What’s your passion? What gets you really excited? Is it…gum?
Seriously. The gum market is looking for a way to expand, and consultants have decided that what gum consumers are looking for, what is really lacking in their gum, is excitement. This is the theory behind the marketing for recently introduced Stride Shift, a someone disappointing attempt at getting something to happen while you’re chewing gum. In a New York Times piece on the new gum marketing campaign, the Stride spokesman explains:
Stride speaks to younger consumers who chew gum not for functional reasons but for emotional reasons. Younger consumers have a disdain for the ordinary, and they like to be snapped out of boredom.
At the time, it seemed to me a little bit of a stretch. Little did I know that it was the first glimpse of a future of mandatory gum excitement.
Here’s the latest from Trident Layers, a promotion that is as far as I am concerned just one more symptom of American capitalism’s hurling of itself off the rails. It turns out that if the gum itself isn’t so exciting (after all, it’s just gum), promoters can certainly make a lot of noise around the gum to simulate excitement.
On October 21, rush to Times Square between 6:30 am and 2:30 pm, where you’ll be able to pay for a taxi ride anywhere in the city limits with a pack of new Trident Layers “Cool Mint+Melon Fresco” gum. And you don’t even need to buy the gum. Just take one of the sample packs, stand in a big long line, and play gum games while you wait for your taxi.
This doesn’t even make sense to me. If you need to go somewhere, why would you first go to Times Square to wait for a gum-accepting taxi? And as for excitement, do these people realize that waiting for a cab is one of the least exciting things to do in New York City? Gum or no gum?
The real kicker in all of this is that the whole theme seems to have gotten reversed. You’ve probably seen the TV commercials where teen babysitters get all excited about getting gum instead of money for their labors. Trident Layers is “So Good You’ll Want to Get Paid in Gum!” But its not the Times Square targets tourists who are going to get paid in gum. It’ s the taxi drivers. And if the gum is so good, why would people be willing to trade it for a taxi ride? But the whole thing kind falls apart if you say “it’s so good you’ll try to pay for stuff you’d rather have with the gum you’re happy to get rid of.” Obviously, none of this matters. What matters is EXCITEMENT! It’s gum, it’s taxis, it’s Times Square! Yeah!
I got riled up about this because of two other items that floated across my desk recently. One is a news story in the Chicago Tribune describing the accelerating pace of product innovation in gum:
Want to manage your weight, strengthen and whiten your teeth, increase your vitamin intake? Just bored out of your mind? Have some gum.
Candy manufacturers are rolling out gums for all occasions. Some of the gums seem to have been pulled from science fiction, or at least Willy Wonka’s factory.
Kraft Foods’ Stride Shift, for instance, changes flavor while you’re chewing. Trident Vitality, available early next year, contains vitamin C for those who can’t be bothered to eat fruit. Wrigley’s Extra Dessert Delights, meanwhile, gives dieters a reason to pass on cake, with flavors like chocolate mint chip and Key lime pie.
Gum is stagnating, it seems. What gum needs is a little excitement, something to make it “relevant” to today’s youthful gum chewers. That, according to the Buisness School models, is what consumers want. Not any simple thing like gum with a good texture and a flavor that doesn’t fade too fast or go off. That’s what us cranky oldsters want, evidently, and we don’t chew enough gum to really matter (and by oldster, I refer to anyone over 30, as per the gum marketing people).
Flavor? Texture? That is so twentieth century. These are gums to uplift! To inspire! To motivate! To cure! To indulge! Gum!
And then I came upon a press release from a market research company called NetBase which puts out periodical reports on their proprietary Brand Passion Index for various products, most recently Halloween candy.
I’m starting to catch on: marketing today is all about this creepy idea that you should have intimate emotional relationships with the stuff you buy and consume. It’s not enough to think the gum tastes just fine. Tools like the Brand Passion Index will “help companies understand not only the intensity of passion consumers have, but more importantly why consumers feel the way they do about the brand.” You should be passionate about your gum. Intensely passionate. And if you’re not, someone wants to find out why, and fix it.
I have nothing against selling stuff. I just don’t like when its done in such a manipulative and cheesy way.
And now, I feel a SOAP BOX coming on. Gum is not life. Passion is not relevant to buying gum or detergent or ball point pens. Genuine passion is about our real relationships and real projects and real goals. If gum owns passion, there’s not much meaning or value left for the real stuff.
So go ahead, chew your gum. Enjoy it. But save your passion for things that really matter.