Thursday, June 14, 2012

A plea for the imagination in marketing in Canada

Once, a few years back, I coached a Canadian man in his fifties whose career at that time involved selling mutual funds, and other stocks and bonds to individual investors. His career was not going well and when I asked him what he thought the problem might be he replied, "I worked for two decades in a bank, and I hate making those 25 cold calls every day to solicit new business!"
Here was a banker trying to transition to a salesman, while remaining in the financial services sector, for an American-based investment house. He simply did not believe that bankers would, could or should stoop to "selling"....that was something bankers never did!
Fear of rejection seemed, ultimately, to be at the root of his dilemma. As a sidebar, his wife, a current bank employee was engaged in the same side of the business as he, that is selling securities, and was beating his pants off, doing nothing to enhance his already fragile self-esteem.Ironically, she was out-performing him at his game, while retaining her position in the Canadian bank! Surely, he would have been able to grasp that "bankers" could also "sell"....whatever it took!
While there is an obvious difference between the wife's perception of her tasks and the husband's, there is another aspect of this story that has stayed with me for nearly a decade. And that aspect surfaced a few days ago in a conversation with a retired marketing instructor in Ontario secondary schools. He told the story of having his friend videotape the commercials, in Florida, for the Superbowl game, and ship them to Canada, before the American channels crossed the border, so that he could show those "gems" to his Canadian students. By comparison, the Canadian Superbowl commercials were like lukewarm dishwater, lacking in both entertainment value and audience impact.
And that vignette reminded me of a poetry workshop in which I enrolled back in the eighties, conducted by a Canadian poet, Eugene McNamara, then an English professor at the University of Windsor. His comment to the effect that all the poets were working in advertising today, because that is where the money is, and that is how they can make a living, (stay with me here, I'm really not going astray!) brought this issue into a more clear focus.
In Canada, those who consider themselves poets, have, for decades and more, considered that endeavour to have classical, intellectual and academic qualities, much more than commercial qualities. There has been a firewall separating the doing of commerce, the making of money, and the writing of "art" or "poetry"...and never the t wain shall meet, and certainly not marry. The firewall has been sustained by a country whose culture, dominated by the "banker archetype" afforded a much higher "reputation" to those working in the bank, and in the financial field, than to those working in "retail business."
Also lower down the totempole of social hierarchy, are those engaged in manufacturing, especially when compared with those "quasi or pseudo-bankers" the civil servants, whose numbers almost literally, and certainly figureatively define the Canadian ethos.
Lawyers, in Canada, have only recently even been permitted by the Ontario Law Society, to advertise their offerings, and then only "generically" and without "drama" or personal emotion. Doctors never advertise their expertise, and accountants advertise, literally their corporate name only, without case studies, or specific stories that might induce an individual to select one firm over another.
Teachers, also civil servants, do not advertise their offerings, unless they might be engaged in tutoring, and then only classified ads are used. Social workers, physiotherapists, laboratory technicians, and other ancillary medical professionals advertise only their corporate names and addresses, and possibly the length of their corporate lives.
There is a religious quality to this aversion to advertising, marketing, and selling, in Canada, that has deep historic roots.
...religious thinkers, notably St. Augustine, distinguished invidiously between the City of God adn the city of man; the former is Community/Gemeinschaft, the later Society/Gesselschaft. The dichotomy persists in Wetern thought, and not only there, for example Ibn Khaldun also perceived it as a central feature of his history of Arab life and of social structure in general.
     The distinction is also as if between prose and poetry, black-and-white film and color, a motorcycle roar and a flute's song. Community ways are warm adn soft; Society demands straight lines, rigor. You are not supposed to have nostalgia about Society even though you might find some of its machines pleasing to look at. Community is about trust, Society about contracts, about enthusiasm freely shared rather than formal obligation dutifully fulfilled: the obvious difference between the small town or village in which everyone knows everyone's business and pleasure, adn the hard-driving matropolis, where much work may get done but at the cost of the affections. A caricature, but still a commno picture of the world people carry in their wallets.
Ferdinand Tonnies's "Community and Society" (Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft in the original German) remains the central statement in sociology about the subject.....Tonnies's book appeared in 1887, and though it was at first little known, it finally achieved six editions and enormous influence. In their introduction to the  English edition (1963),Loomis and McKenney note the "romantic charcteristics and ominous prophecy" of the book (p.1) and that while Tonnies was obviously more favourably inclined to the Gemeinschaft pattern, nevertheless he believed that "Gemeinschaft represented the youth, and Gessellschaft the adulthood of society" and that individuals could become freed from the demands of Gemeinschaft and eter the Gesselschaft with a healthy dose of rational will. (p.2) This is likely to be difficult to achieve, however, because "Gemeinschaft  among people is stronger and more alive; it is the lasting and genuine form of living together. In contrast...Gessellschaft is transitory and superficial. Accordingly, Gemeinshaft should be understood as a living organism, Gessellschaft as a mechanical aggregate and artifact." (p.33-35)
(Quote from, Lionel Tiger, The Manufacture of Evil, Ethics Evolution and the Industrial System, Harper and Rowe, New York, 1987, pp.73-74)
So, in attempting to regain some of the lost Gemeinshaft, the lost community, without falling into the trap of some paradise of that community, nor into the trap of tribalism and unwarranted gossip, would the imaginative expectations of marketing, especially in the Canadian culture, not bring to the public eye, ear, consciousness and even unconscious, a missing ingredient that could help to move us from merely counting the lost dollars, and measuring the efficiencies of our decisions, back into the deeper, more organic and more lasting truth and reality of our emotions, through the entertaining value of highly creative, original and impactful moments in the midst of what are already rightly considered "bland" television programming.
Canada is not only a drawer of water and a hewer of wood, and a counter of ledgers; she is a country brimming with eager creative imaginations looking for a responsible and creative, and even courageous expression that is congruent with the highest quality of creative expression, like that of Cohen and Atwood, while tightly packed into shorter expressions of authentic emotions, and not merely the "facts" whose life is more etheral than the latest headline.
We certainly do not live, nor will ever, in the city of God; nor are we exempt from claiming some of its truths, including our emotions, as part of the gifts of whatever God created all of this. And to humanize our commercial engagements could provide at least some relief from the general drama of pain that is our industrial, informational, globalized exchange of money and power.
First, Canadians will have to give up their tenacious hold on the hierarchies of roles and accompanying reputations that imprisons so much of our public discourse and consciousness.

No comments:

Post a Comment