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.

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.

Subaru Canada Responds!

I thought I had dealt with my sour feelings over the Sumo Wrestler campaign for our beloved Subaru. As the dedicated member of a family well practiced at stuffing down unpleasant feelings and pretending that things never happened, I thought I could forget and move on.  But on our last camping trip of the season it all came flooding back to the surface.

I had picked up the campground orientation booklet for the purpose of briefing Taylor and Jack on the telltale characteristics of poison ivy, when the ad on the back cover caught my eye.

Click Here to see the Subaru ad

Oh dear.  That sumo wrestler has followed me into the wilderness.  A regular reader of the blog had warned me to watch out for him hiding in my backseat, and I had laughed at the thought.  But look.  There he was.

When I wrote the original post in early August, I took the liberty of sending a link along to Subaru Canada just to see what kind of response I might get.  Maybe the marketing gurus there would recognize my marketing genius and see the error of their ways.  Maybe they would be so impressed with my insight that they would offer me a consulting gig on the spot!  Perhaps they would beg for our continued loyalty and offer us a deep discount on a new Tribeca to accomodate our growing space requirements.  Hope springs eternal in my daydreams.

I didn’t have much time to dream about what might happen.  Their response came in less than an hour:

Sent: August-02-11 1:32 PM

To: Diane Williams

Subject: ROU – Forester Ad

Ms. Williams,

Thank you for taking the time to voice your opinion on our recent advertising campaign.  We sincerely apologize if you found the ad to be in some way objectionable. It was
certainly not our intent to upset or offend anyone. At Subaru Canada, we always try to create advertising that gets noticed and sets us apart from our competitors. In our most recent campaign, we wanted to showcase the redesigned features of the new 2011 Forester in the most impactful and entertaining way possible. As a Japanese automobile manufacturer, we pride ourselves on building safe, reliable vehicles, with the highest quality standard.  The idea behind the new advertising is to leverage our Japanese heritage while showcasing the new features of the 2011 Forester SUV in a fun, surprising way.

The Forester campaign concept with the sumo wrestlers and the tagline “Sexy Comes Standard”, was researched with consumers during campaign development and before it was aired. The advertising’s tongue-in-cheek humour is meant to generate a smile and not to be taken too seriously.  We believe the ads are respectful to the athletes and their sport.  The authentic professional sumo wrestlers that appear in the advertising are the top in their field and are widely admired for their athletic capabilities. Given sumo wrestling’s deep tradition and respected place in Japanese culture, we felt that this was a great way to bring attention to the Japanese-engineered, Subaru Foresters unique style and performance capabilities.

Subaru Canada values the opinions of our customers and potential customers, and we appreciate that you took the time to contact us.

Sincerely,

Richard Ouellette | Bilingual Consumer Support
Representative, Customer Care/Service à la clientèle

I remember dating someone in high school.  I loved him dearly and thought he loved me
too.  I thought we would be together forever.  But then one day, he sent a clear message that showed he did not care for me as deeply as I cared for him.  To him I was just a good friend.  And he had lots of friends.

I’m tempted to write back to Subaru pointing out that they’ve left the apostrophe out of “Forester’s” in the last paragraph of their form letter.  But then they might think I care about them.  And I’m so over my love affair with Subaru.

Next week, we’re planning to take the Honda Odyssey for a test drive.

You Are What You Drive

My high school parking lot was filled with cars the adults in our small town no longer wanted.  There were Ford Pintos and Gremlins, rusty Buicks and bondo patched Oldsmobiles.  I even had a girlfriend who drove a 1960-something Dodge Dart.  Once, when her sister was behind the wheel, the driver’s seat back suddenly came loose and
fell into the backseat, resulting in hysterical laughter from of all of us riding in the car with her.  True, there was the occasional rich kid who drove an elaborately painted Firebird, but he was the rare exception.  Regardless of the condition of the vehicle, we all drove our cars with pride.  Our cars became extensions of ourselves and we outfitted them with personal touches like a zebra print cover on the driver seat and party souvenirs hung from the rear view mirror.

As a proudly practical person, I continued to purchase used cars even after I had a good job.  My first brand new car didn’t come until I was well into my thirties.  The president of the company I was working for at the time grinned as he slid an offer letter across the table outlining the details of my new job.

“It comes with a company car,” he said, raising his eyebrows.

I stood up, raised my arms in the air and shouted: “Yippee!”

My husband and I spent weeks exploring all of the automotive options available within my cap cost.  In the end it came down to a Nissan Maxima with all the bells and whistles versus a base model BMW 320i with only a couple of add ons.  Clearly, there was more value in the Nissan.  But I just couldn’t get that BMW logo out of my head.  Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that one day I would be behind the wheel of a BMW.  This was my chance.  Who knew if I would ever have this opportunity again?  But I was torn.

