It’s that time again! Don’t act surprised, we do this every year. For those with small humans in their lives, the holidays can be a time for anxiety, stress, and heighten blood pressure as store stock up and sell out of the items that are sure to make your little folks’ hearts skip a beat with excitement. We all put our parents through this nightmarish wild goose chase for plastic, stuffed, or video things, mostly before the advent of Amazon and eBay. I think my father is still indebted to the mob for the – not one, but three Power Ranger figures I received when I was seven-years-old.
So in the spirit of the holidays, I went around the W5 office to see what quests we put our loved ones through to obtain our favorite holiday trophies.
Ian McDiarmid | Practice Consultant
“For Christmas when I was 13, I really wanted an Xbox, which came out that November. I told my mom I wanted it, but that I didn’t expect to get it since it would be sold out everywhere. On Christmas, I was so surprised when I opened up a brand-new Xbox. I was even more surprised to find out that my mom waited in line at a Best Buy starting at 4am to get it.”
Robin Morey | Practice Consultant
“Ok, so there was a time that I was super into dinosaurs and I asked my mom for a dinosaur bone. I was young enough that this didn’t really seem unreasonable, but I still knew it was going to be hard to find. She went through a bunch of holiday catalogs from museums and places like that and actually got me a cast replica of a t-rex tooth. I was super excited! And I still have it.”
Allison Savicz | Practice Consultant
“Well for me at age 6-8 it had to be the Crissy Doll with the pull down hair which was later updated to include the Talky Crissy in the early 70’s tho I was already too old for her by then!” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crissy
Ryan Delaune | Practice Consultant
“My parents weren’t big holiday shoppers, so if we wanted something particularly hard to find, they would always give us the cash value and told us that if we could manage to save it, we could buy it ourselves when it was available. We rarely succeeded.”
Grace Brown | Client Relations Consultant
“One present that really stands out in my mind was the year I got a Samantha American Girl doll. I mentioned wanting one to my mom several times, but thought it was a long-shot present. However come Christmas morning there she was with several outfits (the figure skater outfit and matching skates my hands down favorite) and books to go along with her. I still have my Samantha and plan to pass it down to my child someday.”
Amy Castelda | Senior Client Relations Consultant
“As a kid I remember one year I really wanted a Tamagotchi. My older sister had one so of course I needed one. I wrote Santa to ask for it for Christmas. I’m not sure the trouble my parents went through to get it for me. It was a “Santa” gift meaning technically they couldn’t complain about it or else the truth would come out…”
Martin Molloy | Partner
“I remember begging for what seemed like 20 years for an Intellivision system. When I finally got it I sunk into the black hole of video games”
Tom Daly | Senior Partner
“First off, I’m older than most readers to this blog – I was a kid in the golden area of Saturday morning cartoons TV (’67-’77) heavily reinforced with pre-sweetened cereals; our parents could have cared less.
As an OC (only child) I religiously sat glued to Saturday morning cartoons until nearly noontime came and my mother screamed at me to ‘get dressed and get out of here!’ so she could follow her weekly routine of doing the wash and vacuuming (while smoking her Parliament 100s). One year, nearly every third commercial it seemed, was for Major Matt Mason. This was the era of Apollo and my dad actually knew some NASA engineers and military, so Major Matt was my guy. The best part of Major Matt Mason’s world was the Space Station – highly detailed and well built. It put me in another world.
I would literally beg, on my knees, every night at the dinner table, for a Space Station et. al. ‘Please, please, please, it’s all I’ll EVER want!’ I would whimper on the floor under the roast beef in a proselytized state. My father would tell me to get off the floor and the dog would growl, thinking I was there for his Milk Bones. This literally went on for months. In the meantime, I dutifully sat glued to the television, seated but a foot from the screen, waiting for the ad (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R99hAG0tgkg), letting myself be drawn into Major Matt’s mission on the moon. I wished so badly to be there.
