I like to watch: Intellectuals on Display at SFMOMA

It’s amazing how much you learn just by listening around the edges to people who are deeply informed and passionate about a subject. I learned a lot about Frida Kahlo yesterday at SFMOMA’s colloquium, "Kahlo in America: Three Cities — Detroit, New York, San Francisco." And I also learned- or rather was reminded because I already knew- about the appalling communication skills of academics.

The ego on display was only exceeded by the disregard for their audience. One woman’s presentation consisted of her reading aloud a journal article, including a lengthy and stupefying literature review. Throughout this literature review she showed only one slide. SFMOMA + art historian and only one slide! If she got around to her own scholarship and any other slides, I’m not sure. I was asleep.

Another guy, who monopolized not only the Q&A of his “conversation” segment but those of all the others, showed a video. Of himself. Talking. The only difference was in the video we could see his pores.

Another one of the “conversationalists” (those charged with leading the Q&A with the three speakers) asked what might have been a question if it had not been embedded in the longest run-on sentence uttered in the history of that beautiful auditorium, “Would you say blah blah, because of the long history of blah blah, that in spite of the fact that blah blah, and in light of the research that blah blah, - you get the idea.

The host of the event made a remark about radicals in San Francisco and New York, and then sniffed that he doubted that there were radicals in Detroit. Ha, ha, ha. Those Midwestern rustics are sooo amusing. How do you know, have you been to Detroit?

Yet still I stayed. Listening to the hubris and critical tropes (Protestantism and capitalism- Again?) was the price I paid for being in the company of people steeped in a subject that interests me. In their zeal they forgot their manners. That’s OK. These folks were loveable even if they couldn’t communicate their way out of a paper bag.


Reading: A powerful way to understand the "Other"

This is a portion of a column I wrote for the Vacaville Reporter last week. It is personal, and not about marketing per se. However if the first step of marketing is to know our customers, reading can help us understand them in a way that is more powerful than a powerpoint full of statistics.

Our children don’t belong to us. All parents eventually learn this, in increments or in a bolt of insight. Our children's lives are their own. We feed them, teach them, willingly sacrifice for them, but in the end, we don’t get to choose their destiny.

When you are the mother of a son, at some point you realize he is a man, and it can be a bit of a shock. A man! The mysterious “Other” that women spend their whole lives trying to understand. When you hug him he feels like granite, when you laugh he lifts you in his arms, and when you argue, you know he is controlling himself, because he is strong enough to break something.

When my son told me he wanted to be a soldier, I didn’t pay much attention. I assumed he would eventually major in something impractical but safe, like philosophy. I knew nothing about the military and could not imagine a reason anyone would choose it. Then the day came when my son said to me, “I have wanted this for four years. I am not going to change my mind.”

That’s when I started reading. First because I couldn’t resist the title, “Love My Rifle More Than You,” Kayla Williams' story of being a woman soldier in Iraq. The next book was one my son recommended, “One Bullet Away” by Nathaniel Fick, a Dartmouth classics scholar turned Marine lieutenant, who led one of the first units to enter Iraq. “Generation Kill,” which was made into an HBO series is also about Fick’s unit but is told from the perspective of Rolling Stone reporter, Evan Wright. These books do not sugarcoat the confusion, waste and senselessness of combat but reading them with my son gave me an inkling of what concepts like “honor” and “warrior” mean to a man like him.


Dead Sea Scrolls, a Butane Worker and Me

Can you match the email with a photo of the person who sent it? I created this exercise for communication workshop and it never fails to uncover the ways we judge people. 

Even those of us who try very hard not to judge.

As marketers we need to decide who our audience is and deliver products and communication that targets that group. But people are complicated.  

I learned this a long time ago slingin’ drinks in Malibu’s Moonshadows, the place now famous for Mel Gibson’s alcoholic meltdown. The dirty guy in the board shorts leaves the $100 tip and the “producer” in the suit calls you at home to ask you what color of panties you’re wearing.

When I was in college I was livid when the ROTC guys [I think they were all guys then] woke me with their cadence-chanting jogs past my dorm. To say that I didn't "get" anyone who had anything to do with the military is an understatement. Now I have a son who chose, yes chose, the most military-centric college in the country and streamed military cadences from YouTube on his Christmas vacation.

But wait. It gets better. Momma Humanities and Military Joe Bob went to see the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor yesterday. A friend called (son’s not mom’s) and decided to come along. Who was this 19-year-old male, but a union refinery worker, apparently passionate about the Dead Sea Scrolls when he isn’t blending butane. AND his foreman encouraged him to see the exhibit. 

Yes, people are complicated,  totaling more than their demographic and psychographic profiles. 


Social media trash talk – is wine the exception?

There don’t seem to be a lot of malcontents on wine blogs, and no wonder, wine makes us happy!

But smack dab in the first graph of an Experian report for Advertising Age called “Face of the New Marketer,” is a category called “Socially Isolated” which confirms my guess about IED blog bombs and the people who throw them.

“These people are generally unhappy with their lives and feel alone. Not surprisingly, they fall at average or below average for e-mailing. [They have no friends] But that doesn’t mean they eschew social media. In fact, they’re 12% more likely than the average person to use blogs, message boards or social networking sites.”

In other words, whiners and meanies are disproportionately represented in social media. If you doubt me, take a look at the comments on your local newspaper’s website, or check out the flames that Hillary Clinton attracts on YouTube.

Experian divides social media users into personas, much like Constellation Wines' Wine Genome Project segmented wine drinkers. Along with the Socially Isolated malcontent there are Approval Seekers, Health and Image Leaders, Smart Green, Brand-Loyal, Stay-At-Home Moms, Upscale Grays, First Time Home Buyers and Divorced.

While the negatives on wine blogs are few, vigilant wine marketers would do well to keep their eyes on the review sites that seem to be everywhere.


Obama makes top five for Google search, "website"

Leave it to Barry. Is this good SEO or is it just organic search evidence that he is the choice of the wired demographic? 

Obama's election site ranks fifth in a Google search for "website." Don't ask me why I was googling "website," it was an accident. But there he was, right before the IRS at #6 and under Starbucks at #3. Other top 5 results for the search "website."? Microsoft #1, Wikipedia #2, and Adobe #3.