My practical side kept whispering Maxima.  It asked: “Are you really so shallow that you need a car with a fancy logo to make you feel better about yourself?”

And at that time, the answer was wholeheartedly YES!

I loved that car.  When I drove it I felt like somebody, and I couldn’t help smiling at the BMW logo in the centre of the steering wheel.  Whenever I visited my hometown, I prayed that one of the ‘cool kids’ who teased me in high school would be working at the gas station when I went to fill it up.  Never happened.

But those days are gone.  I now realize that the people I really care about don’t give a crap what kind of car I drive and I’m done with trying to impress people I don’t know.  But I’d be lying if I said the car I drive doesn’t matter to me.  While my values may have evolved, I still do see my car as a reflection of them.

We bought our first Subaru Forester in 2003 at a time when Lance Armstrong was the front man and the tagline was “Driven by what’s inside.”  We knew all about Subaru’s
rally car heritage and my husband Craig understood how this factored into the engineering of our new Forester.  It was a practical buy.  It offered plentiful trunk space,
good fuel economy and was super safe for our little ones.   Plus, Subaru was a name that we felt good about.  Craig and I were the kind of twenty-somethings that drank Black Label long before the ads made it cool to do so and brought Labatt 50 to parties to differentiate our BYOB from everyone else’s.  We liked the fact that Subaru was a brand that wasn’t in many driveways.

During the years when I drove my entirely impractical BMW, the Forester was our reliable snow bus.  Even with high quality snow tires the rear wheel drive of my Bimmer resulted in frequent fishtailing, but the Forester’s all wheel drive ground through knee
high snow drifts like they were nothing.

The fantastic performance of the vehicle and great service department experience drew us back in 2007 when we replaced it with a new one.  This time we could afford little
extras like seat heaters, a huge moon-roof and the turbo charged engine of Craig’s dreams.  And we loved it.

Sadly, the sumo wrestler ads that have been on air for the last couple of years have made us love it a little less.  Have a look:

We are a family that prides ourselves in being athletic and outdoorsy.  We take our Subaru on camping trips, to the baseball diamond and soccer fields.  Places where a sumo wrestler does not belong.  Seeing him squished in the back seat between two uncomfortable looking kids, and sprawled across the hood makes me cringe.

As a marketer, I worry that the sales increase Subaru has attributed to this award winning campaign may be a short term gain at the expense of the long term health of the brand.  How many loyal Subaru owners like us are beginning to think that this is
not a brand for them?  With the long purchase cycle on new vehicles, Subaru won’t feel the pinch of us turning away until years from now.  And by then we may have fallen in love with a new brand.

I am a fiercely patriotic Canadian and so I hate to admit it, but the U.S. advertising speaks to me much more strongly.   This is a much more accurate reflection of the life that we lead with our Subaru Forester:

And this is why we would have been Subaru owners long into the future:

Unfortunately for Subaru, if this sumo wrestler thing keeps up, I’m no longer sure what our automotive future holds.

Advertising’s Great Lost Art

I will admit my bias right up front.  I LOVE music… all music… but especially music that I can sing along with.   Yes, I am the woman by herself in the car next to you belting out off key renditions of whatever is on the radio, seemlingly oblivious to the fact that although her windows shut tight, they are in fact transparent.

My husband Craig cringes every time our eleven year old daughter Taylor asks us to turn the station to 99.9 Virgin Radio.  While pop music grates on his nerves like a yappy dog, I can appreciate the simple melodies and repetitive lyrics.  Video of Lady Ga Ga may give me the shivers but her music is damn fun to sing along with.  Perhaps this is why it bugs Craig so much.  Whether you like it or not, this kind of music really sticks in your head.

And so I wonder, in an age when competition for consumer dollars has never been more fierce, why the advertising jingle seems to be a lost art.

My childhood memories are littered with fantastic jingles.   Who could forget the Big Mac song?  “Two all beef patties, special sauce pickles onions lettuce ketchup on a sesame seed bun!”   After thirty years, the melody is still crystal clear in my head.  Didn’t they sing the whole menu at one point?  If I’m not mistaken, fries was cleverly rhymed with pies.  Kids who could recite the entire song without missing a beat, attained star status on the playground.  Those were the days when trick or treaters flocked to the house in the neighbourhood that was handing out free McDonald’s fries coupons.  The cool kids got to order a jug of that orange drink for their backyard birthday party and the local McDonald’s parking lot was the undisputed hub of teenage social networking.

