It's Pronounced Chookshaw

The semi-professional blog of Albert Ciuksza Jr.

Page 3 of 8

Ms. Hymowitz, I Believe You’re Terribly Mistaken About 20-Something Men

First, it was The End of Men, the controversial essay in The Atlantic by Hanna Rosin, who argued that current social trends don’t bode well for the survival of men in the modern economy. While a little breathless in her assessment, Ms. Rosin came to some valid conclusions that should at least raise awareness that we’re in the midst of a societal shift. Yes, women are getting bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees at a rate of three-to-two of men. Yes, women make up the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Yes, women are more economically empowered than ever. I previously wrote my take on her essay here and here and, frankly, got too caught up in the hysteria myself.

Seven months later, Kay S. Hymowitz, senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, writes an article for the Saturday (2/19/11) Wall Street Journal entitled Where Have the Good Men Gone?, promoting her book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to call out some of the terms and statements used throughout the article:

“Semi-hormonal adolescence” … “they might as well just have another beer” … “pre-adulthood” …  “spend their days playing video games” …  “beer pong” …  “puerile shallowness” …  “pig heaven” … “[for women] husbands and fathers are now optional” … “[men] treat women like disposable estrogen toys” … “array of media devoted to his every pleasure” … “men’s attachment to the sandbox” … “most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, … state of semi-hormonal adolescence”

We’re hedonistic, beer-swilling, women-abusing, entertainment-focused slobs. Hymowitz says in another article, “…who needs commitment when there is a fantasy football team league to dominate, the possibility that a gaming product better than the Xbox 360 could be on the horizon, and your live-in girlfriend will have sex with you whenever you want?” Amen, sister!

It’s Really About Generation Y

I don’t think it’s coincidence that the freak-out about 20-something men is happening around the same time that HR managers, sociologists, psychologists and marketers are feverishly trying to understand Gen Y. Our generation has been poked and prodded for years as Boomer parents simultaneously attempt to make up for the sins of their parents’ generation while doing penance for their own youthful indiscretions (roughly translated to “my parents didn’t love me and I don’t want you to do drugs like I did”). This shift in parental focus — from authority to friend (evidenced by sites like When Parents Text)  — has produced a generation that seems to be doing things differently. (Note: for a more balanced take on Gen Y, I suggest Gen Y Now: How Generation Y Changes Your Workplace and Why It Requires a New Leadership Style by Buddy Hobart, a seasoned former-Gen-Y-hater CEO of the consulting firm Solutions 21 and Herb Sendek, head men’s basketball coach at Arizona State University, who knows a little bit about leading Gen Y).

There is an exhaustive amount of information, data and commentary that justifies about every belief about our generation. On one side, Millenials are an aimless generation of slackers and misfits who feel entitled to high salaries and plenty of leisure time, but are so focused on their smart phones that they’re incapable of even the most basic of human interactions. On the other side, Gen Yers are a superhuman contingent of tech-savvy team players who are leveraging the extensive opportunities afforded them by families they love, to broaden their horizons, befriend people of various races and sexual orientations, and help to bring the dawn of the Age of Aquarius. Just Google Gen Y. You’ll find it all.

Despite plenty of data that could support her opinion, Hymowitz writes an article that is nearly devoid actual numbers. Sure, she mentions educational attainment statistics and unemployment rates for men and women in their 20s, along with a graph showing the average age at which couples marry in both the U.S. and other developed countries (Ack! We might be like France!). These three data points might suggest that men are doomed. The data can also be explained from a different perspective — men are focusing on good, well-paying jobs that don’t require four-year degrees (e.g. plumbers, welders, mechanics, careers in the energy industry),  unemployment always hits men harder than women (construction and other labor-related jobs are the first to go in a recession), and the age at which people get married has been trending upward for years as people attempt to be more responsible by working to get on sound financial and career footing before having and raising children.

Furthermore, many of her arguments are gender-neutral. Take the following:

[20-something men and women] are looking not just for jobs but for “careers,” work in which they can exercise their talents and express their deepest passions … For today’s pre-adults, “what you do” is almost synonymous with “who you are,” and starting a family is seldom part of the picture.

In short, it’s intellectually dishonest to blame (credit?) an entire set of societal and economic trends on 20-something men. It’s also incredibly easy to find arguments that support either side. Can we just admit that it’s damn hard to pin down a group of people that makes up roughly 25% of the U.S. population?

Men-As-Adult-Juveniles — 160 Years in the Making

Ever heard of Dr. Dan Kiley? He wrote a book implicating the man-child in The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. The quick summary: “[the book] discusses the problem of men who, although they have reached adulthood, are unable to cope with feelings and responsibilities, identifying the symptoms of the syndrome and offering guidelines on coping with and treating the problem.” Sounds awfully familiar. It was written in 1983.

Even Hymowitz turns back the clock. “American men have been struggling with finding an acceptable adult identity since at least the mid-19th century”, she states, apparently believing that men had the time to contemplate their identities while avoiding the fate of the 610,000 people who died in the Civil War. A century later, “the arrival of Playboy in the 1950s seemed like the ultimate protest against male domestication; think of the refusal implied by the magazine’s title alone,” suggesting that it was only in the mid-20th century that men enjoyed looking at beautiful naked women. I’m just disappointed that she forgot to mention the roaring 20s and the baby boom (those were the days of male class and chastity; when marital rape wasn’t considered rape at all). At least those men were married!

