gert-280-75Would you trade your wed­ding ring for an exact replica?

It’s a ques­tion I some­times ask audi­ences.  Not sur­pris­ingly, hardly any­one admits to indif­fer­ence in the matter.

More com­monly, the emo­tional attach­ment mea­sures in the thou­sands of dol­lars, which is what most peo­ple say they’d need to be paid before swap­ping the ring they were mar­ried in for a per­fect replica.

Dis­miss this as mere sen­ti­men­tal­ity at your own peril.

The man (or woman) who admits to NOT valu­ing his orig­i­nal wed­ding ring over a replica gets shunned. The same thing hap­pens to the man who would will­ingly wear the cloth­ing of a ser­ial killer. Most of us would refuse to don Jef­frey Dah­mers cap, even if it had been pre­vi­ously washed and san­i­tized. No mat­ter how unsci­en­tific, ara­tional, and even “silly” our repul­sion is – regard­less of how much it rep­re­sents “Mag­i­cal Think­ing”  -  you’ll still find that:

  • The vast major­ity of peo­ple won’t will­ingly wear a piece of cloth­ing worn by an evil man, and
  • Those who WOULD wear Dahmer’s cloth­ing deeply offend our sen­si­bil­i­ties and pro­voke our imme­di­ate dis­trust.  They creep us out.

What does all that tell you?

Shared val­ues run deeper than ratio­nal­ity. Way deeper. As Richard Weaver writes, “…logic depends upon the dream, and not the dream upon it.  We must admit this when we real­ize that log­i­cal processes rest ulti­mately upon clas­si­fi­ca­tion, that clas­si­fi­ca­tion is by iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is intuitive.”

We iden­tify objects as tainted or sacred at an intu­itive, emo­tional level. At a place were our rea­son­ing is pow­er­less to touch.  A place where the prin­ci­ples of mag­i­cal think­ing reign supreme over the laws of sci­ence. At the very place where we make our buy­ing deci­sions.

And for mar­keters, that means 2 things:

  1. You can’t expect a ratio­nal expla­na­tion to com­mu­ni­cate a shared value that’s held at that intu­itive, emo­tional level.
  2. You’d bet­ter under­stand the rule sets behind the “mag­i­cal think­ing” that our emo­tional and lizard brains engage in if you hope to move beyond mere ratio­nal expla­na­tions in your advertising

Case In Point: Colum­bia Sportswear’s Tough Mother

First, some back­ground on Colum­bia Sportswear’s for­mer CEO and now Chair­man of the Board, as taken from the inside flap of her book:

When a heart attack claimed Gert Boyle’s hus­band in 1970, the forty-six-year-old house­wife and mother of three found her­self at the helm of Colum­bia Sports­wear, a small out­er­wear man­u­fac­turer in Port­land, Ore­gon, that was strug­gling finan­cially. With no busi­ness expe­ri­ence what­so­ever, Boyle was faced with the chal­lenge of run­ning Colum­bia, which had been founded in 1937 by her father — a Jew­ish immi­grant who had fled Hitler’s Ger­many. Boyle and her son Tim per­se­vered, turn­ing a com­pany that in 1970 had forty employ­ees and less than $800,000 in annual sales into the lead­ing seller of ski­wear in the United States, with more than 2000 employ­ees and over a bil­lion in annual sales…”

One of the turn­ing points on this incred­i­ble suc­cess story was (sur­prise!) a change in adver­tis­ing messaging.

Prior to the Bor­ders Per­rin & Nor­ran­der mar­ket­ing cam­paign that billed Columbia’s CEO, Gert Boyle, as “one tough mother,” Columbia’s ads empha­sized how their sports­wear wasn’t just designed, it was “engineered.”


A per­fectly ratio­nal approach to build­ing value for the prod­uct that failed in the mar­ket­place.  Cus­tomers may ratio­nally com­pare spec sheets and engi­neer­ing func­tion­al­ity, but they iden­tify qual­ity and an affin­ity for an object at a much deeper, emo­tional level. And they buy at these deeper, emo­tional — and, yes, mag­i­cal — elements.

What Colum­bia needed was to con­vey their pas­sion for no-nonsense prod­uct design in a way that “worked,” and to con­vey that mes­sage through the laws of mag­i­cal think­ing.  They needed mes­sag­ing that took advan­tage of our notions that blood is thicker than water, that essences really exist, that shared val­ues take place at more pro­found level than “good busi­ness prac­tices” and engi­neer­ing labs.

