March 08, 2009

Throwing Curved Balls

Tomatoes in a fruit-salad?

Irish rugby legend Brian O'Driscoll had me a little worried following his startling line at a press-conference before last weekend's match against England. In replying to a question about Martin Johnson, O'Driscoll is reported to have said that, 'knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit whilst wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad'.

You wha'?

Brian, have you lost it completely?

But writing in the Sunday Times after the game, journalist Peter O'Reilly suggested that O'Driscoll's colourful remark was more likely a response to "the mind-numbing exercise where captains and coaches have only one concern - not providing their opponents with any motivational fuel". O'Reilly goes on to say that English soccer players responded to the boredom of post-match interviews in a similar way by trying to get as many song-titles as possible on record.

And I needn't have worried. O'Driscoll turned in one of his greatest performances in an Ireland jersey as he willed Ireland over the line against the English. And not a tomato in sight.

But O'Driscoll's response is quite telling.

I think customers often respond to the inane communications from brands in the same way. People pillory the earnest efforts of sales pitches. Commentary on the internet is full of spoofs on popular ads. And it's not only commercial brands that suffer from a little mickey-taking. Census-takers find an improbable number of people reporting 'Jedi Master' as their religion.

It's easy to dismiss these wisecracks as the work of dunces and smart alecks but there's no doubting the professionalism and serious intent of O'Driscoll once he crosses the white line onto the pitch. Nor his commitment to his team-mates on the training-ground.

But sometimes the only response to a charade is to play the fool. Too often, brand-owners ask customers what they think and scarcely wait for the reply. As often again, they script advertisements that beggar belief and treat the audience as boneheads.

How many times do we hear a shrewd enquiry in amongst the silly questions asked of a sportsman or a branded message that really gets us thinking?

Until we commit to a serious exchange with our customers, we shouldn't be surprised if a few choice tomatoes are aimed in our direction.

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