Straight from the horse’s mouth, off of our Twitter Feed: @DarkTower – Amazon’s stated goal yesterday: Anything with a UPC available to ship from an Amazon warehouse.
We love Hannah Montana, we really do. In my family, we watch her just about every night, along with Raven, Zach and Cody, The Wizards of Waverly Place, and just about anything else that Disney throws at us. I would like to say that this is just because we have young kids, but we would probably watch the Disney Channel on our own, just us parents. The fact is – and it’s a secret so don’t tell anybody – we do watch without the kids.
(Dang, did I just say that out loud? Well, forget I said it, okay? Totally wrecks my image, I know…)
This is pretty amazing, considering that outside of Dirty Jobs and the occasional sporting or political event, we watch no other television. The shows on Disney are fun, refreshing, have good values, and – mostly – they remind us of the TV we watched growing up. The plot lines are right out of I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and The Brady Bunch. Of course, the Disney versions star preternaturally charismatic, talented t/weens that make us wonder how far Disney has come with their animatronics technology, but that’s okay. (Note to self: Is Stepford a Disney product? Hmmm…) Mostly, they’re just really likable kids you might want to know in real life, or at least seem to be.
By contrast, then there’s Barbie, who turns 50 later this month. She’s not showing her age (she’s plastic, after all), but make no mistake: She’s old news. We have two daughters, and one is thirteen and the other is five. When you have daughters, the Barbie products just come with the territory. We’ve never bought either of them anything Barbie, and yet each Christmas or birthday there’s another one there, somehow. It just happens, and all the little shiny bits of plastic bling pile into a big basket. Last year, our thirteen-year-old spontaneously gifted her life-time collection of Barbie stuff to our five-year-old, so we had to get a bigger basket. I’m not sure that the dolls have moved, since. To our girls, Barbie has lost her mojo, and I’m not sure she ever had it with them, anyway.
On the Disney Channel, there are no product ads, at all. This is strange in a day when even PBS has Chuck E. Cheese and cereal ads. Forget about being ad-free with Barbie, where even the ads have ads, and all of it for more plastic stuff. What Disney advertises instead is their culture. When you watch Disney, you only see ads about Disney. And these ads aren’t about Disney stuff, they’re ads about other Disney franchises: Upcoming movies, new televisions series, music from their latest teen phenomenon, and the like. They also have PSA’s about being active, the environment, and “doing your best.” These PSA’s are downright inspiring. Good stuff, really; I’d show them to Team Pemba during our PEMBaway retreats if I could get copies.
Where Disney succeeds and Barbie fails is that they get that it’s all about perpetuating their culture, from generation to generation. They already hooked my wife and me when we were kids, and by writing just enough from our childhood into franchises geared to our children, they are assuring that we help hook our kids on Disney as well. Plus, we actually like to go to Disneyland; stepping on one of Barbie’s plastic high-heeled booties in the middle of the night, not so much.
This is a lesson that we in the outdoor industry should take to heart. We need to do a better job of selling our culture across generations. We’ve gotten away from this, perhaps because it’s easier to make metrics that support product-oriented advertising. The theory here is that if you take out an ad that features a purple jacket, you can watch to see if sales increase in purple jackets, and thus justify your ROI. (Don’t get me wrong: ROI is a good metric, but it’s not everything.) Or maybe it’s because we in the outdoor industry have long hung our hats on esoteric expeditions to far-flung places. Never mind that most of us don’t have time anymore even to dream about such things, the truth is that long before Messner declared that we’d killed the impossible these expeditions stopped capturing our imaginations. The remote isn’t that remote, and even if it is, it’s far-far-away in our minds, today.
If we’re focused solely on selling the shiny plastic stuff, we’re really just waiting to be shucked into the big bucket in the garage. It seems a truth already that mostly we are just selling to ourselves. We have to find ways to be more relevant to our customers’ daily lives, and to find ways to be more relevant to more people, also. Culturally, we should own the green market, bicycle commuting, local recreation, and family activities, and we don’t. The fact is, we don’t even own our own customers anymore.
While we wrestle with the idea of adopting new distribution channels, our customer is already going elsewhere. It’s seems old-school to think about being the “first” or “only” distributor of a given item in a given market – most of our customers are already ahead of us, and are in fact leading the way, away. While many spend time worrying about somebody else who’s selling the same stuff, others – like Midwest Mountaineering, not incidentally – just focus on designing an experience that perpetuates their culture.
We’re not an industry that can thrive by selling things. To be successful, more of us need to spend more time selling our culture, and less time worrying about selling stuff.