative.

Now maybe I’m old fashioned but I like my sweets eaten with a fork.

I’ve seen this before in new product development.  Smart and capable scientists can spend their entire career optimizing existing products, never developing something truly ‘revolutionary.’ So when someone comes up with a product that is completely unique it must be overwhelmingly exciting.  But just because something can be done, doesn’t mean that it should be done.  Take, for example, spray on hair.  Or the related, but equally ill-conceived, spray on grass.  Whether it’s your head or your lawn, it’s simply a bad idea.

There’s no doubt that calorie free dessert is an appealing concept.  But just like painting over one’s bald spots is no match for real hair, a whaf of lemon tart or a puff of caffeine is never going to match the enjoyment of real food and drink.  But that’s just my opinion.

The CEO of Breathable Foods happens to be a twenty-something business phenom who at age thirteen founded Soccernet, a football results database that sold for £25 million.  So I suppose it is possible that he knows something I don’t.

We’ll see.