A Reason For Listening

“A little to the right. Okay. Good. Take a step back. No not that far. Yea 

right there. Now smile. Say cheese!”

Click – Whrrr – Rip.

That was the sound of my Polaroid Swinger camera. It was the summer of 1968 
and I had just captured my best friends on film hamming it up at the beach.

I loved my new instant camera. It was like magic. In just a few minutes I’d 
have captured the memories of the best summer of my life (I’ll be it in 
black and white).

I had bugged my Dad about getting me this camera for weeks. When I had seen 
one of my buddies take my picture and it developed before my very eyes in 
seconds I was amazed.

I never heard of the company – Polaroid. I never saw a commercial. I never 
saw in ad in the paper. I just knew my coolest friends had this camera and, 
spoiled kid that I was, I needed one too. In fact if I had seen an ad on TV 
or in a magazine, I probably would have paid little attention to it. No 
price concession or glitzy promotion would have incited me to run out and 
buy the product. Yet the influence of my friends was a powerful motivator. 
Just seeing them leading a “happening” as we called it in those days 
(remember it was the sixties) was enough to get me to beg my Dad for that 

The success of the Polaroid Swinger was not based on some clever marketing 
campaign. It was based on getting people to take pictures of their friends 
and share the fun of seeing them develop. The more this happened, the more 
successful the product became. Polaroid had unwittingly created a powerful 
marketing machine that would allow the “good news” of their product’s 
benefits to spread like wildfire. And they did this without hiring a big 
shot agency or even spending one dollar on advertising. Rather than the 
marketer advertising to the customer, they created an environment where 
customers could market to each other, and far more effectively than Madison 

Hotmail did the same thing in 1999. They not only figured out how to get 
people talking about their product so they didn’t have to advertise, they 
created a product that when used WAS an advertisement. And they figured out 
how to make it free. As a reward they were able to reach the same number of 
users in one year, which took radio 38 years and TV 13 years.

As marketers we expect people listen to us yet we hardly give them a good 
reason to do so. The institution of marketing has evolved into one where we 
sell or advertise by interrupting people. And consumers are getting fed up 
with it.

Think about yourself. Do you not look for ways to avoid marketing messages? 
What happens when a TV commercial interrupts your favorite show? If you’re 
like most people, you get up to get a snack. Think of how many times you see 
an advertising message for something that you need before you take action. 
And that’s for something that you NEED!

As I’ve said many times, traditional marketing just doesn’t work anymore. 
And it’s not just me that says so. The father of traditional marketing, Mr. 
Madison Avenue himself, the Bill Bernbach agreed. Just before his death, 
twenty years ago, he was asked about the future of advertising. He said, “We 
must realize that we cannot sell a man who isn’t listening. The future of 
advertising is word-of-mouth. Dullness won’t sell your product, but neither 
will irrelevant brilliance.” Ultimately we must give people a reason to 
listen. We must show respect for them rather than interrupt them.

My mentor, author of “Unleashing the Idea Virus” and recent guest on my 
radio show, Seth Godin, says that, “marketers can no longer survive by interrupting 
strangers with messages that they don’t want to hear about products that 
they aren’t interested in ways that annoy them.” Almost 100 years ago Dale 
Carnegie said we have to “earn the right” to get peoples attention.

Whether you are a business owner, marketing executive, salesperson or 
advertising professional I would like you to consider the following:

  • How you can “earn the right” to get people’s attention?
  • What can you do to get your customers to talk to other customers about your product or service?
  • How can you stop marketing AT people and get them to market to each other?
  • What reason can you give them to listen to what you have to say?
Posted in Marketing Strategies, Uncategorized.

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