~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke


Doesn't taste the same, it is the same: Syrup and Blink ~ Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A while ago, Tom read a book called Syrup by Max Berry (Barry?). It's about a bunch of marketing people at Coke. After he told me a bit about it, I decided to read it as well. Kind of a Gen X but even catchier, more sound-byte oriented and, IMO shallower. I haven't yet decided whether I felt the book was shallow or simply the characters (including the first person narrator). Certainly, the book is satirical, but my internal jury's out on whether it's fluffy and superficial satire or whether there's some remote chance that there might be some depth hidden in there. I'm tempted to conclude that there isn't.

Still, it's an amusing and clever read (though many of the bigger resolutions are of the "we have an insurmountable challenge so we'll just do [list of impossible to accomplish tasks, presented as if they're the easy part of the scheme--a mere twitch of the nose] and then everything's good" variety). It's about the advertising industry.

A few examples of clever dialogue:

Guy invites his style-conscious dream girl out for dinner at a dive-y joint in the uncool part of town:
Her: Isn't that a country and western bar?
Him: Yeah, but it's secretly ironic.

When discussing a new product put out by Coke, called Coke White (IIRC. Btw, this was before Coke released their product Bl:ak):

Her: It's the same product, but in a white can--for our upscale market, so it costs twice as much.
Him: So it tastes exactly the same?
Her: No, I didn't say tastes the same. I said it is the same.

Which gave me a chuckle. Still, I didn't devote a lot of time to this idea, writing it off as a flippant half-truism. But then today, while reading Blink, I was reminded of this point because Gladwell talks about studies that have been conducted that seem to show that this is precisely the case. The packaging of a product actually affects how we perceive it tastes. So, when they changed the shade of green (adding more yellow to the dye) on some "test market" SevenUp cans, people who were given it to taste in its can actually said stuff like "No, this is more lemony--I like the old SevenUp better, so don't start messing with that like you did with the New Coke."

It was exactly the same recipe in the can, yet for some reason, it seems that packaging imagery and style gets conflated with the product within. Doesn't taste the same indeed.

My two-sentence summary of Blink: Your eyeblink impressions of people and situations often have a lot of validity--except when they don't. So, trust your instincts, except in those circumstances where they're leading you up the garden path.

A lot of interesting little notes and experiments, but not quite what Gladwell promised in the intro--which was something a little more useful, like how to make those instincts work for you.


I notice that this is the latest trend (part of the catchy packaging of non-fiction)--the "teaser" introduction, following this approximate structure:

1) outrageous, mysterious or puzzling anecdote or trend

a)"how is this possible?"

b) quick hint of why, with promise of deeper and more profound enlightenment later

2) second, diverse but similarly astonishing anecdote or trend

a)"how is THIS possible?"

b) a further hint about central idea.

3) a couple more hooks and tantalizing ideas to keep you reading.

I suppose this works well enough, but I have to admit, I found Bevin Alexander's old-fashioned "here is my central thesis and approach" introduction, followed by his book's worth of specific examples quite refreshing by comparision. My feeling was "THANK YOU for getting to the point, rather than trying to keep me dangling with these irritating and catchy little tidbits." But presumably that's just me, because books like Blink and Freakonomics have spawned countless memes and are chart-topping bestsellers, while few people have heard of How Great Generals Win.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 2:55 PM::::


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