I was watching one of the early episode of Saturday Night Live this weekend, that was hosted by George Carlin, and thought about how George Carlin and Lenny Bruce both pushed the boundaries of their profession. For Lenny Bruce telling
jokes that were on the fringe of being unacceptable led him down a dark path that ended in his destruction. However for George Carlin, who told a similar variety of jokes, the ending was much different as he received both fame and a comfortable living from his career in the entertainment industry.
Why was there such a different ending for Bruce and Carlin? The only true difference that I saw was that Bruce came onto the comedic scene in the 1950s and Carlin the 1960s. However, the span of 10 years did make a big difference in the attitudes of law enforcement and the audiences attending these performances. The conservative atmosphere of the 50s was displaced by a more rebellious atmosphere of the 60s as the result of the Hippy Movement and the Vietnam War. While police departments were very aggressive in their enforcement of what they felt were vulgar language and irreverence towards the government establishment in Bruce’s routine they were more hesitant to react to Carlin’s similar repertory of jokes leaving Carlin the opportunity to explore the full power of the First Amendment’s free speech clause.
So the real difference between Bruce and Carlin was timing. Ironic, since the difference between a good and bad comedian is all in the timing of their jokes. Giving the punch line a second too soon or too late changes the impact of the joke.
In business we are also told that timing is everything. In a perfect world businesses would like their marketing message to reach the consumer at the exact moment that the consumer realizes they have a need for the product. Absent the vacuum of a perfect world business bombards their customer prospects with mailings, newspaper inserts, radio and television advertising and in some cases even SPAM emails in the hopes of having the message arrive at that magical moment. Over time these forms of marketing have proven to be less effective as the consumer is inundated with so much material that they’ve began to filter it out by throwing bulk mailing pieces away unopened, pulling all insets out of the newspaper prior to reading, surfing the channels during commercials and purchasing spam filter to block unwanted emails. If consumers have become so savvy what are a business marketing options today?
I believe a business must become more like Bruce and Carlin and push the boundaries by creating marketing that will make their audience sit up and take notice and perhaps make them even feel a little uncomfortable. If you don’t think this approach works consider the marketing tactic of the weight loss industry which is estimated to be worth 60.9 billion dollars in the US. Their approach is pretty simple … you’re fat; you’re unhappy, you’re unhealthy and if you don’t lose weight might get diabetes and die. Not a pretty message but it certainly has produced tremendous results.
I recognize that some business owners will feel the weight loss industries marketing approach isn’t appropriate for them. I can appreciate that, however, there are many less aggressive ways to push your customer into action. For example, part of my company’s business comes from Real Estate Brokerage and I didn’t feel we were getting our share of the market. I knew we worked harder and had a better success rate than our competitors but they seemed to always have more business than us. This knowledge made me angry and I decided to let it be known. I sent out a mass mailing letter wanting to know what these consumers were thinking when they bypasses my hardworking organization and hired these
underperforming agencies to provide them with brokerage services. The results of the mailing was an overwhelming number of calls from new prospects that felt compelled to at least call and talk to me to see if I could make a difference. By pushing the boundaries of what some people might feel is an acceptable business practice I created a call for action. While I can’t tell you that this exact approach will work for your business I can tell you if you put a little thought into
determining the boundaries of your business and push beyond them you will see success.