But now it’s 2011, and her citations of male-oriented pop culture are as gratuitous as the T&A featured in Maxim. She complains, “their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers—a gender gap neatly crystallized by the director Judd Apatow in his hit 2007 movie ‘Knocked Up.’ [Note: Hymowitz goes on to mischaracterize the female lead as a totally independent up-and-comer when she actually lives in her sister’s pool house and is none-too-eager to leave]” She mentions “overgrown boy actors” (Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Farrell and Seth Rogen), Spike TV, crotch shots, awesome car crashes, Star Wars and beer pong competitions. Frankly, I’m disappointed that she did not mention Axe, the men’s line of personal care products that is promoted in a way that objectifies women. The one argument I could get behind, she fails to mention.

My frustration with this argument is that the same can be said for 20-something women. Are shows like The Bachelor, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and the various Real Housewives somehow more virtuous? Aren’t some women guilty of coming across as mean, shopping-obsessed, man-hating girly-girls who are so focused on their own wants and needs that their narcissism renders them incapable of recognizing others’ feelings? Is Cosmopolitan magazine any less trashy? Are actresses and entertainers like Paris Hilton, Katy Perry, Brittney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera and Kim Kardashian exhibiting behaviors of a “good woman”? What about the obsession many women have for the Twilight series? Sex toy parties and pole dancing exercise classes? Lifetime? For every movie like Hangover, there’s Sex and the City 2.

To convict men for enjoying mindless entertainment is preposterous. It is dishonest to condemn guilty pleasures targeted to men while ignoring those of women. Finally, to believe that men and women go on to emulate these gender extremes is a cynical, out-of-touch, and unrealistic view unbecoming of a leading scholar.

Some of This is Great News for Women

One of the major goals of feminism was to provide women equal opportunity in the working world. While there is plenty of work to do (CEOs are overwhelmingly male, women earn roughly 77% of men), some of the trends Hymowitz uses to argue the demise of men are actually great news for women’s equality. For instance:

“In a number of cities, [20-something women] are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.”

Wait, you mean that some women are holding the financial position that men have held for damn near forever? How is this happening? Women are getting their MBAs, going to law school and becoming doctors (not to mention that the teaching profession, which is still dominated by women, is forcing many to get their Master’s degrees). Why are women showing more confidence in the classroom? They’re no longer being taught that they’re educational second-class citizens.

It is beyond my comprehension that two generations of hard work that leveled the playing field for women is beginning to bear fruit and the resulting reaction is one of derision rather than celebration. The world is not a zero-sum game. It is genuinely a better place when you combine the skills and strengths of men and women, which might be why Gen Y prefers teamwork. Perhaps I’m missing the canary in the coal mine, but I’m not all that concerned that women might finally have a shot at earning the top spots in organizations devoid of women just a generation ago.

The Family is Changing

One of the reasons that women have entered the workforce en masse is that raising a family is expensive and almost requires two incomes. With greater pressure on children to be successful and well-rounded, parents must pay for piano lessons, soccer leagues, after-school tutoring and educational summer camps. This stuff isn’t cheap (ever try buying hockey equipment?). Besides, it’s thought nearly child abuse not to take your children on vacation every year.

Seeing this pressure, many Gen Y men (and women) are trying to build their careers in order to contribute their fair share to a two-income household. In addition, 20-something men are recognizing and accepting that their wives might out-earn them. The concept of a 50-50 relationship is becoming more prevalent and gender roles are changing. There are more stay-at-home dads and other non-traditional family structures. These shifts are a function of new economic circumstances and much larger social trends.

Family is also beginning to reach beyond heterosexual couples as gays and lesbians are finding new opportunities to legally establish their relationships in a handful of states and Washington D.C. The federal government under the Obama administration has directed the Department of Justice to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act (the law defining marriage as one man and one woman). Regardless of the lawsuits currently working their way through the courts, most notably the Bush v. Gore lawyers who have teamed up to assure the recognition same-sex marriages at the federal levelgenerational attitudes toward gays and lesbians show a march to equality inevitability. In the midst of this social change, these committed couples are adopting and raising children, which will likely grow as the legal impediments to gay marriage are broken down.

Yes, there are too many single parents (34% of children are in single-parent households). Too many children suffer through their parents’ divorce. Non-traditional families are even more prevalent. We don’t know how these situations will impact our future society, but I feel confident saying that whatever happens, good or bad, it won’t be the result of the Xbox 360, beer pong or fantasy football.

Where She Deserves Some Credit

This quote might be as clear as anything she says, if only she omitted “undomesticated”:

“Today’s pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn’t say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can’t act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.”

