Sunday, September 22, 2013

CONTAGIOUS by Jonah Berger

One common excuse (or brush off)  heard thousands of times by me while trying to sell an ad is that word of mouth works the best.  Agree, but I like to add often word of mouth needs some help getting started.

Here in "Contagious" is some help that can be applied by marketing, advertising and selling staff.   Author Jonah Berger uses lots of research and stories to make his points about how word of mouth can work for just about any product, service or cause.  Although social media now plays a very significant role, it is not yet as critical as actual physical contact (including voice).  He identifies six elements that are important to the process but admits that it is not necessary to have all six at any one time.

Word of mouth has the advantage of being more credible and also more targeted.  Unfortunately it is not as easy to measure as traditional media or the newer digital media.

The questions and comments below are intended to point the way to his six STEPPS.  There are a lot of ideas and examples to expand the initial element.

Does the intended message have relevance to most people?  People share things that make them look good.  They want to be the first to spread some inside information.  Social currency

Often you are able to set your message in such a way that thoughts already in someone's mind will trigger a link and reinforce the message. Mars chocolate bar sales increased during the Mars space probe. Triggers

Does you message have an emotional reaction?  The key element is arousal.  Two examples are anger and amusement.   Emotion.

Is the message recipient to think they are the first or will they gain comfort from being part of a crowd?   A busy restaurant attracts more customers than an empty one.  Public

Can your message be put into action?  Is it of use? Practical

Can you relate stories that relate to your brand?  Stories

Your message doesn't have to hit all elements, but if you expect it to gain momentum it should have at least two.  As a salesman I developed stories (usually from my customers" experiences) and always looked for a snappy phrase to get my prospect's attention and create a positive association.  Reading this book will help generate lots of ideas for you for selling, advertising or marketing products, services or causes.

To find out more about what Jonah has to say click on

Monday, September 16, 2013


My story is not meant to be comprehensive as it is only one of over 100,000 versions.  As the Supercrawl has evolved it has built on its own success and grown each year.  It is now drawing people not only from Hamilton, but Toronto and Buffalo and parts in between and beyond.

This year there were four main stages plus lots of vendors, galleries, buskers, causes.  New restaurants have opened and older restaurants have renovated.  More than a dozen food trucks added to the variety of food available.  All this meant no one could see, hear, or eat everything and choices had to be made.

This first photo is of Lester Coloma adding a few touches to his mural.  He has done a number of murals around Ontario and beyond.  I thought this one could easily be the logo for the Supercrawl.  I have shown a number of his murals in previous blogs.

Friday night  on my way home to get rested for the next day, saw a French Canadian group  and decided to stay and watch  Les Trois Accords, from Drummondville.  I had already forgone an early bedtime and decided  to check their website when I did get home. Language can open doors.  Their music did have a lot of melody, but I understand the words were too clever for a unilingual audience. Fortunately they were able to draw a few francophones as well as some appreciative anglophones.

Saturday morning on our weekly trip to the Farmer's Market and the library we watched as the street was set up and we could appreciate it would be bigger than ever.  More areas were cordoned off for more vendors and entertainment.

At the booth for the Hemophiliac Society I bought a Polish sausage which was the best value of the day and for a good cause.

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One of the first shows I saw on Saturday was Hachey Mouthpeace with the Brass Ensemble of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.  I was unprepared for the noises coming from Hachey which amounted to a percussion section.   You always think of classical musicians as being pretty serious, but this was very much a fun blend for everyone.

At the CasiNO booth  we signed a petition and pinned on buttons. The merchants that support Supercrawl feel a downtown casino would threaten their livelihoods.  Having lived in the North End for over 30 years I have been very pleased how the street has gradually improved and is now attracting people looking for art, for music, for restaurants and more.  Hamilton, especially the downtown and north end, after years of neglect is coming into its own.  A casino would have to compete against other casinos in more touristy towns and would want to eliminate the competition provided by Flamboro Downs.  I have a vested interest in the track, but anyone can appreciate that Flamboro Downs already contributes a lot of revenue directly to Hamilton plus a lot of jobs in agriculture. Putting them out of business like the Ontario government has done to tracks in Sarnia and Windsor in exchange for a casino is a foolish gamble with essentially no new benefits.

