Celebrating another Year

I have always loved being a 4th of July baby — guaranteed fireworks! But with each passing year, I’m more aware of our cultural obsession with aging. Anti-aging, literally speaking, is synonymous with dying. My dad used to say when asked about getting older, “It beats the alternative.” I reflect on this topic today, both as a marketer and as one being marketed to, on the cusp of turning another year older.


Fearing death is natural. So is not being thrilled with a gray hair or a new line around your eyes. What’s different now than in the past is the sheer volume of products and industries that are literally banking on our collective fear of getting old.


The billion-dollar Beauty industry leads the pack with its lotions and potions, tonics, serums, oils, ‘injectables,’ and scads of surgeries that all carry with them promises of looking younger and regaining what you have most certainly lost. Women’s magazines peddle exaggerated before-and-after makeovers, and several times a year, the infamous “Beauty at Any Age” issue — which I remember not so long ago stopped at the 40’s…. Vanity is one thing (and it’s healthy to have some), but the way we market and are marketed to with beauty products plays less on our vanity and much more on a fear of getting old and irrelevant.


The Health & Wellness world is cashing in, as well. Vitamins and elixirs, IVs, diets, smoothies, fasts, workout plans and machines and gadgets — all of it practically guarantees you will stay exactly as you are, right now, if you just sign on! Truly healthy lifestyles that include eating well and exercising regularly are the only real “fountains of youth,” and should be embraced for making us look and feel good and for protecting the quality of our lives. But even good health won’t make you a year younger on your next birthday.


The Fashion industry also capitalizes on the body shame and loathing that can accompany getting older, especially for women. There are garments that hold you in here, or make you look more round there. Designs and styles meant to make you look and feel more like your younger self … or your younger daughter.


So what? All of those things make people feel better, so what’s the problem? To me, the problem is that there needs to be some grace and sensibility to the whole aging game and it needs to be reflected in the products, promises, and marketing of the things geared to the aging public. And right now, not only is a lot of the messaging off-key, there isn’t a lot of it geared toward the 50+ market, in the first place. There is a real opportunity to reframe the offerings and messages to ones that empower this incredible 50+ demographic, which accounts for 50% of all consumer expenditures and spends $3.2 trillion annually! https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-bradbury/the-7-incredible-facts-about-boomers-spending_b_6815876.html


And along with better products and messages, we need to keep our own healthy perspective. I am lucky to have around me healthy, personal role models who bring grace to aging, starting with my beautiful mother, an octogenarian who takes incredible care of herself and is very young at heart. Same goes for my older friends, in their 60s and 70s, who are living exciting, healthy lives that honor growing older vs. disparaging it (you know who you are and thank you!).


Don’t get me wrong — I’m not giving up my gym membership, fancy eye creams, or vitamins. But I want to shift my focus away from what you lose as you age to what you gain — more wisdom, self-acceptance, and gratitude for what you have. I want products and services to appeal to the active, involved, healthy person I am and continue to be, and not to a 50-something relic who needs constant improvements!


Living past our youthful prime is a privilege. There must be a way to do it that isn’t full of fear and the rather ungrateful desire to anti-age.

Finding Humanity In An Era Of Change

A perspective from Cannes 2018

By Sharon Love – CEO, TPN


Awards for Creativity. Big data. Provocative speakers. Branded beaches. Yachts, parties, concerts, and rose… Some aspects have remained the same over time but the annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity has definitely undergone some change—even in the four short years I’ve attended. Beyond the greater presence of big media platforms and the continuing corporate dynamic, there felt to me, this year, a shift in the posture of our industry. A humbling pivot that’s put many marketers in a defensive position. And for good reason. In a moment of transparency concerns, a tech explosion, and the fight for equality and inclusion, how does an agency or brand survive and thrive? The answer may be to rediscover our humanity.