She’s absolutely right! The country is in a challenging economic environment. Gen Yers are just hoping to find jobs in an era where Baby Boomers are staying in jobs longer, which has slowed the workforce turnover by a decade-plus. Men aren’t sure whether opening a door for a woman will get him a “thank you” or “I’m capable of doing it myself thank-you-very-much”. Who pays for the first date? How do men know when to accept an offer to split the check or turn it down? How do men balance “being a good man” and being thought of as a misogynist for what was once considered chivalry? And those advisers and confidants — they’re a peer support group of guys and women. Sometimes, our age-mates are not the perspective we need. In those cases, we ask our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, uncles, bosses, older friends and mentors  — not exactly a sign of oblivious immaturity.

She addresses another issue that’s tough for men to navigate — the lack of milestones of adulthood:

“But pre-adults differ in one major respect from adolescents. They write their own biographies, and they do it from scratch. … I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.”

This is a difficulty for us — it is hard to write our own script and we’re challenged by what to write. Conventional wisdom that the world is a zero-sum game and the rise of women necessarily means the fall of men, we’re being given mixed messages and becoming more defensive of “our turf” (watch a family comedy, like Everybody Loves Raymond, and you’ll see the in-control wife having to suffer a witless husband). Add the pressures we face to be quickly successful in an economy that isn’t lending itself to success and it becomes overwhelming. We’re trying to be all the things we’ve been taught that the modern man can be — as Hymowitz says, “sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky”.

Men are confused. Men are being told their interests are stupid (see this commercial from McDonald’s). Men are told they’re supposed to be sensitive. But, don’t be overly-sensitive because they need to be strong. But don’t be overly strong because women need to be in charge, too. But don’t let women be too in charge or you’ll be an unattractive pushover. But be ready to give in and compromise because a relationship should be 50-50. And for the love of God, dress stylishly, but not too stylishly because you’ll be thought of as gay. Men are told to accept women for their interests no matter how banal (I MUST watch Teen Mom tonight), yet are castigated for watching football on Sundays. When we point these things out, many of our female companions respond, “I don’t know why you’d want to date us!”

Maybe There’s a Different Conclusion to be Made

Here’s the thing … the kids are alright. Really. We are. We got this.

Social shifts have never been clean. Whether it’s directing fire hoses at civil rights activists in the 60s, figuring out how smoking pot and listening to Stairway to Heaven brings the end to war and racial injustice in the 70s, coming to terms with AIDS and economic downfall in the 80s, attempting to make sense of why we all exist in the 90s, or sorting through the emotional turmoil of war and terror in the aughts, generations of young American men and women have proven themselves to be capable of demonstrating the kind ingenuity, discretion, and know-how required to lead this in this world as adults. Facebook, Twitter, Skype and other internet tools are turning freedom movements in the Middle East that are 30 years in the making into successes as a result of the leadership of young people using technology developed by 20-something counterparts.

I cannot and will not apologize for the loser men with whom the comedian Julie Klausner has slept (she’s quoted early in the Hymowitz article). Everyone knows a parent’s-basement-dwelling unemployment-collecting slacker 20-something who has permanently created an indentation of his considerable butt in a 70s-era couch as a result of hours-long video game binges. Every guy I know has a friend who treats women as sex objects, looking to rack up points like the video games Hymowitz likes to cite. There’s the Star-Wars-friend and the guy-who-drinks-too-much friend and the sports-obsessed-did-you-see-that-play-on-SportsCenter friend. We choose these friends because, in most cases, they represent a part of ourselves through whom we live vicariously. We’re as likely to pound beers as in the movie Beer Fest as women are likely to have sex with anything that moves a la Samantha in Sex and the City. It’s stupid, mindless entertainment that allows us to imagine a life that, for just a moment, appeals to our lesser reptilian selves. Despite Hymowitz’ belief that “most [emphasis mine] men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort … semi-hormonal adolescence”, it is simply untrue. Most men in their 20s are simply navigating the world like everyone else, including our female counterparts.

Realizing that there are generational gaps in thinking, I’d like to propose some questions. For those who complain about how “these kids got trophies for everything”, I’d like to ask, who bought the trophies? [Hint: Boomer parents] Who doesn’t want a higher salary, especially when the minimum requirement for a job includes a graduate degree and well-rounded background by the age of 24? Does anyone turn down more vacation time? How many people who married in their early 20s wish that they had thought about it a little more as they sign their divorce papers in their 40s? Would most couples want to financially struggle in the beginning of their marriage as they’re trying to have and raise children? Who would bypass traveling and other once-in-a-lifetime experiences at a time in their lives when there are few consequences? As life expectancy extends into the 80s and beyond, is it horrible that 20-somethings take more time to figure out what makes sense to them? Who wouldn’t want to work to find the ideal job and life? Could previous generations be irritated/jealous that Gen Y has the guts to pursue these goals? As I’ve heard several HR consultants say, “Generation Y asks for what we all secretly want.”