Years later, after more than a decade of pestering, my parents finally gave in and permitted me to adopt a kitten.  As she had feared would be the case, my mother took care of collecting all the necessary supplies for my pet.  And at the time there was one, particularly memorable, ad on air.

“I love chi-cken, I love li-ver, I love tu-na, please de-li-ver.”

We fed that cat nothing but Meow Mix until the day he died at the ripe old age of 19.

But for heartwarming-ness, you just can’t beat the old Coca Cola ads.  “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect har-mon-y; I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep them
company.”  OK, maybe the words are a bit fuzzy in my memory but the sentiment is there.

Today, my kids cling desperately to the few jingles on air.  In the schoolyard they roar with laughter singing: “Sleep Country Cana-da; Why buy a mat-tress when you have a couch.”  I don’t really get the joke, but we did somehow find ourselves drawn to Sleep Country to buy our new mattress last year.

Taylor and Jack both, repeatedly hum the few jingles they have heard.

“Only a dolla’; All summa’!”

“Al-arm force…. two thou-sand and one!”

“Five.  Five dolla’.  Five dolla’ foot loooooooong!”

Have our quick pay lifestyles come down to this?   Are crappy one-liner’s all the ad folks
think we are capable of remembering?  How about a whole verse with the product benefit mentioned?  For heaven’s sake, if they can’t bring themselves to go all the way to establishing an emotional connection, at least give us a couple of product features to hang on to!

Well, I’d like to start a movement to get those jingle guys back to work.  Without these catchy tunes to stick in our brains for years to come, I fear that we will have lost an important source of pop culture.  Plus, I desperately need some new material to sing in the shower.

What is your favourite jingle????   Press the comment bubble next to the title in this blog and tell me about the best one that you can remember!   I can’t wait to hear them all and will award a $20 Tim Horton’s gift card to whoever brings the biggest smile to my face.  Extra points for making me laugh out loud.

Vacation Revelation

When I left my job, we knew that many luxuries would have to go.  But every family needs a holiday.

We have tried to vacation at home in the past.  In theory we should have been able to forego the cost of a hotel and simply enjoy the many activities available in our local
community, but invariably chores crept in.  We found ourselves taking on gruelling projects like re-staining our backyard fence or cleaning out our basement storage area.  Jack and Taylor would complain about how bored they were, and Craig and I would bitterly wish that we could be so lucky.

So we have concluded that from time to time, it’s important to get away from home.

Back in the days when money was no object, we once took three vacations within a span of six months.  Jack and Taylor’s first trip on an airplane whisked us away to a luxurious Acapulco resort with Craig’s parents.  The kids had a great time dashing from pool to pool, sailing down the ‘mountain’ water slide one minute and traipsing across
a wooden suspension bridge the next, safe in the care of their beloved Grandparents while Craig and I took time out to enjoy the on site golf courses.

A few months later we took our first family trip to Walt Disney World in Florida.  We stayed on the resort for an entire week in a spacious suite and visited a theme park every day, each more impressive than the last.  We filled ourselves full on the deluxe dining plan, complete with mouth watering desserts and seemingly endless snacks.  And we travelled with another family so the kids always had a willing playmate close at hand.

Our third vacation that year was a mere four days at Fern Resort in Orillia, a family run operation within driving distance of our home.  A special deal had motivated us to book a basic room which meant that I shared a bed with Taylor and Craig shared a bed with Jack.

“Taylor!  Stop digging your foot into my back!”

“Daddy is snoring.”

“Jack!  You just slapped me in the face!”

Three very different holiday experiences.  So that fall, as we began to think about our
vacation plans for the following year, I asked the kids, “Which vacation did you like best?”

Without hesitation, in unison Taylor and Jack said, “Fern!”

Really?  I knew they had enjoyed their stay at Fern but it was no Disney.  Sure there were pools, but no character themed thrill rides or fantastic parades.  In fact, the activities we most enjoyed at Fern couldn’t have been more low-key.  Bingo games in the poolside gazebo, jumping on one of three trampolines and playing endless games of mini putt on a basic course in need of a paint job.  The highlight for both kids seemed to be dangling crude homemade fishing sticks off the dock to catch sunfish.  And yet this, was the vacation they enjoyed the most.

Last week we were back at Fern Resort and I had an opportunity to speak with one of the owners.

Mark Downing and his sister Laura represent the fourth generation in this family owned business, carrying on over one hundred years of history on the property.  You might think that having grown up on the resort and then been handed a thriving business, Mark would be sitting back enjoying the fruits of his ancestors’ labours and letting
peons run the show.  But this is not the man I met.

