Monthly Archives: October 2008

Why we hate

Last May a plane conducted an aerial survey of the rainforests near Peru. Gleison Miranda snapped a photo that soon flashed across the world as evidence of a “lost tribe” shooting arrows at an unknown god in the sky. Trouble was, the story wasn’t true. Turns out the isolated people in the photo were descendants of the Tano and Aruak tribes, had been in touch with Western civilization for more than 100 years, and were shooting arrows because they thought outsiders were dangerous.

When someone strange arrives, our human instinct is to attack.

This election year has seen a lot of hate flowing in many directions. Conservatives have spread emails claiming Barack Obama is Muslim. (Colin Powell, endorsing Obama, noted he is not Muslim but so what if he is?) Some Obama supporter, fighting back, has posted the web site, but liberals have not been flawless — a group today attacked a caravan carrying Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin. British Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing predicted in February that someone will assassinate Obama if he is elected. The world is watching America as it once again turns inward to fight itself.

The fear of others, known as xenophobia, seems wired into human minds, perhaps a survival instinct left over from thousands of years of fighting for resources — when a strange tribe actually could kill you. Psychologist Markus Kemmelmeier tested this in a simple experiment. He put stamped letters on windshields of cars parked in Detroit to see how many would be dropped in the mail. Half the letters were addressed to a Christian organization, half to a Muslim group. Almost all the Christian letters were forwarded, but only about 50% of the Muslim notes were. Kemmelmeier then performed a twist; he added little American flag stickers to the letters, and found almost all the letters in both categories got mailed.

And then there was the classic case of Iowa teacher Jane Elliott, who wanted to see how quickly people could learn to hate. She began giving all students with brown eyes special privileges while withholding them from students with blue eyes. Within 24 hours the students split into two opposing camps. The “privileged” students began acting superior and casting nasty remarks at the “inferior” students, who hung their heads in shame.

The children were in third grade. Elliott ran her experiment on April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.

We like and help people who think like us. We fear and even slip into hatred of those who don’t. Unfortunately the base instincts that helped us survive the dark winters of Ice Ages make for an ugly election year.

Recession is here. Good-bye, Zima.

Today MillerCoors announced it was ending production of the clear malt beverage Zima. We have no data to prove it but this seems one more sign of the economic sorting mechanism removing superfluous products during a recession.

Zima launched in 1993 after test marketing in Nashville and two other cities, and sales peaked a year later with 1.2 million barrels sold. It broke ground as a unique malt beverage at a time when most wine coolers still contained wine (a footnote, wine coolers soon also switched to malt ingredients after an increase in U.S. excise tax on wine in the early 1990s squeezed margins) and fared better among women than men.

Seems as times darken, U.S. consumers turn traditional in their drinking. In early 2007 U.S. wine sales were expected to top the world by 2010; Americans have slowed that growth a bit as they adjust to higher bottle prices resulting from the weak dollar, but U.S. winemakers say the overall growth trend continues. No more fancy clear bottles, please; just pour it like grandma did in the glass. Via Sara_MC.

Recession is here. So why are sex sales up?

Call it a new form of cocooning. With financial markets in the tank, most retailers face a pinch this holiday season — but sellers of intimate-related goods are finding, well, a good time.

In New Zealand, Wendy Lee, director of the sex gear retail chain Dvice, says sales are up about 20% this year with consumers moving to more expensive, big-ticket items (whatever those might be). In England, sales of Durex condoms are up 22%, making us wonder whether Brits are cuddling in fear or just trying to avoid the high cost of children. And sales of lacy things remain strong in the U.S., with a Forbes analyst noting Victoria’s Secret should be immune to the spending declines afflicting other clothing retailers. Lace, it seems, does well no matter how cold the weather.

The only dark cloud on the intimacy front is Hugh Hefner may be laying off bunnies at the Playboy mansion. The UK Telegraph wrote, “Hefner has been advised to cut back on staff … to cope during the global economic turmoil.” Apparently when faced with reality, consumers want to do more than just read about it.

Why political attack ads no longer scare you

The Wall Street Journal noted last week that 2008 may have more negative ads than any U.S. presidential contest in history, and yet few consumers seem to care. Why? The first rule of negative campaigning, WSJ suggests, is it must be about an issue that already worries voters. Both Obama and McCain have gone negative; Obama has tied McCain to the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s, and McCain (and Palin famously) have accused Obama of palling around with old terrorists.

Voters are scared, all right — about losing life savings and their jobs. In the limited attention span that Americans have for politics, they want to know who will solve their fears. Bringing up old radicals or scandals from decades ago just won’t stick, when the worrying rungs in our mental ladders are already full. The attack ads appear to have backfired most for McCain, who has been running more of them and still falling in the polls.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

The Parkinson’s spoon

Someone we loved once had Parkinson’s disease, a motor system disorder that causes severe tremors in the hands and legs, sleepless nights, loss of balance, and immense frustration for the people who have it who otherwise should be in the prime of their life.

It’s so hard to convey what these people feel. This ad does brilliantly with a single image.

Work by Euro RSCG Life, Shanghai, China, via I Believe in Advertising. If you know someone with it, resources are here.

The McCain tax-cut video

The latest TV spot from John McCain takes a different approach than Obama’s tax-cut calculator. Instead of any specific numbers, McCain lists several broad actions to stimulate the economy: cut taxes, reduce government spending, drill for oil in America, rebuild consumer savings, and create new jobs. It’s noteworthy that the background images evoke the White House.

The approach avoids specifics (as in Obama’s “95 percent of Americans” claim) to convey a simple, presidential brand. We’d say this will score well among business owners and conservative blue-collar types looking for a traditional presidential figure. With prediction markets giving Obama an 87.5% chance of winning the election, McCain has returned to his core.

The Obama tax-cut calculator

One of our first English teachers in high school said “show, don’t tell.” Obama is doing just this with a tax-cut calculator promoted on his main web site that allows U.S. voters to determine exactly how much they’d save under his tax plan vs. McCain’s. Nice use of numbers to try to overcome political arguments, and perhaps an approach your own business should emulate online if you’re selling anything in a down economy.

We couldn’t find a similar calculator on McCain’s site but did find videos outlining his own economic policy benefits with the vibe of a business presentation. Different audiences, different tactics.

Genesis and the scary durability of communications

Look, we love Peter Gabriel, but this old video of him and Phil Collins playing Genesis makes us cringe. Probably makes them wince, too. Which brings up the fact that anything you type today, or any video clip of you, will now live forever. This wasn’t always true. FoxNews, for example, today went after Barack Obama about when he began dealings with the ACORN Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Fox claimed a relationship back in 1992, instead of the 1995 Obama cited. Don’t know why this tidbit has any importance, but it shows how old facts are often disputed.

No more, mates. Imagine your son or daughter running for President in the year 2048. Everything they’ve ever touched is recorded, for instant recall, on the internet — high school parties, college pranks, that crazy blog with opinions about advertising (um, whoops). It will be an interesting future when none of us can escape our past. Our advice: Don’t play the flute, avoid cameras, and get a good haircut.

Via Bad Banana.