Embracing the human spirit in creativity

The list of jobs gobbled up by robots grows each year. And today it seems feasible that new technology, big data, and in-house creative shops may replace the “agency” as we’ve known it to date. Angela Ahrendts—formerly CEO of Burberry, currently SVP, Retail, Apple— went on the offensive at Cannes during her panel “Reimagining the Retail Experience” championing the value of “the human business” with regards to technology, the digital boom, and the future of retail. She acknowledged the importance of technology (she works for Apple, after all!) but was purposely focused on the need for the human touch. At TPN, we share her opinion that retail isn’t dying, it’s merely changing. That truth was complemented in another great panel, “The Not So Secret Life of Creatives”, where they discussed how Pinterest lets you play in a virtual world to generate ideas that you later cultivate in the offline world. My takeaway? Those of us that adapt the most efficiently and find that right balance of man-and-machine will win moving forward.


Seeing each other human-to-human

As marketers, an important part of what we owe our clients is a clear delineation of who their target audience is. No one today should be wasting time or money marketing to the wrong person, even slightly. Data has made us more accurate, in a lot of ways. But as I listened to Faith Popcorn’s session, “The Death of Masculinity and its Impact on Creativity”, I was reminded of the limitations of big data. Her take on the constant blurring definitions of masculinity and femininity, and beyond, cannot be captured in data. It’s too nuanced and shifting. Perhaps one way to ensure we’re connecting with our audience in the right ways is to view them as people as opposed to males, females or other gender labels. That would allow us to avoid offensive or alienating stereotypes. Wherever we can, we should ask ourselves how we’d like to be approached by a brand—as a woman? As a man? Or perhaps just as a person of certain interests. That theme seemed to align well with the message Seth Farbman (CMO, Spotify) sent at his panel “Creativity in the Age of Resistance”. He highlighted the voice they give to artists to make positive change—with themes of inclusivity and acceptance of all rising to the top. Seth stressed that using Spotify’s platform for positive change has become “an obligation”. The nature of your brand or platform, of course, figures largely into your ability to deliver this promise. But overall, the thought of steering clear of any level of stereotype and bias is a smart one for the times.


Fulfilling the equality promise

Many sessions focused on eliminating bias from our business—both in our internal company structures and in our work. The argument for gender and racial equality as a business imperative has been talked about for a long time and now there is conclusive evidence that companies who have a diverse workforce and leadership team deliver better results than those who do not. Early in the discussions about the importance of diversity, the moral imperative for equality had to take a back seat to business to get all the people who needed to hear it onboard. So why are some brands so slow to act on this and clean up their act? I just saw on Facebook this morning an old friend bemoaning the back of her (unnamed here) breakfast cereal box. It was a heartland story of where the grains had been raised for the cereal and featured the family of farmers who had grown it—there was not ONE female in the picture! It was kind of shocking. But there is reason for hope that the cereal box debacle will be a thing of the past. At one of my favorite panels, “Agents of Change”, featuring Katie Couric, Queen Latifah, Madonna Badger, and Mark Pritchard—they shared that though 29% of ads still portray women negatively or inappropriately, that number is down from 51% just two years ago. It seems like the hard work is beginning to pay off. As Omnicom’s Chief Diversity Officer, Tiffany R. Warren stated in her panel “Diversity—a Values Issue and Business Imperative”: “Diverse teams mean diverse thinking. We need representation in front of and behind the camera at every level, so we can normalize what used to be marginalized.”


Applying the good in tech

The power to ‘do good’ using data & technology is very exciting—both as a human being and as a marketer. One compelling session I attended, entitled “Androids, AI and the Future of Creativity” touted a function of new technology as a way for humans to understand what it really means to be human—when you interact with a robot, you begin to appreciate the things it can’t do that a human can. But the flip side (the dark side, if you will) of what data & technology have already wrought is concerning. We need good and responsible data and tech to win the day. Simply vilifying data/tech as bad (taking our jobs way!) or dangerous (destroying our privacy, rigging our elections) is to ignore all of the good it can do, and has done. The opportunity to connect our audiences with relevant, uplifting, and helpful content has never been greater. Our customers look to us to provide helpful information. It’s a great responsibility. But as we work to utilize the ever-expanding network of data, and the power of platforms like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Instagram plus technology like AI, machine learning, and Voice, we need to (somehow) avoid fueling the increasing dependence our audiences have on mobile and social media as personal validation. As Scott Hagedorn, Chief Executive of Hearts & Science pointed out, it’s led to a rise in depression and anxiety (not to mention a polarizing political divide unlike anything we’ve ever seen). It will take human understanding and intervention to help brands utilize the power of data and technology in a transparent, positive, and ethical manner. And the ones who do so will win the ongoing trust of consumers.