For­tu­nately for Colum­bia, their next, leg­endary ad cam­paign did exactly that by focus­ing on Gert Boyle’s “Tough Mother” approach to prod­uct design, and by express­ing that approach through the mother-son rela­tion­ship that existed between Columbia’s CEO and its Pres­i­dent.  Here’s how that looked:




2010-05-26_1142Peo­ple saw those ads and believed.  They believed that Gert really cared, fer­vently and vio­lently, about the prod­ucts her com­pany man­u­fac­tured. They believed her inter­est in build­ing cloth­ing that pro­tected the wearer went way deeper than just nor­mal, ratio­nal busi­ness desires to “engi­neer” a bet­ter product.

As Ma Boyle puts it:

The impact of the ads was almost instan­ta­neous. Sales quickly increased and I was sur­prised when strangers came up to me on the street and asked if I was the ‘tough mother.’ Bet­ter yet, the image cre­ated by the adver­tise­ments took hold.  Instead of see­ing us as just another out­er­wear com­pany, our cus­tomers thought of us as the com­pany where the cranky and crotch­ety old broad made sure that they were get­ting a good prod­uct at a fair price.  The bot­tom line was that what we were really express­ing was that we were human… Peo­ple relate to us because they believe there is a per­son at Colum­bia who really cares.  And the best thing about our ads is that they are true. I do care.”

After see­ing the com­mer­cials, cus­tomers liked Colum­bia bet­ter.  Their affin­ity for Gert rubbed off (the phrase is telling, is it not?) onto the prod­ucts.  And sales soared, lead­ing to one of the clear­est suc­cess sto­ries from a national “image-based” cam­paign since the Marl­boro Man.

What about you?

What are you irra­tionally com­mit­ted to?  What val­ues do you cling to even when it costs you – even when it makes no busi­ness sense at all?

Does your adver­tis­ing even men­tion them?

And are you com­mu­ni­cat­ing those val­ues ratio­nally or magically?

P.S. If you really want to be inspired, check out some of Columbia’s old TV Ads.  I’ve always liked the one with the zam­boni, myself ; )


  1. JaimeAnn Laidlaw on 05.26.2010

    First I need to say I love the design of your site! But more impor­tantly I almost for­got about the impact those ads had on me as a “con­sumer”. They are bril­liant! Thank you for tak­ing the time to talk about them and point out their strengths!
    .-= JaimeAnn Laidlaw´s last blog ..Copy­writ­ing: The Whole Enchi­lada – Chang­ing the Recipe =-.

  2. Phil Wrzesinski on 05.26.2010

    Jeff, how timely. Thanks for such a great post. I just fin­ished cut­ting a radio ad talk­ing about how peo­ple think I’m crazy for over­staffing my store so much (over twice as many staff on hand as stores twice our size) — and feed­ing them ice cream at 8:30am. There is no such thing as car­ing too much about your customers.

  3. Lorraine on 05.27.2010

    Another bril­liant post.

    We all know peo­ple buy for emo­tional rea­sons. Facts, fig­ures, fea­tures and, to a great extent, ben­e­fits, help cus­tomers ratio­nal­ize the buy­ing deci­sion and solid­ify the sale.

    But this post con­firms some­thing per­co­lat­ing with me: Focus groups, research, ana­lyt­ics and test­ing are cru­cial, but the intu­ition of creatives–writers, design­ers, etc.–plays a huge role in devel­op­ing the emo­tional hook.

    Colum­bia could have taken any num­ber of emotion-laden paths. But a cre­ative team chose the Tough Mother con­cept. And it’s per­fect.
    .-= Lorraine´s last blog ..Once Upon a Time Small Busi­ness Didn’t Need Social Media =-.

  4. Dave Doolin on 05.28.2010

    I know one per­son for sure who would fit very well into an adver­tis­ing cam­paign like this. Almost a drop in (with the copy rewrit­ten of course).

    And I can’t believe I’ve never seen this one before!

    Really, an out­stand­ing series of ads.
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Blog­ging from a Trop­i­cal Island Par­adise… with Wire­less! (Bert Padilla drops in from Cebu) =-.

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