At Christmas, my aunt and uncle came over and dropped over a very large wrapped box. It was a Space Station with all the trimmings. I was ecstatic. It still probably ranks as one of the most emotional moments of my life; my greatest desire was fulfilled (probably the last time, actually). I guess my parents thought they would have appeared to have given in if they acquiesced to my pleas – easier instead for my mother to have her brother pick it up and deliver it late Christmas Day. A win-win-win all around: I was sated, my parents were off the hook, and my aunt and uncle came out of the blue to achieve hero status. I didn’t even see the connection until years later, and I couldn’t have cared less.
When my uncle was dying of cancer, years later, I thanked him for the Christmas present. He told me ‘they wouldn’t buy it for you.’ I never knew if he was telling the truth or he was still keeping the story alive, he was an old-school guy and perhaps thought it best for me to parse it out. I knew not to ask further. Regardless, we both smiled and left it at that.
Of note, I hear that off-and-on Tom Hanks has attempted to get a Major Matt Mason movie funded in Hollywood along with Roger Zemeckis, a $100-million plus epic based on Tom’s love of Major Matt’s world. Well, he can count on this Tom chipping in and getting lost for a few more hours should Mr. Hank’s actually build that Space Station.”
Marketing across channels has been decidedly veteran-focused this week as brands offer their yearly thanks to veterans. That got us thinking about the work we’ve done with veterans and the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Veterans are often discussed more as symbols than as people. Depending on the talking point being supported, veterans can represent sacrifice, freedom, American ideals, patriotism, war, trauma, or any notion, positive or negative, that serves the speaker’s goals. What we see far less often is a thoughtful discussion in which veterans are real people with real experiences and needs.
In the past couple of years we have worked both with specific branches of the military, veteran-focused organizations, and organizations hoping to serve veterans. Throughout these engagements we’ve sought to understand the experiences and needs of veterans and military from their own perspectives. We’ve sought to bring their voices into the conversation. In honor of Veterans Day, we’d like to share the top three insights we’ve uncovered in our research.
1. Serving in the military is a job, and a difficult one at that
While there is a certain honor and distinction reserved for the military, it is still a job. As a job, it’s pretty brutal. Military members sign up for little pay and tough hours. They sign their bodies up for grueling training, their minds up for intense amounts of stress, and their families up for frequent moves and months of long-distance separation. Many choose this path, but not without understanding that these costs come with a host of benefits. Military members are promised quality health, educational, and financial benefits to counter the toll that a military life takes on their bodies and minds. These benefits and services provided to veterans are not bonuses, they are repayment. One doesn’t have to agree with the ways that the military operates to agree that people deserve to be compensated for the work they do, and far too often, the physical and mental toll of military service creates numerous cracks through which veterans fall. The resources provided to veterans, by public and private organizations, help lift veterans back up and seal those cracks.
2. More isn’t always better
Creating resources for veterans is a popular idea for brands, but we’ve been impressed by the ways that clients we’ve worked with want to make sure that the investment they make goes towards actually improving the lives of veterans. After natural disasters, food banks often find themselves flooded with food donations but without the financial and manpower resources to distribute food to victims. Similarly with veterans, sometimes the biggest need is not in creating more services offering more benefits, it’s investing in connecting veterans with the resources they need when they need them. This kind of structural investment isn’t flashy, but it’s vital when the goal is to meet the needs of veterans.
3. Actions speak louder than words
The veterans and military we have talked to across our research engagements are well-aware that it is popular and easy to tell them you support them or thank them for their service. These sentiments are of course appreciated, but what is even more appreciated is when they see concrete action taken to improve the lives of veterans. They feel that a person, organization, or brand truly appreciates veterans when they are out in the community building homes for veterans, serving food to veterans, or even just spending time with veterans. Veterans have real needs, so hearing that they are appreciated is nice, but actually trying to understand their experiences and help meet those needs is so much more impactful.
These lessons are not profound, they’re common sense, but they are far too often forgotten in the midst of pronouncements about who veterans are and what they represent. In the end, it’s important to remember that veterans are people, not symbols. Do something this Veterans Day to improve the life of someone you know who has served in the military, not because of a vague notion of freedom or service, but because, in their position, with their experiences, you would want someone to do the same for you.
