Extinct Like the Dodo

Being a child of the mid 1960’s I, like many of a similar age, have had a certain discussion with our kids. You know, the one that goes, “we had a rotary phone”. It is like my dad telling me he walked an amazing distance to school. When you describe the quaint challenges of your generation, your kid’s eyes glaze over. They tune out and check their cellphones. This then leads to a discussion of other old stuff like telephone party lines, 8-track cassettes, and the Yellow Pages.

It made me think about things that were once commonplace but have gone the way of the Dodo (our kids wouldn’t know about the Dodo either). Here is only a partial list:

Dial-up Internet

Do you remember that dialing sound? How about when the connection happened? That was nearly orgasmic. Do you remember how patient we were to visit the seven websites that existed back then? How about when a photo took ten minutes to load? Talk about delayed gratification.

Renting and rewinding VHS tapes

If I had rewound all my rented VHS tapes and avoided the rewind fee at the video store then invested that money in Blockbuster and then Netflix, I would not be blogging right now.

Floppy Discs

USBs are awesome and hold a lot. I loved floppy disks that were bigger but held a lot less and had a weird name.

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Consumer Misbehaviour

An episode of the U.S. version of the television comedy, The Office, involves a Halloween costume contest at the paper supplier Dunder Mifflin. The top prize is a discount book offering coupons from local businesses. The retail cost of the book is $40.00 that offers $15,000 in savings if all coupons are redeemed. One character on the show, Oscar Martinez, is an accountant who takes exception to the irrational exuberance of his colleagues towards this prize.

The employees throw themselves into the contest. They produce topical and highly detailed costumes to best each other. The competition dominates the workday. Oscar’s frustration grows to the point where he challenges their thinking, “Everyone realizes this coupon book is not actually worth $15,000 right? You would have to spend $200,000 on crap you don’t need to get $15,000 of benefits. I am not the only one who sees this, right?”

Apparently, he is.

The employees escalate the competition by upgrading their costumes and strategizing how best to present them. Oscar tries one last time to educate his colleagues on the economics and their behavior. They aggressively rebut or outright disregard his argument.

To them, the coupon book represents $15,000 in real value. Oscar chooses to confront this irrationality head on. He switches from a colorful disco themed dance outfit to a very staid and generic ensemble worn by an everyman. Oscar explains to his colleagues using air quotes that he is now a “rational consumer”.

The contest commences with the participants showing off extremely elaborate creations including a samurai, Lady Gaga, a mummy, film director Michael Moore and a sexy nurse. Each employee casts a vote for the winning costume and to everyone’s surprise Oscar wins but the victory is greeted with little enthusiasm. The show cleverly reveals that the reasons why people voted for Oscar were as irrational as their view of the prize.

Given our confusing behaviors, it should come as no surprise that the earliest writers in marketing were psychologists. Understanding why people do what they do is at the heart of marketing. Yet, marketers constantly struggle to better their performance.

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