Friday, June 5, 2015

"Doctor, I'm In Love With A Sheep"

In Woody Allen's 1972 film "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask," Gene Wilder (pictured) plays a doctor whose patient brings an odd complaint:
"Doctor, I'm In Love With A Sheep."
At first, the doctor is shocked when the man blurts this out. He tells him to go see a psychiatrist. He threatens to call the police.
But then the patient puts his sheep in the doctor's hands, and the doctor also falls immediately in love.
You know Gene Wilder. He was Willy Wonka. Always saying some condescending thing. And now he is a meme.
The genius of Woody Allen is that he chose exactly the right actor to portray a man whose veneer of civility is very thin. Beneath it is a raging sea of passion...and when he meets Daisy the sheep it is all unleashed.
In his hypocrisy the doctor is a lot like Woody Allen himself. He can only love a passive thing, a helpless thing, a thing that cannot argue back. 
In the movie the doctor lavishes attention on the sheep. He gives her a diamond necklace. He hangs it around her neck.
But there is no meaningful interaction. In the end he is talking to himself.
In real life, Woody Allen took up with his married girlfriend's adopted daughter. A daughter he had known since she was 13. Eventually he married her. 
His adoptive daughter also accused him of molesting her as a child.
And there is a recurring theme in his movies (most famously Annie Hall andManhattan) of the character who can only find satisfaction with a much younger and relatively inexperienced woman.
As a filmmaker his adult self takes over, and he lambastes the silly doctor who can only "love" an animal.
But this isn't about the films of Woody Allen. Not really.
Marketers have for eons shared this same model of communicating with "the consumer."
They stereotype her ("her") as the bored and helpless housewife, brainless but for the massive amount of advertising (useless diamond necklaces) they lavish on her, along with product samples of course.
The sea change we are seeing is that consumers have long thrown off the idea that they should be silent, innocent, passive sheep who follow the advertiser to the slaughter.
Instead they are actively engaged with the products that they purchase. They want to co-create them, they want to know how the employees are treated, they want to know whether the labor practices are fair, and on and on and on.
Rather than finding a kind of power in taking over the customer's life, the marketer must share that power with the customer. In effect take the customer behind the camera lens.
It's easy to like the fantasy of being all-powerful. And Woody Allen portrays that desire well.
But for a marketer to be successful nowadays, it's more important to address the customer's humanity. To speak to their inherent desire to be treated as people, with consummate dignity and respect.
All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Screenshot from "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask" (Woody Allen, 1972) via the Web (source unclear).