Running (from) The List

– by Albert Berkshire

I am running through the woods. I have left the comforts of conformity and normalcy and   safety and reason well behind me. Despite the pressure to accept them as society would like me, I am happy to have left them in my rear view. I never liked them that much. Still, I didn’t sign up for this race. I just happened to find myself in it. Like everyone else, I am racing against myself. Though I fear many of them fail to understand that, nor see the logic in its reality. There is no reward that I believe awaits me. No grand prize. No bragging rights that interest me. I seek only more of what I have already found.

The pace is quickening, as is my heart rate. My mind is racing at the same rate as my heart. Random things rush into my head. Memories of things good and things bad are filling my head. They scare me as much as they make me more determined to continue forward. Past glories, moments endured or delighted in, revelry – though I find the word carousal to be more to my liking. They all matter, whether I want them to or not. They resonate in rhythm with my feet. Take the good and the bad in stride, I think to myself.

I’ve gained elevation. Why any of us choose to flee in an uphill direction can only be explained by Hollywood screenwriters and the clinically insane. I can’t determine who would offer the more believable explanation. The air is starting to feel cooler. It is little relief in this race. As I gain elevation, the air, inevitably, thins. I start to slow. I am beginning to tire. I convince myself I have to press on. Giving in, giving up is not an option that I am willing to choose. Push harder. Find more. Do not get caught.

Obstacles appear in front of me. Life is throwing hurdles in my direction. I’ve been in this situation once before and made the mistake of giving in to the challenge. I won’t make that mistake again. I know from experience you just have to go over them as quickly as humanly possible. Life isn’t going to give you more time. Circling back and around is too time consuming, and time is not a friendly travel partner. I press on…over.

Breath hits the back of my neck. It can’t be mine, despite the pace at which I now race. I hope it is just mine swirling around my neck, but it isn’t. I look over my shoulder for the first time. She is close. Gaining on me. I can’t let her catch me. It would be the end of me. And so I push harder.

As I break above the tree line, the terrain levels off. I have hit my stride. My second wind has found me. I can see the place I want to be. Figures await in the distance. It is still far off, so I lean toward the finish. I can hear heavy breathing behind me, but it is no longer against my neck.

Regret is exhausted. And I got to the top of the hill ahead of her…again.

Ski off bigger cliffs. Paddle in Thailand. Offer my feet to Garra Rufa fish. Sleep beside the Colorado River. Hike in Arches National Park. Photograph The Three Wise Men for my mother. Ride Missoula, Moab and Fruita. Crew for friends at the Leadville 100. Go back to the Asulkan Trail. Spend a week on the Oregon coast. Stand on the beach where one of my fictional characters loved to stand. Race, and finish, an enduro mountain bike race. Ride the Staten Island Ferry. Stroll through Greenwich Village. Walk across the Brooklyn bridge. Share dinners with friends. Drink at a Speak Easy. Eat breakfast alone, often. Travel for the sake of being present. Show up unexpectedly at parties because I could be there. Party with friends at the CN Tower. Go to the Vanier Cup, the 100th Grey Cup, and the Hockey Hall of Fame. Thank a soldier. Get caught up with Joe. Say a proper goodbye to Harold. Make a new friend. Share Rumi. Come to appreciate everything I have, everywhere. Apologize. Make peace. Give. Say no to the things that are wrong and yes to the things that are right. Make a promise I will keep. Stare at the lights on the trees. Stroll for no reason other than to linger…longer. Have honest conversations. Come to understand. Find out for certain.

It was a good year for the Bucket List.

In your face, Regret.

Personal Note: This will be my last article for a little while. Everyone needs a break from what they do, and who they are. And I have one more thing to cross off my list before time catches up with me. Unlike Regret, Time is relentless. I made a promise that I would do something important. It’s best that I go do it. I’ll be back before you can count to eleven.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. – Rumi, 13th Century.

Long into the field of life do we propitiously find the illusive path upon which we were destined to travel.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. With regularity, he finds himself in the strangest situations, for the strangest reasons, doing the strangest things. But it always makes for a great story…even if he’s the only one who understands its meaning. Making other people’s stories interesting has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

Mixed Messages & The Art of Confusion

– by Albert Berkshire

Sing with me. ‘Tis the season for mass confusion. Fa la la la la lah, la la la lahhhhhh.

