This week we saw the power of a collective focus at work, once again. Here’s how the story goes:
As reported on CBS news online, “…it took only hours for an online petition drive to prompt JCPenney to stop selling a T-shirt targeted to young girls that had a message some feminist activists and others found objectionable.”
The T-shirt, in pretty script, said, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.” The Moms objecting called it “sexist,” among other things.
I’m not here to deny or defend free speech or to support the feminist movement that caused JCPenney to pull the offending shirt (although I agree with the Moms who started the petition and used their ‘voice’ online to get the shirt off the shelves). I’m here to ask a question: Why? Why would a major brand commit such a stupendous error? Weren’t they paying attention when the Motrin Moms forced Motrin to pull a TV commercial that, to them, seemed to indicate that carrying babies in front packs would cause backaches? Even if, as some reports say, Johnson & Johnson (makers of Motrin) reacted too quickly and didn’t need to pull the ad, the reality is that a small group of vocal women created change by bonding together and making their wishes known.
These two cases have a lot in common. First, they involve a small group of women who aren’t afraid to speak up. Second, they involve the use of tools that extend a conversation far beyond the backyard fence. Third, they prove that brands are still clueless about their customers. We’re not talking hundreds of women clamoring for the brand’s demise—we’re talking a dozen, or so. The key is in realizing that these women have networks in the hundreds of thousands collectively and they love telling the story of why a product just doesn’t work. That is the new reality facing brands today. A reality that they seem to be ignorant of—as if the ‘social’ part of social media remains shrouded in mystery, to them.
JCPenney says it’s evaluating the situation. In other words, heads will roll, but whose heads? The fault lies with more than the marketing department. To pull this off, there had to be a good number of professionals involved; from marketing, to sales, to printing (which was likely outsourced), to IT—as the T-shirt was only offered online. At each of those ‘stops,’ someone must have seen the absurdity of this message. At each of those stops, there was a Mom who must have recoiled at the tone of this message. At each of those stops, there had to be a number of Dads who pushed the project ahead, knowing in their gut that it was doomed to failure. Or, hoping it was.
Why did none of these people speak up?
They didn’t speak up because they weren’t part of the beginning of the story of the T-shirt. To them, stuck in the middle of the story, it was how quickly or effectively they could produce the product that mattered. And so, it went out—on schedule.
The recognition that people buy emotionally rather than logically is not new. Author Martin Lindstrom wrote about it in his book Buyology: Truth and Lie About Why We Buy in 2008. He discusses the concept of storytelling, but I submit that the story has to be one the customer helps write—not one that the marketing team fashions at a late night meeting, over cold coffee.
It has to include more than demographics such as: she’s this age, lives in this town, makes this much money, has 2.5 kids, etc. Today, your story must involve knowing that she’s also a knitter; she blogs (or Facebooks); she loves tea not coffee; she would rather hike than go to a spa; and she lets her dog sleep on the bed. You cannot write the story of your product without that information. The story that embraces customer personality never surfaced in this case, or in the Motrin case.
Why did this T-shirt make it to market? No one knew what the story was. The beginning was simply, “Let’s create this neat fun shirt for girls.” And it stopped there. Until…now. Now, the end of the story says, Moms: 1 - JCPenney: 0.
What will your customers think about your next new product? The story it’s telling you, while you create it, better be the same story your customers hear when they go to buy it—or else you could be the next titillating bit of “Can you believe this?” chatter on everyone’s Facebook and Twitter page.
Image credit: daysofthundr46