A Modest Proposal

Here’s the disclaimer … I love beer. I can sink a ping pong ball in a cup like champ (there’s nothing like the pressure of double redemption). I own a Wii and have rocked out on Guitar Hero. I have a subscription to Esquire. I own Superbad, The Hangover, Billy Madison and thoroughly enjoyed Hot Tub Time Machine. I’m dating a medical student who will likely out-earn me sometime in the future. Some of my friends are gay, white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, Pakistani, poor, rich, slackers, over-achievers, aged 14 to 88, married with children, and/or perpetually single. I took advantage of opportunities in my 20s: I failed at a couple of jobs, traveled to Eurpoe, missed my rent because my graphic design freelance work wasn’t paying the bills, and survived on wings and beer for the better part of my 25th year. Shockingly, I survived. I’m gainfully employed making a decent salary in a good job, pursuing my MBA, own a few successful companies (including one focused on beer), have a great family life, and am not terrified by the thought of marriage. Ms. Hymowitz, I’m both your pathetic typecast and the person who is the exception to your rule.

Since you’re comfortable with dispensing unsolicited advice, I’d like to offer you some myself. Get out of Manhattan and come to Pittsburgh. Have a few beers at a bar with my friends. Take in a game of hockey with us (seriously, you have to appreciate the talent of Sidney Crosby). Ask us questions. Talk to us about our love lives. Ask us about our hobbies (from golf to home brewing to skydiving). Maybe you’ll realize that we’re stressed out and have our own ways of blowing off steam. Maybe you’ll realize that we adore our girlfriends who are feeling equal pressure to succeed in their own complicated lives. Maybe you’ll realize that our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are our best friends and teachers. Maybe you’ll appreciate that even the most slacker of us are volunteers and go to church on Sunday. Maybe you’ll enjoy hanging out with us and want to do it again or, in male parlance, come to the dark side of the force.

Grab Yourself a Rebound at BreakupNotifier.com

Blue Shirt Guy = Creep

Blue Shirt Guy = Creep

Step one: Go to www.breakupnotifier.com

Step two: Log in with Facebook

Step three: Choose the friends-who-aren’t-really-friends-but-more-like-people-you-want-to-date-at-some-point-in-the-future-if-they-would-just-dump-their-loser-significant-other

Step four: Get an email when those friends’ relationship status changes

Step five: Listen to the video below, which accurately characterizes the person you’ve shown yourself to be…

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzjUjNPYzLg

The SI Swimsuit Issue and the Art of the Receipt Coupon

A buck off T&A

A buck off T&A

Today, after stocking up on Diet Dr Pepper at CVS, I was given a coupon for $1 off the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The SISI has become a phenomenon in and of itself — despite SI’s conservative journalistic approach to sports reporting, the magazine hits its readers once a year with some borderline softcore porn, complete with body paint in lieu of an actual swimsuit.  Every year, some intriguing, gorgeous woman graces its pages (while appearing in 2010, 2011’s intriguing woman is Brooklyn Decker), resulting in a testosterone cattle call.

No, I’m not mentioning this simply because I was looking for links to the online SI swimsuit feature, though I’ll admit that it was an added bonus. I mention it because it was one of the first receipt coupons I’ve ever gotten that comes even remotely close to something that is targeted to me. No, I won’t buy the swimsuit issue, nor can I remember the last time I bought a magazine anywhere but by subscription (FYI, according to the research firm Management Science Associates, people who buy magazines in-store are 50% more profitable customers than average). But, unlike almost every other opportunity to reach out to me as I’m heading out the door, this is one of the few receipts that even minimally has fit my demographic, i.e. male.

I really question the usefulness of post-sale receipts (I was unsuccessful in tracking down the data). I see three main problems:

  • I am an unmarried, 30-year-old male shopper, hardly the target for coupon-based marketing. Why even bother? I can count on one hand the number of coupons I’ve exchanged from a coupon printer at the point-of-sale. The last one I can remember, probably nine months ago, was for hot pockets — I had gotten a coupon as I was scanning them and saved a dollar unexpectedly (i.e. the store lost $1 on that sale simply because of the timing of the coupon). Plus, I usually throw away the receipt and coupon upon exiting the store. In the rare instances I think, “wow, I could use this someday”, I completely forget about it and later find it in my car with an expiration that predates the Obama administration.
  • Apparently, I’m not a demographic fit for most deals. I have gotten coupons for yogurt (I rarely buy yogurt), Ensure (while I buy protein bars, they’re not of the old-people-need-nutrition kind), Centrum Silver and Always Ultra Thin Maxi Pads. Yes folks, given the vast wealth of data they’ve got on me at this point, the promotional system they’ve implemented decided that I need to try a newly-launched feminine hygiene product.
  • On any given day, go to a grocery store with a point-of-sale coupon printer and self-service checkout lines. You’ll see strings of coupons that people never took. Doesn’t that teach the customer that the coupons are worthless?
  • I’ve noticed that many retail receipts now include a coupon. Why would you wait until the consumer has checked out before giving them a discount that might entice them to buy? Are you really expecting them to save a Target coupon that will save them 50 cents on their next 24-pack of toilet paper? If you’re really dedicated to giving someone a coupon as they leave, it better be a damn good deal.

Do these coupons make sense? Are the coupon programs worth the investment companies have made? Is there some sort of other motivation (i.e. the retailer can sell coupon placements to companies, which offsets the cost of the systems)? I’d love to see some data on this trend that extends beyond my own experience. Perhaps there are demographics or categories that make more sense than others. But please, folks, save the trees. I’m not expecting to buy baby food for a while.

Can You Be a Great Start-Up Advisor if You Can’t Handle Risk?