For an industry a bit on its heels, the unity, positivity, and human spirit in the air at Cannes was palpable. Hopefully, as marketers, creators, thinkers, and—most importantly—humans, we continue to respect the huge responsibility we have to the brands and consumers we serve and harness our platforms and power to make real change, for good.

Be Persuasive

When everyone around you is saying the same thing, it can be contagious. Certain phrases become quickly habitual. The agency world is no stranger to this. We often use jargon and made up words as if they are our first language, assuming everyone is in the know and with no apology for slaughtering our real first language.

While I firmly believe change and evolution is good, I often want to erase these new, unnecessary and sometimes nonsense phrases that creep into our conversations, but yet have so little meaning. Often, I don’t think the user fully knows the meaning of what they are saying.

Language is an art and while I do not expect everyone to be artists, there’s a clarity and eloquence missing from the way we communicate today. More importantly, I wonder if these catch phrases or verbal crutches (“um”, “like”, “right?”) are impacting the intention of the speaker? They can distract a listener or even annoy them to the extent the message becomes ineffective. When you’re in the business of communication and persuasion as I am, you can’t afford for your communications to lack impact or worse, meaning. Let’s be precise and thoughtful with what we say and how we say it. It matters.

Right? Wrong.

Yesterday I heard an interview with a talented song-writer on NPR radio and I found myself wincing a few times as I noticed both the interviewer and interviewee were peppering their dialogue with the word, “Right?” As if asking the other “You know what I mean?” I don’t mean to pick on either of them, as I am not a perfect speaker or writer myself. I make my share of mistakes and have communication crutches that I am not proud of, just like everyone else. So, it is with empathy that I bring this up.

I hear these all the time in conversation: “Right?” “Like” and “Um” (still a crowd favorite after many years) and it is concerning to me.

It was not so long ago that we became infected with the word LIKE. We identified “Valley Girls” in Southern CA as patient zero of this epidemic that quickly spread across the nation, to grown women and men, like a virus.

The infectious disease today seems to be “Right?” I am hearing it more and more in business conversations and, also, in business presentations. It is distracting and unnecessary. And there seems to be little awareness of the quantity of its use.

I am a big fan of Urban Dictionary, WordSpy, Slangsite and others who have turned an interested ear to current, cultural chatter and teased out the new words and phrases that are popping up daily. Vocabulary should and must evolve. We had no established words or definitions, for instance, for all the technology of the past decade. Those words have been fun, colorful and necessary and using them connects us all to the new conversation. But this thing with “Right?”, while definitely reflecting a cultural tick, is not the same thing.

It is not fun. Shoes are fun.


Imitation Game

This morning I hopped out of an Uber, almost jogged into my office building while texting one of my colleagues, and realized I needed coffee. Luckily I am not a coffee snob, so my caffeine need was solved by hitting the Kuerig button on my way through the office kitchen.

Six hours and many meetings later., I realized how a part of the “the convenience effect” I am. (I’m sure someone has come up with a better name for this). Of course, the efficiency of my morning routine is highly dependent on technological shortcuts. Instead of walking down the hall to ask a colleague a question face to face, I pick up the phone or even send a text. My stomach starts growling and I order delivery from my desk. I need to meet with an associate in LA, we Skype instead of flying across the country. All those choices made my day easier and faster… but did they make it better?

Instead of coming up with fresh, new ideas or stimulating conversations, we’re taking short cuts and imitating others. Social sharing, while great for a thousand reasons, has led to imitation and sameness—in dress, décor, behavior and communications. We walk the home goods aisle of TJ Maxx’, to find 10 different incarnations of the once iconic and classic Mason jar. We hear someone use a new phrase, then find ourselves repeating it hours later, even if it’s a made-up word.

