As I sat on the neutral ground one year during Mardi Gras helping my kids yell for and catch beads, toys, etc., I had an epiphany. Here we were, in the middle of what can only be characterized as organized chaos, and amidst the yelling, screaming music, an interesting thing happened -- we made a connection.
As my 3-year-old (at the time), Hayes, sat slumped in his ladder, fast asleep (poor thing was sick), I was doing my best to keep him from being hit by a flying bead while also catching him a few trinkets so when he awoke he wouldn't feel left out of the fun. And then a float stopped in front of us and on the top deck some 20 feet away a young woman (I think -- not sure as riders are masked) made eye contact, gave a quick little frown and then reached down and launched a huge stuffed animal, but only after assuring she had my attention and that I realized she was throwing to Hayes. I caught it and waved a thank you to her and then she was off. Mission accomplished. I was a good dad.
Now if you've never ridden on a Mardi Gras float, you can't fully understand how unique this situation is. As a rider you can't hear anything but a constant swell of screaming and yelling. Hundreds, thousands of people screaming for your attention in hopes you'll "throw them something mister." Add to this the fact that you're on a moving platform, it's dark and maybe you've had a cocktail or two, and it is hard enough to pick people out of the crowd that you are looking for much less make a random connection. But it happens.
In fact, this same thing happened a dozen or more times as the parade continued to roll on. I didn't know these people, they didn't know me but they felt something. A connection. For a fleeting moment, a personal connection was made and the nameless rider put down the 25-cent plastic beads and tossed an item that costs them (Mardi Gras float riders pay for the stuff they throw out of their own pockets) not an insignificant amount of money.
And that has gotten me thinking. About this idea -- connection -- the simple human need to connect to others. Powerful. Powerful because it causes people to do things, feel things and act on those feelings. Powerful because connection lives beyond the transaction and creates feelings and memories that last. Powerful because in a world of hyperconnectivity, consumers have never been less connected to brands.
At first I thought it might just be me, but then one night I read a report of Anderson Coopers' coverage of Mardi Gras that year -- he rode in Endymion, a Super Krewe, the big parades that you see on TV. He remarked: "Rolling on the float late at night, I realized Mardi Gras is not about the beads or about Bourbon Street. It's about making a connection, one person to another." And it hit me. Anderson was right. He had captured the essence of Mardi Gras but more important he had captured this powerful human insight, one that I'm sure can be used to create more powerful and effective work. People really do want to connect. But as advertisers, we need to give them something worthy of connecting to.
So the next time you sit down to write a brief or review concepts, ask yourself if what you're doing is advertising or trying to connect. If it is the former, try again. Who knows, you might just get rewarded with a nice prize for your efforts.
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Tom Martin is president of Zehnder Communications, with offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He can be reached at Tom.Martin@z-comm.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TomMartin .