The Edsel, and Why You Shouldn’t Talk To Your Customers Like They’re Teenagers

About a year ago I went to this 2-day marketing seminar in Vermont.

The first day was pretty good. I was able to make a schedule comprosing of the 2 sessions going on during each segment. Some stuff was about analyzing ads, another one was about making sure your marketing efforts don’t lack a call-to-action, etc.

The seminar leaders were younger guys, relaxed, good looking Powerpoint slides, and one of them even played the Numa Numa video during a break. Yet in spite of these traits they still invoked in me a skepticism. Since I know these guys are marketers I felt like 99% of what they have to say is bull crap. I guess it’s the natural skepticism that people of my generation have towards any advertising. But I still came away with new ideas and enjoyed myself a bit.

The 2nd day was a little different. Only one instructor this time, and I only stayed for half the seminar. No Powerpoint slides, just an old fashioned overhead projector with plain transparent slides. Real straight-laced guy this time, dressed in a suit, hair slicked back. Probably in his 40s or 50s.

There was one point where he’s talking about the Edsel, the most famous bad car in history. This car gets studied in every marketing course. The name was terrible, the reputation was terrible (to the point where people nicknamed it “Every Day Something Else Leaks”), the design was terrible…Pretty funny for this guy, who you assume to have a pretty firm moral grounding, started talking about how the design of the car was like a “big vagina.”

I woke up a bit more for that part. Was not expecting to hear that.

The one thing I’ll keep remembering from that seminar is one part where he was talking about how to connect to your customers. He’s talking about how you’ve got to find a common ground with your customer and build the conversation/sale from that.

“For example,” he says. “My kid is in the army now. He loves videogames! He’s got an Xbox, a Gamecube, tons of stuff. So I talk a little bit about that with him sometimes.”

Yeah, that works, if you aren’t being fake about it.

This is exactly why people are so wary of marketing. We believe that companies do not really care because they try to talk to us like a dad trying to bond with his videogame-loving son in the car.

It’s gotta go something like this:

Dad: So, school’s good? Son: Yeah, grades are good. Dad: Good, ’cause it’s good to do good in school. Son: Yeah… Dad:Son:Dad: So, you like that Tetris game? I try to keep the blocks from building up but sometimes it’s so HARD! Man! Son: Tetris has been around forever. Dad (still trying to keep the conversation going): Yeah—It sure is a classic! Son: Yup. Dad: Hey look, an Edsel! Almost looks like a vagina is coming towards us! Am I right? Am I right?! Son: Just drop me off here, dad. Dad: Sure. Okay, Mister Chief! Son: You mean Master Chief. Dad: Well, you are the, ugh, Master of those damn videogames! Son: Ugh.

Everytime I think of that part of the seminar this scene plays through my head.