We’re all aware, to whatever degree we’re interested, the day will come when AI will move beyond Alexa and we’ll actually have the pleasure of interacting in a more humanistic fashion with like-selves that are in fact, machines. For years now we’ve read books, watched television, and viewed movies where “human robots” act like human.
My gut tells me we will design these ‘creatures’ to look like humans, not the cutesy kid-centric robots from Star Wars’ C-3PO fame – we humans, being human, won’t feel comfortable speaking to a pile of wires and metal. Rather, we’ll want to interact with something similar to us in both appearance and demeanor. Think the Replicants of Blade Runner fame and the ever-curious mind of Philip K. Dick who said, “the electric things have their life too. Paltry as those lives are.”
What then will it take to make this a reality? More than just science. To properly replicate human interaction there’s a lot more involved than engineering. It will require contributions of fine artists capable of expressing the often-unexplainable elements that comprise the human condition.
A case in point is the work of Elizabeth King. Through education and training, King is a sculpturist. Her recent work, titled “Radical Small,” on exhibit at MASS MoCA, are sculptures that, I believe, are likely characteristic of the near-future face of human robotics.
King demonstrates this through miniaturizing her sculptures to that of puppet-like-sized people – from human-scale to a much smaller, more manageable size to view, ponder, and discern one’s likeness to these inanimate objects. With her sculptures one is exposed to the minute intricacies that comprise the human condition – the details of a head’s openings, such as nostrils, mouth, eyes, and ears, that add up to one great mystery called ‘life.’ Every element distinct and in its place.
By reducing their size King immediately removes the possibility that she’s creating sculptures that are “life-like,” as they are not to scale that mirrors image of self. Hence, we don’t assume them to be a true reflection of our selves, instead they are objects to explore and compare to oneself. In doing so, we find they statically emit human expression through detailed styled nuance, i.e., they become us by removing the possibility that they are us. It’s a real coup. The ability to create holistic emotion through an assemblage of detailed technological functionality is a rare treat to witness.
Scientists and engineers will increasingly need to partner with artists such as King, capable of creating wonder beyond the present state of things, to “go beyond.” Denise Markonish, when reviewing the exhibition, stated “creating human likeness and animating the inanimate.” Through such partnerships with fine artists, technologists can successfully transpose the artificial into real intelligence, and in the process, develop a sense of ‘spirit’ – or as the ancient Greeks dubbed it, an ‘eidolon’, or spirit likeness of ourselves.
With great pride, I have an undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts. Technically, I have a concentration in social science, but was also required to take a bevvy of courses in the humanities and natural sciences; the degree conferred to me is in “Liberal Arts,” so says the diploma.
Then, and now, I would have had it no other way. Neither would my parents. They dissuaded me from accounting, medicine, and law. They told me “you can wait until you have a brain in your head to make big decisions like that, now’s the time to learn about the world. Grow up.” And grow up I did. I took classes in creative writing, the quest for self-determination in Israel, the development of the Nigerian petrochemical state, and post-war contemporary art, to name a few. In doing so, I figured out, to some degree, how this world of ours works. I also began to think and figure my little place in the world. I started to understand things – a good recipe for a successful adulthood.
I continue reading about the demise of the humanities and the social sciences, and the argument they are no longer salient on college campuses. It seems knowledge for knowledge sake is well out of vogue. Somewhere along the way the college experience became a feeder system for a “career.” Vocation is the new evocation among dispirited Millennials.
Sure, school’s expensive, more so than ever. But it wasn’t a cheap proposition when I was a kid either. Not where I came from, not to mention the four-plus year delay of steady income beyond the tuition and living expenses cobbled together through personal and family savings, loans, and occasional grants.