Are we all turning into a culture of lemmings without original thoughts and ideas? Are we OK with always taking a page from someone else’s book? Has convenience driven us not to need to think for ourselves? Ok, this might sound a bit dramatic but it is on my mind. Think about the latest “convenience” from Amazon, Dash. You just press a button next to your coffee maker or washing machine and presto! More coffee or laundry detergent is delivered the next day. If you are the coffee or detergent brand on ‘speed dial’, good for you. But it might be there were new, better choices for the shopper but the choice was already made. There are no steps involved. Some in the media are rightfully raising the question—is our need for speed and convenience making us lazier and keeping us from having to think? Is taking steps out of daily tasks going to lead to the futuristic world illustrated in the movie, “WALL-E”?

At TPN, “Reimagine Retail” is the promise we deliver to our clients. That means we have to hold ourselves to thinking uniquely, not just taking a current idea and making it better. (DASH might be one of those unique ideas that changes the face of retail, my jury is still out). We have to innovate thought and process. We create, invent, dissect, and then think again in a new and different way. The outcomes can be surprising and they are always fresh.

Viral Brilliance

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, viral phenomenon, is teaching us a lot about a lot of things — ALS for one, human nature, masterful fundraising and some things us marketers should pay attention to. It is treasure trove for Cause Marketers and there are some universal truths (reminders) in it for the rest of us.

The request on social media from one person to several  friends to donate to the cause of ALS, while demonstrating their support for the cause/cure by sharing a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice over their heads is the basic premise. Then, the friends who are challenged are supposed to donate, challenge a few more people and post their video proof of their ice bath. And so on and so on.

It is the dream child of every viral campaign to have this much uptick and involvement, so quickly. (for the record, it is not a new concept.  I personally have participated in a very similar tactic (the dunking booth) to raise money for a cause. My friends joyfully lined up, made their donations and then pelted the target as hard they could to send me into the tank of nasty water.

But to my observance, The ALS Ice Bucket challenge is a first of it’s kind in the viral world, engaging so many participants and dollars. Besides the fact that these videos seem to claim every other post on Facebook, the ‘event’ has raised over $62M since July 29, the average gift being only $46.25, for a horrible disease that until now was far less known and funded.

I love the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge because it is:

  • Organic and authentic. This does not have the stamp of a corporate or “official cause” on it. ALS is not asking you to dump ice water over your head and donate; your friends are.
  • Fun. The gimmick of pouring ice over one’s head is universally fun, a little outlandish and engaging.  Responses are cross-generational — young, old and in between are into it, challenging each other and helping each other with the videos.
  • Global – the money raised is going for global research and the donations and videos are coming in from all over our small world.
  • Appropriate use of humor and silliness. It has those components in the act itself but still delivers a very sober plea to donate to an important (and decidedly not humorous) cause.
  • Incredibly democratic. The request is one that can be answered by anyone with a cell phone (tripod or friend) and access to frozen water and a bucket. And it is being responded to from everyone from President George W. Bush to Justin Bieber.
  • 15 seconds of fame. It plays to most (non-famous) people’s desire for fame and acknowledgement of being a good person without having to self-promote. The aspect of slight humiliation is endearing and creates camaraderie.
  • Quick. It only takes a few minutes out of our busy lives.
  • Masterful Fund-raising.  The requests are on social media with a huge audience seeing who is being challenged and who responds. So there is peer pressure to participate vs a plea via a newsletter, telethon or dinner.

I think the watch-out is the “me too” factor that is bound to happen, or has already started? Too close a copycat will not be well-received.

When in Shanghai: Part 3

We Are What We Buy

I love visiting grocery, drug, convenience and even big-box stores when traveling abroad. My husband does not always view these visits as highlights of our vacation, but he’s generally a good sport about it.

When I am traveling on business, I visit with immoderation. Seeing what is on the shelves of stores (and what isn’t), how the shelves are merchandised, what the packaging looks like, prices, what is in shoppers’ carts, etc., … can draw a vivid picture for me of the marketplace and the people. You can learn about customs, tastes and traditions just by walking into a retail store.

