Ben Perreira

My head's dropbox.

Month: September, 2014

Vale

I took the opportunity to fly up to Portland this week for work and got to connect with a couple old and new friends. A topic of discussion was drug addiction. Having had people close to me become addicted to various drugs and follow strikingly similar patterns to each other, I’ve been forced to think about it too much.

One of these similarities appears to be a desire to deny oneself pain. It’s a precarious philosophical position.

Pain is a critical conduit for finding better things. There’s a body of research that connects depression and creativity – and you would probably find a strong correlation between brilliance and suicide (e.g. Hemingway, Robin Williams). Mental anguish forces us to higher ground in other domains.

Musicians from 50 Cent (Sunny days wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for rain, Joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain) to Modest Mouse (If life’s not beautiful without the pain well I’d rather never ever even see beauty again) explore the merits of the duality of good and bad things happening.

Don Quitoxe ends with the word “vale,” a Spanish word that roughly means “ok” or “cool” as we might use it before saying goodbye to somebody. I wrote about my experience reading the book here, but the word choice is interesting in this context because of what else in can mean. The idiomatic translation for the English “it’s worth it” is “vale la pena” – it’s worth the pain.

Whether or not Cervantes meant it this way, it’s fitting to how the story ends and the realities life hands us. Pain happens, but it’s worth it. Being numb to those things – physically or mentally – is to forfeit the opportunity to feel actual, serendipitous highs.

Curing Brand Phobias

In their book, Creative Confidence, IDEO founders Tom and David Kelley recount how psychologist Albert Bandura cures snake phobias (ophiophobia). Bandura uses successive steps – from getting them into the same room as the snake to seeing someone holding it to actually holding it themselves – to dull the edges of fear. The technique, known as “guided mastery,” makes phobias vanish permanently when administered properly.

As I wrote in my previous post, I have a ton of things I’m afraid of. One of them was skydiving – until I went. Now I can’t wait to go again.

But this story really made me think about how we (used imperially to group people together who work on brand communications) try to “cure” brand phobias. More importantly, perhaps, is that the story sheds some light on how this process can go wrong.

Let’s look at BP. This company caused a ton of real damage in the Gulf in 2010. People have legitimate concerns (phobias) about BP the brand. Why would I buy something with the BP name attached to it when there are so many other options, they would ask themselves?

BP started to attack the phobias by apologizing and attempting to atone. The brand’s communications evoked empathy by showing BP employees that are real Gulf residents (just like you!). This year, they told us about their commitment to safety and innovation. They even claim to be sharing their learning with other energy companies.

The next step in curing BP-phobia may be for the brand to try to show the company is an innovator in alternative fuels. Chevron does this fairly well. BP could help allay fears by showing its commitment to moving beyond fossil fuels and into sustainable energy. They could also produce research that shows seafood from the Gulf is now fine to eat. If true, that would directly attack the fears of its most vociferous phobics.

What if we choose not to follow some kind of methodology to cure fears? What if we surprise a ophiophobic by handing him a snake? What if BP skipped the apology and kept talking about how great and cheap its gas is?

Good luck. I suspect it would make things worse.

Everybody wants to go to heaven, they say, but nobody wants to die. Being afraid of snakes isn’t that hard and holding a snake is pretty easy; how we get there is hard. We have to take the necessary steps to identify phobias around a brand to begin to see what a roadmap to fearlessness may look like. And a brand that doesn’t stoke phobias is pretty powerful.