Tiger Marketing

It’s a bit surprising, at times, to look around and realize how many webloggers have been hired by big companies. For the most part, such hiring is based on the person’s skill, drive, and interest, and I celebrate their good fortune and the company’s good sense.

There are occasions, though, where the hiring seems less based on obtaining the person’s expertise and more an effort to ‘buy’ goodwill–to put a ‘human face’ onto the big soulless corporation. Oh not because the company is going to stop being big. Or soulless. It will just seem less so because Jack (whom we love) or Judy (whom we respect beyond all measure) now works for the company. Now, when we say the company sucks, we’re saying our friends suck.

Weblogging is also a popular approach with these companies, as is the use of other social media. Look, it has weblogs. Look, it goes to the ‘unconferences’. Look, it has podcasts, and vidcasts. The company invests time and energy for the ‘greater good’; provides APIs and data web services; even open sources fragments of its technology–all of which demonstrates that the company is part of us. It ‘gets it’.

It’s a familiar approach, too, but I couldn’t figure out what was so familiar about it until it came to me this morning, while I was on my second cup of coffee.

When I was very young, I and my brother used to visit my aunt and uncle in Seattle every summer, and my uncle would take us to the zoo. This was back when the zoo was just starting to add natural habitats, and at the time, most of the animals were still in the large cages with iron bars and glass fronts. It wasn’t a good place for the animals, but it did allow visitors to get closer to the animals.

One summer, there was this tiger that was about a year old that was quite popular with visitors. I can’t remember its name, but I remember the tiger quite clearly. Beautiful creature and very engaged with the visitors on the other side of the glass. What was interesting, though, was how it reacted to me when we visited.

As soon as I appeared in front of the glass, the tiger’s focus became riveted on me. It wouldn’t look at anyone else, and its eyes would track me as I moved back and forth in front of the glass. My uncle even made a comment about it. “Looks like you got a new friend, Michelle”, he said (Michelle being the name I was born with before that damn Beatles song killed any fondness I ever had for it). It did seem, as my uncle noted, that the young tiger really was interested in me.

For the rest of the summer I would beg to visit the zoo and each time, the tiger’s attention would, again, become fixed on me. I grew to have a real fondness for that creature, and would later brag that I had a ‘special’ gift with animals and tell the story about the tiger and its special interest in me. He was my friend, I would tell people, and I really believe it.

Of course, as I got older and a lot less self-centered, or perhaps a lot less self-deceiving, I grew to realize that the tiger wasn’t interested in me because it liked me, or wanted to be my friend. It was interested in me because I was the same size as the deer, bison young, wild pigs, and other beasts of the jungles and forests that served as food for that type of cat.

In other words, the tiger didn’t see me as friend. It saw me as prey.

Just something that came to me today, on my second cup of coffee.

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7 Responses to Tiger Marketing

  1. That must be damn good coffee. This may be my favorite BurningBird post ever.

    Your story reminds me of a children’s book I recently found online.

  2. “Predations are conversations”

  3. Shelley says:

    Damn, that belongs on a button, Seth.

  4. Shelley says:

    Rogers, thanks for the link! That was a great story, and illustration.

  5. rev_matt_y says:

    Excellent. I like that. This has been a recurring topic of conversation of late and the whole ‘paid for posts’ thing really makes me not want to read that particular blog anymore. Note I differentiate between paid for posts where someone is pushing whatever product they’re being paid to push today with people promoting their own products like Joel On Software or authors promoting their own books.

  6. Bobby says:

    Who knows . . . maybe there is some common wavelength certain creatures and beasts (and nice folks) are tuned in to.

  7. rev_matt_y: But what about people pushing their employer’s products/services? Or just the employer’s agenda?

    But of course, this isn’t limited to your rank-and-file employees. Imagine, if you will, a highly respected, even somewhat revered, figure in from industry being hired by a company largely in order to make that person *highly* available for giving congressional testimony, or the corporate board positions given to retiring high ranking members of government and the armed forces. Are they being rewarded for their expertise? Their influence? Or is this just some form of kickback?

    In summary, none of this is really new, except in the sense that what we are really seeing here is simply the democratization of the revolving door (which, contrary to the usual use of the term increasingly affects the media as well, and aren’t weblogs media too?).

    I’m not saying I have any real answers here. Currently I think only judges must recuse themselves for the appearance of a conflict of interest (as opposed to an actual one), but our society is becoming increasingly schizophrenic in that regard and in the blogosphere credibility can be lost simply for being insufficiently critical of your employer, or for failing to update your blog when some controversy hits, or for any number of other entirely arbitrary reasons that only *might* indicate something about your integrity, if you turn your head and squint at it in the right way.

    Welcome to the fishbowl.