While recently in China, I noticed in a Watson’s drug store that there were no aspirin or pain relievers to be had on the shelves – no section at all on the floor dedicated to these products. It turns out that in China you need a prescription for aspirin and analgesics or at least need to speak to a pharmacist to buy what you need for what ails you. Even in Europe, where things are still behind the counter in drug stores, you can point and ask for what you want. In China, you need consultation. And coming from a country that has end caps of Tylenol during “cold and flu season,” it was sort of a stunning observation. It made me think differently about a headache or a sore leg.

In Carrefour and Walmart, three areas within the store really stood out for me:

1) The candy and sweets section. Notice I didn’t say aisle; it was a section of aisles and took up a large percentage of the store, with everything from packaged candy bars, gift packs and baskets, to container upon container of individually packaged pieces of bulk candy, merchandised the way I am used to seeing grains or nuts at a Whole Foods back home. And there were so many interesting and different types of candy. Tiny, individual “pudding cups” filled with pieces of fruit, suspended in a sweet gelatin base (unrefrigerated) made up most of one, long aisle. Clearly this is a go-to snack for Chinese kids. It reminded me of the Del Monte Snack Pack of my childhood. But that was fruit suspended in sugary water, not jelly. I can say without any research, these would be a hard sell in the U.S. because the concept of jellied sweets is not a popular, mainstream texture profile here; not yet, anyway. And I am sure my Del Monte Snack Pack would seem watery and odd to the Chinese.

2) The fresh fish section of the store. There was a wide assortment of seafood including fresh, fileted fish, laid out on ice, like you would see at a U.S. grocer or fish monger – salmon, tuna, clam, mussels, etc., … but what you wouldn’t find was the large, aerated tank of live frogs or the live, local yellow croaker fish swimming next to them in an even larger tank. I am sure that if I liked frog legs, these would be the freshest I had ever tasted, but from my perspective, the frog tank belonged in the pets aisle. Of course, if one of my fellow Chinese shoppers had walked into a Petco in the U.S. and seen the frog tank, he or she might wonder why that was the only human “food” they were selling in there!

3) Fresh fruits and vegetables department. I could have created my own game show in this department – Name that Spiky, Brown Fruit! This is where, as a cook, I get frustrated traveling abroad, not being able to fill up my cart and go home and try these exotic, interesting foods. There were huge piles of interesting, unknown-to-me produce with signs above them, written in Chinese characters, so I really had no idea what half the stuff was. I did a few sniff tests and took a lot of pictures. One fruit I had never tried before going to China was dragonfruit, which I loved and know that I can get in New York.

Convenience stores were smaller and cleaner (for the most part) than their U.S. equivalents, but they served more as prepared-food destinations. I visited a 7-Eleven and a Family Mart at the lunch hour and they were bustling like we would think of a QSR in the states. They had prepackaged vegetable, rice and chicken plates on the shelves, alongside boxes of crackers and chips. I guess the chicken was preserved in some way as to not need refrigeration, but the look of it was still a little unsettling. And there were interesting flavors of chips to accompany the meal, like shrimp and salted-fish flavor. I am a fish and seafood lover, so why not a chip flavored with those ingredients? What is new and unknown might be delicious. Might it also be just a little weird?

While there were several fun and funny differences between these retail experiences and the familiar ones back home, there were as many similarities. Merchandising clearly matters; I saw some great displays and well-stocked and maintained shelves. Wayfinding was in place and helpful (if you read Chinese) and there seemed to be a familiar flow to the store’s layout, so finding the different sections and departments was not hard. At Carrefour, there was a huge, well-stocked imports section, (accurately) reflecting the presence of a large ex-pat community nearby who shopped the store. At Walmart I saw families with full baskets clearly doing the weekly “big shop.”

Shanghai is a world away from New York City, of course, but I was very much at home in retailers I know (and several that I didn’t), surrounded by brands I know and love (and others that piqued my curiosity and were loved by my fellow, local shoppers). Shopping is social, even if you don’t speak the same language. We can express ourselves and define parts of ourselves by what ends up in our basket – and that’s true anywhere in the world.