I listen to Mary Ito  Saturday and Sunday mornings on Fresh Air before I get out of bed.  Lots of things follow from that.  This Saturday she mentioned she would be at the Supercrawl introducing some music from Said the Whale.

A little later I did make it over to get my photo of Mary with Bruce Croxen and stayed to watch Said the Whale.  They attracted a big crowd and played to the audience.  I was fortunate to win a T shirt thrown into the crowd.

Time to eat and we made it to Culantro, the new Peruvian restaurant that I had heard about from my daughter Heather and read a number of favorable reviews.  It was just far enough off James Street that not too many out-of-towners had discovered it.  Nonetheless it soon packed up.  We had a fairly quick meal, bearing in mind that their menu needs time to properly prepare.  We learned that the cook/owner is a neighbour who lives on the same street about two blocks away from us.  We also met an old friend from the Farmers Market who has relocated, just in time to stock up on both his tea and soap.
With over 100,000 visitors keeping things under control can be difficult.  The police were in various formats.  On foot, on bicycles and on horse back.  For the most part they were part of the crowd, helping people find what they were looking for, but were reassuring.  No problems to report.

The next big attraction for us was Orange Circus that we had seen last year.  Word had gotten out, but we arrived an hour ahead of time and got a fairly good spot to stand and there discovered a co-worker of Sharon's from St Catharines who had brought his wife, brother and sister in law.  Then we met our neighbour from two doors away. Orange Circus had expanded from last year adding in trampolines, a bagpiper and various actors with their trademark fire background.  The fire came sudden and really added something to the show.

After that show we decided to wait in line for Mex-i-Can, a favorite after many visits.  Like most of the other restaurants on James Street they really packed them in.  I would like to have visited more restaurants, but my stomach can only handle so much and the lineups were long at all of them including several food trucks.

We decided to watch the headliner, Passion Pit the group that helped attract the big crowd and the last act of Supercrawl.  Pretty difficult to get very close.  They filled up the street for about two blocks, plus a side street, plus some on rooftops.  Their fans were very happy.

Hopefully next year the organizers will build on their well earned success.  To really enjoy it you have to plan ahead and then be prepared to be spontaneous.   There is more than big name acts. Although some acts are well established and attracted their own fans, there were lots of lesser known acts on stage to reach a new audience. There are also buskers that are often very enjoyable such as cellist Geoff Ball and harpist Rachel Nolan pictured below.

This year a hidden traffic problem was a bridge being replaced on Bay Street that runs parallel to James.  After the bridge is completed for next year it might open up some more possibilities, at least for traffic flow.  This year the Supercrawl expanded by putting a stage at Pier 8 which is on Hamilton Harbour in a beautiful setting.  Unfortunately I didn't make it because it was too far away and I had to choose between events.  There is a big gap between Barton Street and Pier 8.  The organizers did offer a shuttle bus.  In that gap are a few interesting restaurants including the Harbour Diner that had been featured on television, but the area is mostly residential.  Inevitably visitors will have to choose what they most want to see.

A wonderful tiring weekend.  Proud to be part of it.  Do you want to add in your own version?  Next year it will be better than ever.  Hope to see more of you there!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Thinking back a few years it is really quite remarkable that I live in and love Hamilton, Ontario.

My vague awareness of Hamilton while growing up was negative.  I grew up in Oshawa which in some ways is similar.  While Hamilton was known as Steel Town, Oshawa was pretty much a General Motors town.  Although I was not too conscious of it both were towns had a heavy union influence. Both were on Lake Ontario on opposite sides of Toronto which both cities love and hate.

By high school I had become a football fan, particularly the Canadian Football League.  Hamilton had a franchise, but for some reason I rooted for Montreal and of course hated the Ti-Cats.  My father was a truck driver who liked to take his children on his trips one of which was to Hamilton.  I remember going over the Skyway Bridge sitting high in the truck cab with the height making me dizzy and uncomfortable.  We took the first exit and drove along an industrial road with all the steel factories blowing a lot of smoke and dropped off my dad's load and turned around to go back home.

My last two years of high school were in Haliburton, a tourist area with lots of lakes and woods.  I hitch-hiked a lot and I remember being picked up by one fellow on my home stretch.  He thought I lived in "God's country."  He then went on to describe where he lived which was Hamilton.  The actual description I now think must have been inside a factory, but it left a strong negative impression.