Who needs risk <br /> capital anyway?

Who needs risk capital anyway?

The Pittsburgh Business Times ran an interview this past Friday featuring Kit Needham (subscription required), a former colleague at the Allegheny Conference who is now: running her own consulting firm; working as a senior advisor at CMU’s Project Olympus (described as “bridging the gap between cutting-edge university research/innovation and economy-promoting commercialization for the benefit of our communities”); and serving as educational coordinator for Blue Tree Allied Angels, a network of local angel investors. There is no doubt that she has dedicated countless hours to the entrepreneurial community over the years.

In the article, she discusses her own investment strategy, which seems to be directly at odds with her advocacy for early-stage businesses. To quote Ms. Needham:

“It’s so hard to pick the winners and what I’ve learned is, I can’t pick winners,” said Needham, who also runs her own firm, Needham Consulting, and has worked for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and what is now BNY Mellon.

“I learned I just didn’t have the time or, really, the commitment to spend the time to do a good job of this,” she said. “I am not keen on relatively illiquid investments.” (Emphasis mine.)

The article goes on to explain how she came to her investment strategy, which she described as a “proven sets of rules to build and preserve client’s wealth.” She broadly outlines her methods and the success she’s had (roughly 4% five-year return vs. S&P’s 0.99%).

For the record, I don’t fault anyone for a low-risk investment strategy that relies on mutual funds and stocks. Everyone has a different risk tolerance, which should be taken into account when pulling together a wealth-building strategy. Diversification is great. We should all aspire to structure our investments in a way that minimizes losses.

BUT, isn’t it concerning that someone so deeply entrenched in the entrepreneurial community can’t find space in her portfolio to directly invest in a local start-up? Sure, I could see where she might be reluctant to invest because of a potential conflict of interest, e.g. there’s an opportunity for personal profit if she provides advice relating to a company in which she’s invested. However, it seems counter-intuitive that someone who’s so directly involved in commercializing technology and guiding the funding of risky ventures admits that she can’t pick winners and isn’t keen on illiquid investments.

The oft-heard complaint in Pittsburgh is that we don’t have enough risk capital. I’ve heard great arguments from the various sides — some believe that VCs and angel investors are too risk-averse and let good companies flounder, others think there aren’t enough good deals worth funding, still others think that there’s plenty of risk capital in the region. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, can entrepreneurs get a fair hearing when someone who can’t handle the risk of a start-up is advising critical early-stage-oriented organizations? Finally, why would she publicly admit that she’s uninterested in risky ventures given her role?

I perceive that getting funded in Pittsburgh can be a challenge. While I’ve had the chance to help successfully pitch to an angel investor, our funding came from a close contact of one of the company’s founders who isn’t involved in the local angel community. As a result, we were fortunate to bypass the standard pitch-your-ass-off process that most start-up companies have to endure. Perhaps I’m over-reacting to a one-off PBT article, but if the folks influencing investment into our regional start-up companies can’t bring themselves to invest in these companies, then I can’t see how the money tree is going to be shake loose new money any time soon.

Marketing to Women #16 – Women Like Expensive Things?

She paid $40 for that $5 bottle of wine. Sucker.

She paid $40 for that $5 bottle of wine. Sucker.

I love psychological priming studies. For those who aren’t familiar, priming is the act of exposing someone to a stimulus (say, a picture of a smiling face or crying baby) and then seeing how someone reacts to another stimulus (say, how they feel about a certain product).

My favorite example of this phenomenon was mentioned in Martin Lindstrom’s book Buyology, where he showed that playing French music in a liquor store increased sales of French wine by about 60% (usually without the person realizing the music was playing). To pile on, the store changed the music to German and had a similar sales increase of German wines, while the French wines began selling at their previous rates. Background music significantly changed buying behavior with only a handful of customers realizing it.

I mention priming because I came across a study conducted by the American Association of Wine Economists (thanks to Eric Barker for posting at Barking Up The Wrong Tree — I highly recommend his blog) that showed that disclosing the high price of a wine before tasting the wine produces considerably higher ratings, although only from women. Perhaps counter-intuitively, disclosing a lower price does not result in lower ratings.

Here’s what I think is important:

  • Drinking the wine, according to the researchers, was an ambiguous experience, meaning that measuring quality is inherently difficult or impossible, even for experienced tasters
  • There’s an interesting gender-based differential showing that women have a significant high price-high quality bias compared to men for ambiguous status-related products
  • A lower price doesn’t necessarily have an effect on the perception of quality of ambiguous status-related products for either gender

Now, the perception that higher price correlates to higher quality, regardless of gender, has been reinforced multiple times in research. However, this study cites experimental evidence that men and women have different attribute biases (feel free to read Gender Differences in Preferences by Croson and Gneezy, 2009 — I haven’t gotten there yet). So, what does this really mean with respect to the judgments women make? I don’t know for sure, but here are a couple of theories:

  • Leaning on stereotypes, women like expensive things and get greater enjoyment out of things that cost a lot of money regardless of the quality of those things. This would be referred to as “princess syndrome” among bitter single men or men in committed relationships writing marketing blogs who tend to carry the “man flag” in the gender wars (ahem).
  • Women might be uncomfortable (consciously or unconsciously) with their ability to judge something that they feel is beyond their area of expertise. Having pricing information before tasting it might be the way women substitute others’ judgment for their own. Remember, the study didn’t ask “what wine do you like more?”, but rather, “how would you rate this wine?” The lower-priced wine, therefore, was assessed more in line with their experience because they weren’t intimidated by a $5 bottle (subjects in the study spent, on average, $13 for a bottle of wine, with 40% of them spending $10 or less).