When in Shanghai: Part 2

Upstairs, Downstairs

The Chinese boomtown Shanghai is a city of juxtapositions. There are the ones you expect: ancient buildings standing behind glittering towers erected as recently as 15 years ago; traditional neighborhood noodle restaurants sharing a block with Starbucks; or Mercedes-Benz taxis parked alongside rickshaws. But for me, on my recent visit, one of the most stark and surprising juxtapositions was the retail scene.

Beneath the Museum of Science & Technology in Shanghai, the most visited modern museum in China, lies a tourist attraction with realistically more draw than the museum could ever hope for: AP Plaza, a.k.a the “fakes market.” It’s a cavernous maze of individual stalls selling the literal retail underground: designer knock-offs of everything, including watches, sunglasses, handbags, shoes, scarves and umbrellas, even cosmetics. Many of the counterfeits perfectly mirror the luxury items they are ripping off, down to the tiniest detail. Even if the booty is tantalizing, the experience is stressful. Sellers are extremely aggressive and the setting dingy and disorganized.

Just across town, very much above ground, are some of the most massive, swanky and impressive retail stores I have ever seen. Here is where you’ll find the authentic versions of those luxury items. The stores themselves are opulent, ultra-luxe showrooms, with spectacular visual merchandising and highly trained and polished sales people. And the items themselves are ones of great tradition, quality and even greater expense.

I was a shopper in both of these very different worlds this past week. What struck me was that the tie that binds them both: brands. The allure of brands, and the power they have to reward us, fulfill us, validate and make us feel special, is a unique but global phenomenon. There would be no fakes market without the brand love and desire engendered by legitimate brands, sold at “real” retail, over the span of generations.

Does buying your second fake Louis Vuitton bag in a dirty basement under a museum qualify you as brand loyal? Do fakes leave the shopper with the same pride of ownership and joy from the purchase and subsequent use of the real thing? Do throngs of shoppers carrying fake bags marginalize buyers of real goods?

The matters of brand loyalty (or brand fascination, perhaps) and pride of ownership can get murky. But I think there is little doubt that a sea of fakes muddies the waters of global retail and cheats buyers of authentic goods. But, regardless, it begs the question: Just what is the true value of a brand? It is a question that threatens, to some extent, the luxury end of retail. I do not believe the fake versions of their products are stealing much revenue. For the most part, people who buy the fakes are unlikely to purchase the real thing anyway. But what is being stolen is brand cachet and reputation.

I remember clearly the first time I bought a designer handbag. I had saved for it and was excited to go buy it but also a bit nervous about the price. The very chic, older saleswoman sensed this and said, “Don’t worry dear, I was your age when I bought my first one, and we will both be buried with these bags. They are timeless and of a superior quality.” I felt satisfied and smart, like I was making an important “investment.”

Buyers of knock-offs, of course, are getting as close as they can afford to get to being a part of a brand-name club. Those who can afford the real thing usually buy it, paying the high price to participate in the whole luxury brand experience. They are buying into the opulent store setting and stylish sales people as much as they are buying the actual designer bag or timepiece. But when they see their prize possessions filter down to the masses not just in imitations but exact copies of the same product, does it tarnish the privilege of ownership?

It’s tough to envision a resolution for this divide. While vendors of fake goods around the world get policed and shut-down from time-to-time, the source of these good knock-offs is a thriving component of the Shanghai economy. It may be underground, but it’s a major tourist attraction with barely the hint of impropriety or dishonesty.


When in Shanghai: Part 1

The Chinese market shopping experience (pearls, home goods, clothing and accessories and “the fakes”) is its own kind of dynamic retail. In a country of 1.3 billion people, finding jobs and making money is not an easy thing to do. Couple that with a culture (and history) of commerce meets corruption and counterfeit, the lack of physical space in crowded cities, and a language so different and difficult for nearly all foreigners and the stage is set.

Frenetic, slightly ‘sketchy’ vendor markets with aggressive “sales people” and language barriers that make the back and forth on price nearly impossible are certainly not unique to the Chinese market experience. And let’s face it: the experience itself can be a big part of the fun of any foreign travel. Haggling for a treasure in a foreign place and in a foreign tongue is the stuff of travel memories. These items become our trophies and proof positive that we are excellent and intrepid shoppers! Ha.

