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Shades of Gray

Why are companies willing to have their management flogged by a bunch of twenty-somethings who just yesterday learned that a channel is more than a television unit? The free advertising, of course. We all know that.

But have you looked around and assessed the impact of this ploy on your life?

Out of curiosity, and as a means to further procrastinate on my papers, I inventoried my consumer habits against my cases over the past eighteen months. What follows are products that only entered my life because I read a case. Some got into my wallet, others didn’t, but they all motivated me to at least go and check it out. Does your life look like this?

In the morning, I wash my hair in the shower with Biolage-comparable Suave shampoo. On my way to class, I buy a bottle of Nantucket Nectar – orange mango – to go with my chocolate croissant. I brush my teeth with a Crest Spinbrush Pro. Okay, the toothbrush is borderline, because I got it as a freebie sample in my finance class. But I do use it and I’ll probably buy another one because it’s sort of fun.

Over dinner, I select one of the dozen Law & Order episodes saved for me on my Replay (the TiVo competitor product). Speaking of dinner, I always select Barilla from among the half dozen brands of pasta in blue boxes. I don’t know the difference, but it’s pretty cool what they did in that TOM case, so I’ll give them my money. Sometimes I check out Charlie Rose and feel like I’m making up for my otherwise low-brow taste.

I use Kodak’s online service to manage my photos. I manage my finances on Quicken.

Some product-protagonists’ stories encouraged me to try them despite previous experience. I bought SmartFood from the vending machine even though I don’t like popcorn. The shiny black wrapper doesn’t make a difference. I ordered a Corona at a bar even though I hate beer. I ditched the bottle in two swallows. It was one sale more than they would have had otherwise.

Sometimes money got in the way. A Kate Spade bag sat in my hands at a store, but the gravitational pull between the price tag and the shelf was too great. I came within one mouse click of a Charles Schwab account. I really don’t have the money to spare, unless CitiAssist sends me a year-end bonus.

Sometimes my life got in the way. I tried eBay, but I couldn’t figure out what in the world I would buy used or “new” sight unseen. I picked up Parenting at the drug store, and wistfully thought about going off birth control, but not yet.

Sometimes factors out of my control got in the way. I picked up a bottle of Opus One, but David, my sommelier fianc‚ vetoed the choice. It’s a long story involving deeply entrenched industry politics. I went online for a Progressive auto insurance quote, but Massachusetts drivers are categorically rejected. I tried to buy. I can’t help it that street signage here is so bad we all go crazy in our cars.

So it’s sixteen. More than one per month. I can’t think of any other single medium with that much impact, now that I’m skipping commercials on my Replay. Marketers are fretting about the death of commercials and being heard above the noise. Remember, classmates, when you’re the VP of marketing, assign an intern to hunt down a mistake worthy of an HBS case. That’s why we get so many protagonists from “a prestigious New England business school next to a river.”

December 8, 2003
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