Do you see where those reasons for rating wine a certain way could drastically change the way you pursue a pricing and marketing strategy? If you’re in the “princess syndrome” camp, you’ll position your brand of wine to reflect high status, selling the bottle for considerably more than average in the hopes that you’ll capture a high-margin market. If you’re in the “judgment substitution” camp, you might sell your wine at an average price and position it to reflect quality and comfort, reinforcing that she simply can’t make a bad decision by buying your wine. Since the study didn’t address what wine women actually buy, a marketing manager could be pursuing the wrong strategy based upon their interpretation of the results of the study.

Regardless of what you perceive to be the reason for the study results, it’s undeniable that people can be led to perceive the world a certain way by exposing them to information/stimuli before making a decision. Marketers need to realize that they have to reach customers in much more specific, targeted ways in order to influence behavior. This often means getting a better understanding of why humans make decisions and admitting that most of the decisions we make are based upon subconscious influences. In the end, consumers are far more likely to make emotional decisions and marketers need to get better at figuring out how to appeal to the very real and complicated feelings our customers bring to the buying experience.

It’s the weekend … go out and have a drink. Just remember to drink the average wine — you probably can’t tell the difference and will save a couple of bucks in the process.

(Hat tip to my girlfriend, Mallory, for some great additional perspective.)

Marketing to Women #15: Heart-Shaped Box of Chocolates

Red Octogon: Optional. Red Heart: Not Optional

Red Octogon: Optional. Red Heart: Not Optional

It’s Valentine’s Day, a special occasion deemed both by my father and a local arts and entertainment weekly to be a “made-up holiday” (that nearly any holiday can be accused of being “made up” is another argument entirely). Regardless of how fictional the premise (the Catholic Church nixed Saint Valentine from it’s calendar of celebration in 1969 since there is no historical connection to any of the saints named Valentine), King Henry VIII declared the day a holiday in 1537 (yes, THAT King Henry VIII).

Valentine’s Day is a big deal: 190 million cards (1,330 different designs by Hallmark alone!) and 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be exchanged. Not surprisingly, the data skews female — most cards will be given to teachers (a majority of whom are female, especially in the lower grades, where a majority of the exchanging takes place), mothers and female significant others.

Interestingly, the commercialism of Valentine’s Day is at the foundation of its modern celebration. By the mid 19th century, printed valentines, with lace and bows, were widely available for purchase and mailing. Usually, it was the man who bought valentines for a woman who had caught his eye. In other words — very similar to what happens in 2011.

One of the more recent conversations about marketing and consumer insight centers around the idea that the purchaser is not the end user. In nearly anything written on the subject, the story is told of women who know the needs of another person (child, spouse, friend, etc.) and purchase a product for that person to use. On Valentine’s Day, not only are men the ones leading the purchasing, but men are also uncomfortable with that role (not a shock since a majority of women would break up with her boyfriend if he did nothing to acknowledge the day). Men on average will spend $130 on chocolate, flowers, jewelry and dates, which is roughly double what women expect to spend. That’s a lot of money up for grabs, and since Valentine’s Day is a test of the relationship, it’s a highly-profitable opportunity to help a guy avoid a social faux pas.

I challenge marketers to come up with a better way to help men through this minefield. Men are dying for some assistance — finding the right card, the right box of chocolate, the right restaurant — and there is precious little out there by way of help. Sure, you can order flowers online or swing by Kay’s Jewelers (Every Kiss Begins With Kay!), but their self-interest is untrustworthy. All men want is to not screw up … why isn’t there anyone to help?

This might be worth exploring further. Until then, I must run — like millions of other men around the world, I need to pick my girlfriend up for a nice dinner. Even marketers can be sold.

Marketing to Women #14 – And He Was Wrapped In Swaddling Disney Merchandise

My future Prince and Princess<br /> of Potential Profit?

My future Prince and Princess of Potential Profit?

Sometimes, in those random and unintentional moments of daydream, I think about what it will be like to have my first child (no, Mum, this is not my way of telling you that I’m soon to be a father). I think about the excitement, fear, concern, support, love, tension, frustration and holy-crap-I’m-now-legally-responsible-for-the-survival-of-another-human-being that my friends and family members have told me about when recounting their own experiences. It’s usually a positive momentary thought until I’m distracted by more important things, like remembering the time of the next Penguins game.