December is the most frustrating time of the year for any of us in the advertising and marketing industry. Since the modern celebrations of Christmas – the Christian holiday – (insert record scratch for effect)

I write “Christmas” and not “the holiday season”. No one calls Ramadan “the holiday season”. No one calls Kwanza “the holiday season”. No one says Happy Holiday Season during Hanukkah. So let the Christians have their Christmas and let’s all get over some court injunction a la oversensitive agnostic (like me) and get on with December 25th. It’s Christmas. Get over it. <Albert’s mom cheers from afar>

Roit. Since the beginning of the modern day Christmas celebrations that began back in the 1800’s – not when three dudes in robes supposedly showed up with gifts. Actually, let’s explore that brilliant branding idea for a moment. Three guys showed up with baby gifts. Are you kidding me? NO guy shows up with a baby gift. My gay friend Andrew might. He’s thoughtful. (not that Andrew, or that one, the other one. Yeah, with the good hair.) But if we believe that Christmas gift giving came about because of The Three Wisemen, we’re all doomed. What’s next? 12/21/12? (Note to self: post this tonight)

So since we’ve been engaging in the practice of modern gift giving, someone somewhere has been trying to sell us something. Generally it’s people like me. Sorry to inform you of this, but I’ve been manipulating message that bypass your Broca and go right to your wallet.

Do not reach for your tinfoil helmet. It won’t work.

The biggest challenge I, we in the industry, face is the mixed message. None of us like mixed messages. We don’t want them from friends, employers, lovers, the toll booth lady (long story, I was nervous), the descendants of Colonel Sanders, or our favourite brand. For me, I don’t want to give you a mixed message from an established brand. Especially if I’ve busted my hump to create and maintain that brand.

It would be like me suddenly write love letters and poetry in this Blog.

In effective advertising, of which I am a student and keen participant, we spend months, even years, establishing a brand. Ripping the foundation out for a one off is akin to – well, I’m not one to judge, but I think you know where I was going with that. Think Tiger and a waitress. In fact, please – think about that for a moment longer. THAT’S a perfect example of a mixed message that destroys a brand.

Look. If she has a beautiful mind…or he’s the guy who listens to you, you may want to test the message. But Tiger tossed away a brand on a little pie from the pie lady.

Tiger Woods spent more than a decade building himself as a brand. He was a symbol of success. A trusted name that represented the finest watches (Tags are really that good, by the way), all things Nike, and Buick. Okay, maybe Buick wasn’t such a good example. Sometimes you just have to take the cash. We all do it. But the moment he tagged the waitress (excuse the play on words, sexist and inappropriate innuendo, and outright shift in my general polite nature – I’m nursing a case of Christmas angst) he sent out a message that his brand loyalists couldn’t compute.

This is where the Daleks in Dr. Who frantically repeat “Does not compute. Does not compute. Does not compute” until they spin three times to the right and then explode.

It was a mixed message. And it was bloody annoying. Aside from every woman on the face of the planet feeling sorry for his wife. (I’ve seen the scowl on her face. He needed that serving a la mode.) Still, it was the ruin of a good brand and now no married man is allowed to buy Nike balls.

Tiger is no longer cute and innocent and lovable. He’s a bad boy.

End of brand loyalty.

Sidebar quickie (bring ice cream): I have NO idea how I got onto the Tiger Woods thing, and how I’ve been able to overextend the metaphor to this length, but I am starting to regret it and desperately want to stop. But I can’t. Pass the sprinkles.

When advertisers realize that Christmas is, again this year, on December 25th, they get stars in their eyes. Actually, dollar signs. Then, in a moment of make or break desperation, they often break with an entire year of branding to make ridiculous offers in a style that is a complete departure from their overall branding message.

And it is wrong. With caps. WRONG!

The hardest part is that this is Make Hay season for many retailers. It if doesn’t happen between October 31 and December 24, it’s not going to be a very happy layoff season come January.  And when desperation sets in, most retailers – being in a reactionary industry (waiting to see what their competitor’s are going to do) – will toss out the rule book and start throwing Hail Mary’s all over the place.

That makes their customers (the ball) perfectly suited for an interception. (Good Lord, now I’m onto a football metaphor. Someone help me.) A customer who may have been loyal to your brand suddenly realizes that all the time they were listening to you tell them about your USP – Unique Selling Proposition, that which makes you different form the rest and really the superior choice – you really weren’t much different form the other guy / product / service. It creates confusion. When all the retailers fall into that trap, it creates mass confusion. And what’s it come down to now?

Price. Now the odds are even. May the cheapest pie win.

End of brand loyalty.

My advice…as much as it kills you to do it, listen to the guy you hired to give you marketing advice. Because he’s been listening to you and your customers for along time. Remember, you’re not in business for three months of the year, and if you spend money on changing the message, you better be willing to accept that once you change a loyal customer’s perception of you, you’ll likely never change them back.

Not even with a nine iron to the window. Not even with a serving of humble pie.

Mmmmmm…warm apple pie. (hold the ice cream). A la mode isn’t really me. I’m all inclusive kind of listener.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He grew up with brothers and sisters who – to this day – love to celebrate Christmas much more than him. Ironically, last Christmas his mother sent him a card that read, “Have a blessed and holy Xmas.” Way to keep Christ in Christmas, Mom. Merry Xmas to you, too. The advertising industry makes people cynical this time of year. Rum and eggnog helps. So does knowing you learned something from this. Hopefully you’ll let me know. Sharing ideas, and honest feedback has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.