But among my friends, arguably my overall generation, there was an innate understanding that you went to college to be exposed to things you may have no idea even existed. That this route is a forward path to realizing the unrealized. That you went in knowing not much, but came out the other end knowing enough to get things moving. We were confident. Confidence nurtured by taking an array of seemingly interrelated courses of study. We wove a strong web.
Just last month a great new book was published, entitled “You Can Do Anything” and subtitled “The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education” by George Anders addresses such issues. Anders posits it’s the liberal arts grads who really understand what’s going on, capable of translating the complexities of today’s technical world. In other words, while STEM graduates (e.g., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors) have the skill set to discover, refine, and generally make things, it’s the place of the liberally arts minded individuals to give innovation a purpose, and develop translatable usage models for everyday application. Hence, the ‘gray matter’ brain developed by the ‘left brain’ STEM kids needs a ‘face’ and interpretive language provided by the liberal arts-minded ‘right brain’ kids.
So, while today we have the ‘cloud’ and the Internet of Things, AI, VR, nano-biotech, and soon to be autonomous autos – they are all stillborn unless we have those with the creative vision to develop an analytical narrative to understand how theoretical possibilities can be applied to human experiences and realities.
Take it from three guys who never hung around to take all those required STEM classes to graduate, but took the time to select courses in poetry, law, and psychology – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, respectively.
It’s summer and time for travel. Sure, I go to the beach as well as the mountains but it’s the towns in-between that are starting to interest me as well. Normally these small places were a wayward quick stop for gas or a bathroom break. But things are changing.
They’re quickly becoming hip. Small cafes and bistros offering organic coffee and artisanal food sourced “locally.” Old brick buildings are re-pointed and sandblasted and kids with Portland (east or west) tattoos are efficiently serving my every whim. What’s happening?
I’m told it’s the invasion of “hicksters” priced out and/or spiritually crushed by the weight of big cites who’ve OD’d on their newness quotient (see Portland, east or west, Austin, Silver Lake, Wicker Park, Boston’s South End, and everywhere in Brooklyn). Cities paved over with townhomes at every bend come to attention like lines of soldiers over the horizon. And traffic everywhere.
Sure, one can move to Detroit, Pittsburgh, Providence, Durham, or any other mid-tier industrial city on the mend but the truly committed are driving right past them in search of places such as Thomas, West Virginia or Salida, Colorado to stake their ground. Rather than going to the local farmers’ market they are going to the farm itself.
Perhaps it’s a ‘boomerang’ effect of technology overload or a final adolescent flip of the bird to their suburban Boomer parents, but the idea of infusing cultural cosmopolitanism into tiny agrarian hamlets has become irresistible to a certain swath of Millennials. Travel + Leisure magazine states locales such as Thomas, West Virginia “is only one of a constellation of newly modish small towns across America.”
I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the recent phenomena – when I drive through and stop in such places it sure is convenient and comfortable, familiar to the many ‘of the moment’ places I’ve lived over the years. But another part of me, as I age, tells me that it’s all foolishness, a sophomoric whim to rape and drape a small place of its authenticity, it’s “sense of place.” A Hollywood Green Acres hipster set that’s unsettling…for I believe if you need to import a manufactured cool, that sure ain’t cool.
Recently, I’ve had diversity on my mind (to be honest, I usually have diversity on my mind). In my former life as a sociology professor, I wrote and taught often about how a multicultural society can successfully integrate and reduce entrenched racial, gender, and class inequalities. In my current life as a market researcher, I look for ways to incorporate these lessons to help companies succeed. To that end, I am writing a series of posts on diversity as it relates to marketing and market research.
For this first post, I want to address diversity within the context of a qualitative in-depth interview, focus group, or ethnography. Whether the research objectives relate to social identity or not, practitioners of both academic and market research navigate the social identities – race, gender, class, sexuality, age, etc. – of moderator and participant. According to standpoint theory, each individual’s perspective on the world is informed by her experiences in a social structure that is segmented by demographic or social identities. When moderator and participant are the same gender or race, they will share a particular standpoint, while in turn differing in other facets of their identities, such as sexuality or age.