Thursday, February 11, 2010

Be Observant

I'm going to saddle up and get back on my high horse here with some advice I once received mixed in with my own thoughts. As you probably gathered from the title it pertains to being observant (or perhaps you were not able to pick that up in which case you should really take this advice seriously).

As I was driving home yesterday I pulled up to a stop light near my place of residence. There was a homeless person standing there holding a sign, a common site at many busy intersections in Minneapolis. Being the curious natured fellow that I am I tried to read the sign but got frustrated instantly. The sign was probably about 12 X 8 inches and had approximately 30 words on it. 

Now I could lie and say that the first thing I thought of was how sad it was or how I felt compassion or something sappy like that, but I've seen a thousand of these people and these signs and so sue me but I do not get that sort of reaction.

Rather, the first thing that popped into my mind was, "That homeless guy's sign has way too many words on it." This thought progressed to me pondering what I would write on a sign in hopes of getting money should I be standing on the side of the road at an intersection. I thought something to the point and simple would be much more effective like "Please help" or "Homeless" or "Hungry" or even "$". 

From what I gathered this particular guy's sign was claiming he was not a criminal or a drunk or on drugs, etc. I thought to myself even if all that is true and if whatever the rest of the sign says that I didn't get to is true you cannot tell your life story on a small piece of cardboard. The short term goal is to get people to roll down their window and hand you some money or some food. I have no proof that my simplistic signs would be more effective than this guy's lengthy sign but that's not really my point. 

After I drove away and concluded my thoughts on this I realized wow, I am a huge advertising nerd. But at the same time I rationalized it by thinking maybe I am just an observant person. I believe this is critical when working in the field of advertising. As everyone knows people are exposed to thousands of advertisements every single day. Taking in your surroundings and thinking about "why this" or "why is something like that" should be second nature.

In my first semester of my junior year of college I had Marketing 3001 at the Carlson school of business. My professor was deemed by many as arrogant and kind of a jerk. I thought he was a pretty smart dude that had a lot to offer beyond learning about the 4 P's. I remember one day he went off on a tangent about your mindset if you are serious about marketing and advertising. He said things like "you need to live it, breathe it" He said, "it needs to become second nature, when you are walking down the aisles of the grocery store you should be fascinated by all that's around you". 

I really liked that professor, but at that particular time I thought this was kind of dumb. I was more concerned about the score of the Twins game from the night before.

I'm sure you know where this is going but here it is anyways. On a daily basis I find myself noticing things wondering how something got there or what other people think of "that". I don't just mean billboards and other advertisements but all kinds of things. I also find myself reminiscing about that day of class and thinking to myself that crazy old man was on to something.

I know I am being a bit hypocritical by saying you need to be conscious of being more observant and then saying it should be second nature. Perhaps it's something you can consciously do for a while and it can become subconscious naturally. I'm not going to lie and say I have any clue how it really works. Regardless, it's something to keep in mind because in the world of advertising and many other fields it is critical to be aware of the physical world around you, even if you don't always understand it.

I apologize for the lack of cool pictures, videos or links in this post; I did this on purpose (deep, I know).

One love, one heart

Eric McPherson

Twitter: @EricWMcPherson


  1. Did you have Upton for 3001? Cuz I loved him, even though most people thought he was an ass.

  2. I try to avoid using names in my posts in case I ever become famous or just because it seems like a good idea...but you may be on to something.