My daydream took a tumble today after reading an article in the New York Times titled Disney Looking Into Cradle for Customers. It explains that Disney is pushing its newest product priority, Disney Baby, in 580 maternity hospitals in the United States. According to the article, “A representative visits a new mother and offers a free Disney Cuddly Bodysuit, a variation of the classic Onesie.” The catch? The representative asks for the mother’s email address so that DisneyBaby.com can send her targeted marketing messages. The purpose of this campaign, as outlined in the article, is to build brand awareness and loyalty, and to get the mother (what, no daydreaming fathers in the mix?) to think about her first Disney park experience with her children at the earliest point possible. You ask yourself, “How do they get access to the mothers?” A consulting firm paid by Disney pays the hospitals for access.

Let me be clear: I think that it is the height of callousness that a sales representative from a corporation, no matter how family-friendly, attempts to collect marketing information from a woman who has just given birth. As someone who has recently experienced a moment of emotional vulnerability that could have been exploited for financial gain (my father passed away a month ago and I had to work closely with the funeral home to make arrangements), I realized just how refreshing it is to not have someone else’s profit motive take priority over my own emotional state. Does Disney really believe that a full-court press by a bilingual salesperson in a maternity ward is the best way to get a new mother to emotionally connect to their brand?

I fundamentally believe in the positive power of marketing. At its best, marketers find people who can use a product or service that will make that customer’s life easier/better/more fun and give that person a compelling reason to buy. However, I also believe that customers should be treated with dignity and respect. I believe Disney is failing that test.

Along the marketing-to-women conversation, I can’t help but notice that the quotes from company representatives were made by two men. I’d love to know — were women consulted on this strategy? Yes, an OB-GYN and a mother were quoted in the article in support of Disney’s strategy, but would most women follow? Do women feel comfortable being exploited like this, not only by a company but also the hospital in which they’re giving birth?

Note: My name is terribly difficult and, beyond the novelty of having ABC as initials, there is no reason for me to pass this name on to a future generation. For $2,500, I’ll gladly sell first naming rights to my child and $1,000 for middle naming rights. I can’t wait to daydream about the future Mickey McDonalds Ciuksza being born.

Marketing to Women #13 – I’m Back and Commentary on Research

Journalist

You're becoming a characature of yourselves, journalists

Hello All! I’m finally back after an extended absence, one that was originally planned to simply be the time off between semesters but was lengthened when my post-Summer semester lethargy turned into full-blown illness (I was diagnosed with mononucleosis). While I’m not 100% back to my old self — the fatigue seems to ebb and flow — I’m at least  at a point where I can kick start my research once again.

In my time off, I read a steady stream of articles that have focused on women — women in the workplace, women in society, women and the economy. I guess it’s the en vogue conversation at a time when women are now 51% of the workforce and society continues to shift. I don’t want to minimize the attention — I think it’s incredibly important for there to be dialog on this issue — however, I’m frustrated at some of the way some journalists and authors play fast-and-loose with research.

In the spirit of this frustration, I was delighted to come upon this post by Martin Robbins on The Lay Scientist blog entitled This is a news website article about a scientific paper. It pokes fun at the ridiculous way that journalists cover research discoveries. The beginning…

In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding?

I feel strongly that research is often horribly misused (I’ve discussed this before). While some of the misuse is the result of bad research, the people who report the research (good and bad) make it worse. Often, they: a) don’t really understand how research works or how conclusions are drawn; and b) attempt to show balance with point/counterpoint when, in most cases, one side is far more correct than the other, creating a false sense opinion parity where it should not be. The result is that perfectly intelligent people come to incorrect conclusions about the world around them based upon poor analysis. Who really has time to check the methodology of every study we read?

I found a great summary of the warning signs of bad research research reporting here.

So, what to do when you read a startling fact that seems a bit too groundbreaking to be true? Do a little digging, especially if you think that it might influence the way you make decisions. If you believe that women speak 20,000 words a day and men only 7,000, you might make a different marketing decision than if you believe that men and women speak roughly the same number of words (the latter has been supported by multiple studies and, in my opinion, is a far more consistent conclusion than the former).

Finally, I’m doing my best to rigorously test the common numbers used when discussing marketing to women (the 85% number, for instance). As I find more information, I’ll be sure to report it, just not in a wishy-washy way.

Post-Gazette Round #2 of The Kids Aren’t Alright

First, I really have to thank Maria Sciullo for responding — I’m not sure that many reporters would. Here is her response:

Albert, I see your point and am sorry if you believe I have painted your generation (again?) with a broad brush. I did not set out to bash your generation, in fact, the story idea came from two of my colleagues, both under 27 years old.

I appreciate your opinion. Incidentally, the Beatles were before my time.

Maria

While I did appreciate the response, shockingly, I wrote a long clarifying email.

Hello Maria:

I appreciate your response and sorry for my own delayed one.

Perhaps it is unintentional, but I don’t think it’s difficult to see where I (and many other more silent individuals my age) might take offense. I will concede that we are a little hypersensitive — there are a whole lot of books, web sites, consultants and “experts” who seem to feel the need to proclaim something profound about our generation, much of it negative. This sensitivity is especially true for our generation of men, who seem to be written off as parents’-basement-dwelling slackers who, as you quote, seem to be suffering from a “failure to launch”. Is it really that extreme to think that a title like For some 20-somethings, growing up is hard to do might arouse some suspicion that it’s not an article that reflects well on Gen Y?