But to enjoy the market shopping in Shanghai one must go into it with the right perspective. Westerners need to adapt their notions about personal space, rethink what constitutes aggression, and reconsider the whole concept of customer service. Think Hunger Games meets the Amazing Race crossed with Deal or No Deal and you will begin to get closer in your head to the experience you will have.

We entered the first market (the wholesale market that sells to anyone) and we were swarmed. Everyone was excitedly asking (screaming, really) WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR, LADY? (in clearly comprehendible English). Shoving printed brochures at us with blurry photos of knock-off Gucci bags and Rolex watches. We politely said “no thanks” and kept walking. They kept walking too, very close behind, kept asking and nudging. We plotted how to lose them down the next crowded aisle of stuff. For the record, it makes it hard to shop when you are feeling the urge to run!

Eventually, though, they give up and whatever fear might have existed in us was quickly replaced by the familiar comfort of retail therapy in a discount environment!  As in other countries where haggling is a way of life, such as Morrocco, once a price is set by the seller (usually by typing into a calculator and showing you) you cut the number in half and if they don’t honor your price, you walk away (because they will eventually honor your price!). And this applied to the people selling the fake watches and handbags as well as those selling much more expensive, high-end jewelry in the same locations.

The well rehearsed back and forth seems so silly to me. These people are not stupid, quite the opposite. They are hard working and enterprising and certainly all speak more English than I did Chinese! They know what my guidebook told me to do! I imagined they simply typed into their calculators double the price they wanted, so the games could begin and they would come out whole.

I survived and even thrived in the markets of Shanghai. I have a few pair of sunglasses, some silk pajamas, and a string of fresh water pearls to show for it. Did I pay a ‘fair’ price? Who knows? And to some extent, who cares? The price seemed fair to me for what I was buying and the seller seemed happy after our sparing match was over and a price was decided.

In a sea of merchandise sameness and after the chase, how did I choose which stall to buy my treasures? I picked the same way I choose a sales person at a department store in NYC: the one who was the least aggressive and pushy and who seemed the friendliest.

I just had to alter my Western understanding of those descriptors to fit the situation. It was fun.

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign Leads to Real Brand Loyalty

For a while now, I’ve been following with great interest Unilever’s Dove Real Beauty Campaign.

When it first started running in ‘04, their original ads were met with some criticism and snide remarks. Some publications wouldn’t even take the ads. “What? You want us to run ads with REAL women?? … of every shape and size?!”

But, Dove was brave (and still is). They stayed the course, and that is where brand loyalty is born. I switched to Dove after that campaign came out because, as shoppers, we vote with our wallets and I wanted to vote for Dove. I wanted to support a company dedicated to a new and profound “truth in advertising” and one that was intent on changing the unreasonable definition that our society had given to what beauty is and looks like.

On Monday, Dove posted their latest extension of this campaign on YouTube via a 3-minute ad — an experiment to reveal the way women view themselves.

There are so many things that strike me about this campaign.

From a strictly marketing standpoint, Dove has completely created, and now owns, the concept of BEAUTY. They have redefined a notion that had become very skewed, unattainable and unhealthy. Talk about establishing a brand as an authority in its space. Whoa.

Getting to the core of a target’s mind-set and emotions, in addition to understanding their behavior, and then creating something that is so inherently relevant and authentic is to be commended.

Understanding that women are their own worst beauty critics (only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful), the brand leveraged this insight into a positive and very moving experience for women.

From a strictly human perspective, Dove reaches into the hearts and psyches of women, showing us, again, how mean and unfair we can be to ourselves. I often say to those around me that I wish they could see themselves through my eyes. They would see how great/beautiful/kind they are.

Watching this latest experiment/ad, feeling a squishy discomfort, realizing what they were out to prove, makes me think I might need to take my own advice! Don’t you wonder what the drawing of your face would be if you were directing an artist to capture it?

This latest win from Dove feels as much to me like a public service announcement as it does an ad for a brand.

Well done.