At our scheduled meeting time he entered the tiny lobby bar with a flourish, carrying a glass of water and plate of carrot sticks.   A few days before, I had seen him attempt to
leap off a ramp in the middle of the lake into a barefoot position behind a speedboat as part of the water ski show.  He does this kind of thing fuelled by carrot sticks?

When I told him about my kids’ love for his resort in comparison to more elaborate vacation destinations and asked him about the ‘magic’ of Fern he had a ready response.

“I’ve heard this comment from other families, so I’m not surprised to hear it.   The difference at Fern is that it creates a community where friendships are built quickly and
easily.  Everything at the resort is designed to promote this sense of community.  Everyone eats together at the same time in the dining room.  We hire staff that are outgoing, salt of the earth types who endear themselves to guests immediately and we treat our staff well so that they come back season after season.  And we offer activities that attract small groups of guests who bond together through a shared experience.

“One year I had a guy come in and tell me that our best asset on the resort was the lake view.  He told us that we should tear down our poolside bar and barbeque gazebo
so that people could see the lake from the lounge chairs.  But if people want to spend their time looking at the lake, they would be going to Muskoka.  At Fern we want our guests looking at each other!”

When Mark told me this, it immediately rang true.  Like Cheers, where everybody knows your name, Fern is a place where our family feels part of something bigger.  After just one visit, we felt that we knew many of the staff and had built friendships with other guests that made us all want to go back.  And when I more closely watched our kids catching fish off the Fern dock, I realized that they spent as much time chatting with the teenage boys hired to put worms on hooks as they did with their lines in the water.

In fact, a main motivator for leaving my career was the desire to build stronger relationships with my family and friends.  Building relationships and enjoying a sense
of belonging is something that is difficult to do in our fast paced society, but I believe that it is something that we all (kids included!) long for.

Sports Director Mike Stewart is a warm and charismatic man with 32 years of tenure at Fern Resort.  On one of our daily morning walks, he summed up the magic of Fern in a simple phrase, “Fern is a feeling.”

He’s right.

We may have some great photos of spectacular sights and sounds from those other resorts but the feeling of Fern is something that seems to live on in our family long after our stay is over.  And that’s exactly why we’ll be back again next year.

For more info on Fern Resort and what it has to offer, check out their website at www.fernresort.com

RIM Shot

Lately I’ve been thinking about RIM.  Once a proudly home grown Canadian phenomenon, it is now sullied by unsavoury future profit growth forecasts.  In the Toronto Star business section last weekend I read that RIM’s plan was to “cut an unspecified number of jobs as it works to roll out a new generation of products to stay competitive.”

I can’t help thinking that RIM’s problem isn’t just the technology of its products; it’s the IMAGE of those products.  While the BlackBerry was once a symbol of success it is now more often viewed both by those who have one, and those who don’t, as an albatross.  Having a BlackBerry constantly stuck to the side of your head no longer means that you are a person of importance, it means that you are a person held hostage at the beck and call of others.

No one has a BlackBerry for fun.  A Blackberry means business.  And these days, for most people, business is not fun.  Gone are the days of Gordon Gekko as an image of success and luxury in the exciting world of high finance.  Now there was a guy who loved his job!  Today, success and luxury is having a job that pays you enough money to live comfortably on, AND leaves you time to do the things you love, like playing in the park with your kids or having a barbeque with friends.  And if you happen to love that job, all the better!

If you’re looking for a device for work and play, you are much more likely to choose the Apple iPhone.  All those apps and free games?  All those iTunes?  Now that’s fun!

Let’s see… a tart fruit full of molar-busting seeds versus a wide variety of crisp, juicy apples?  I’ll take the apple any day.

Even the new BlackBerry PlayBook is unfortunately branded.  Isn’t a playbook a strategy document for sports teams?  Don’t coaches and players have to study the playbook?  Smells like work to me.

I think that RIM is right to be conservative in their future growth forecasts, because I see increasing numbers of people of all ages looking for more out of life than business success.  One of the reasons I left my lucrative career was because it was squeezing time out of the parts of my life I treasured most.  And I’m not alone.  Networking has connected me to a whole other world of entrepreneurs looking to build a better, more balanced life for themselves.  A life that is less work… more play.

I can’t help but root for RIM because I am a fiercely patriotic Canadian.  So I sure hope that the ‘unspecified number of jobs’ they’re cutting aren’t their brand strategists!

Follow me on Twitter to see what other thoughts are popping into my head on a regular basis and let me know what you’d like to see in future momversusmarketer blogs: @whiterockdw