As for the Modern weddings a social conundrum article, I concur that social media platforms do complicate the wedding scenario, an event that is already a minefield. It just seems so foreign to me that anyone would be offended by a lack of wedding invitation from anyone other than the closest of friends. Facebook is not a great indicator of friendship regardless of the connection terminology (and, for the record, Twitter is about “followers”, not “friends”), as demonstrated by my nearly 640 friends. While I do have a more-than-just-hello-in-the-hall relationship with each person in that group, few would expect to attend my own theoretical nuptials. I’m not discrediting the premise, I just think that you could easily focus on technology and its challenges versus an age group.

Finally, it is good to know that the idea came from a couple of individuals who are within the age range of the group about which you’re writing. However, I don’t think that’s justification for two articles that aren’t particularly accurate (for instance, I would equate that defense with me feeling free to use the word “faggot” anytime I want because I have gay friends).

There are plenty of examples of people who are around my age and are doing extraordinary things. I would have no problem saying that individuals of my generation are incredibly talented and have already accomplished a great deal in our short lives (we wouldn’t have Facebook to complain about if a college kid in a dorm room hadn’t invented it). Here in Pittsburgh, we have so many examples of 20-somethings who have tried to change their own little piece of the world (the P-G’s own Annie Tubbs does a great job of this in her Right Here series). I suggest taking a look at Brazen Careerist to find a group of like-minded Gen Yers who are doing what they can to make an impact. My generation has plenty of warts, but we’re a whole lot better off than we’re credited.

Thank you again for your time.

Regards,
Albert

My only regret in my response is a missing P.S. — I don’t believe that the Beatles are before anybody’s time.

Post-Gazette Says the Kids Aren’t Alright … Again

The Post-Gazette ticked me off. Again. I just can’t take it anymore. So here’s the letter I wrote to the editors:

Dear Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editors:

I’m writing because I’m a 20-something and just can’t take it anymore. The “young people need to grow up” articles just have to stop.

On April 14th, 2010, Maria Sciullo wrote an out-of-touch, connect-the-dots-that-aren’t-there article entitled For Gen X men, seems growing up is hard to do, re-titled on the web as For some 20-somethings, growing up is hard to do, an adjustment that was likely made because she seems to have confused Gen X for Gen Y. In addition to being factually incorrect, Ms. Sciullo makes a leap of Grand Canyon proportions — from Ben Roethlisberger’s abhorrent behavior as a $102 million Super Bowl-winning quarterback to the behavior of the average 20-something male who’s making his way in society. Somehow, she brings the boomers into the fray as well, suggesting that the 50-to-65-year-olds who feel a decade younger than their age is a celebration of immaturity. Add a heaping helping of Tiger Woods, Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Sandler, along with quotes from authors and experts, and you have the perfect example of a “the kids aren’t alright” hit piece, even if it veered off course for a moment to mention the generation who sang the Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-Four at the top of their pot-smoke-filled lungs.

I wrote a lengthy letter to the editor then, but never quite nailed the tone, so it sat in my “Drafts” folder for a few months. I forgot about it. Until today.

Maria Sciullo is back today with an article entitled Modern weddings a social conundrum. She mentions that there are many people who are upset about being left off the 400-person guest list for the Chelsea Clinton, which is undoubtedly true and has been covered extensively by the New York Times, Washington Post, and other publications that often cover well-connected, politically-oriented, elitist whiners. However, Ms. Sciullo once again makes a leap even Evel Knievel wouldn’t attempt, going from the multi-million-dollar wedding of the former first daughter to the average couple who happens to share details about their nuptials on Facebook/online. She uses the word “friends” in quotes when referencing the connections made on Facebook and Twitter, and goes on to talk about how rude it is to make all of these people feel left off a wedding guest list. There is another round of quotes from authors and experts that reinforce her view that, again, us kids aren’t alright. At least she spared the baby boomers this time.

It seems that Ms. Sciullo’s opinion of Generation Y is as follows: we’re a bunch of immature social media addicts who just don’t understand basic common courtesy, offending our Facebook/Twitter connections left and right with our need to tell the world about every minute detail about your lives. The repeated publication of articles like this (I once had an email argument with Bill Toland regarding an article he wrote in his The Diaspora Report series that had a similar tone) suggests that this isn’t simply the opinion of one reporter, but something a bit more pervasive throughout the culture of the newspaper. To put it kindly, this again shows that the Post-Gazette is hopelessly out of touch.

I’m more than willing to help you understand the culture of being a 20-something in our modern world (my contact information is below). However, if you prefer an example from another columnist, I suggest reading The Kids Are Alright by the New York Times’ Gail Collins, who covers the exact same topic as Ms. Sciullo’s article, but comes to a much different conclusion.

Thank you for your time and I hope you take this to heart. I will be publishing this letter on my blog (http://ciuksza.com) and will be sharing it with my “friends” on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I will be interested to hear their reactions.

Best regards,
Albert Ciuksza Jr.

P.S. My reference to the Beatles and Evel Knievel was intentional — unlike your disinterest in better understanding my generation, I have a love for the cultures of my older cousins, parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents. I wanted to make sure I made connections we could both understand.

« Older posts Newer posts »