Anything I read in papers about Hamilton seemed to have a reference to factories, unions, crime or pollution.  Although not sure of getting into a university I never considered McMaster.  As a student at nearby University of Guelph one fellow in my residence said that he thought Hamilton was the Mafia headquarters for Canada.

Job hunting is serious business and I spent a lot of time at it in two separate chunks lasting six months.  On one occasion I heard about a job that fascinated me in social work.  I applied to every agency in Ontario, but left Hamilton to the desperate end.  On another occasion I decided I wanted to work in newspaper circulation and again left Hamilton to the very last.

Despite all of these negative experiences Hamilton was my destiny. I was offered a job in Toronto, but at the last minute they had an opening in Hamilton and wanting to avoid a long recruiting process and realizing I didn't have any Toronto connections offered it to me.  I did have a sister in nearby Burlington and she with her husband were agreeable to helping me get settled.  That led to other things and I found myself settling down.  You can read about one of the "other things at

Were my fears justified?  While there certainly were factories that churned out pollution, there were other things to compensate.  As years have gone by manufacturing greatly diminished.  Where I live has improved both on the Harbourfront and on my walking downtown.  There are few towns where you can easily walk to the harbour which  now has a very pleasant park and also downtown.

My kids got into activities that got me involved.  Sports, music, schools.  Both my kids left town for university, but my daughter came back and is a very big Hamilton booster.  My son ended up quite the traveler (now living in New Zealand), but follows events in Hamilton.

There are always things to complain about, but Hamilton has many features that make me glad I stuck around.   Bits of nature are nearby such as Cootes Paradise, Bayfront Park and over 180 waterfalls.  A little bit of history at Dundurn Castle, Whitehern and Battlefield Park.  I enjoy Hamilton Public Library, art crawl, Farmer's Market, view from the Mountain, loads of restaurants (Gate of India, Acclamation, Wild Orchid), Gore Park fountain, Gage Park.  Most of the time I drive back home by the York St exit which has Hamilton Harbour on one side and Cootes Paradise on the other and has trees lined along York Blvd til you get past Dundurn Castle where in the summer months is a model waterfalls.   After all is said and done the people have been good to me.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Syria, what a mess!

There are no good choices at this point.  No one should be condemned for however they vote or even for their motivation.  There are undoubtedly many who want to be associated with the majority without delving into the issues.  I do not understand all the issues and admit that it is more complex than can be dealt with in a short blog.

Part of the problem goes back to my biggest pet peeve which is short term thinking.

One primary problem is that America (and most of the rest of the world) feel most comfortable dealing with whoever is in power.  At some stage we are complicit in maintaining the status quo.  We can be self righteous about being superior and conscious that everything is not fair under a particular jurisdiction, but our tendency is to protect our own short term interest and do business with just about anyone.

China and Russia are in the equation and have decided that their best interest lies in supporting the Syrian government.  Russia sells weaponry to Syria.  China needs to keep all energy options open. Both are authoritarian and fear the idea of a successful revolution.  Oversimplified perhaps, but trying to overcome their UN security council veto could lead to further tension.

Iran is a player as it is allied with Syria.  Finally Iran has elected someone who is more open to solving the nuclear dilemma.  With few allies and a load of rhetoric, Iran has to be concerned to maintain its alliances.  At the same time some Westerners feel that striking against Syria is weakening Iran and perhaps forcing them to be more compliant.

In the Middle East an always underlying concern is Israel.  One really pertinent connection is the Golan Heights where Israel has conquered land they now feel is a buffer.  Israel has bombed Syria to cut nuclear development.  Part of the Syrian opposition comes from Islamists who see an opportunity to overthrow a government that is relatively tolerant of Christians and Jews and install a more fundamentalist  regime.  They are not looking for a two state solution, but many would work towards destroying Israel.

Israel is fearful of what its neighbors intend.  Palestinians are resentful and many are desperate. Israel has more powerful friends in the United States that protect it with money, weapons, political decisions including a UN veto.  There are many who want a two state solution, but others who feel more secure by occupying Palestine.  Still others on both sides have given up on the two state solution. Alleviating fear requires courage, patience and understanding.

Refugees have fled to Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and others.  In such numbers they create logistical problems and potentially are an unknown political force.

Recently became aware of another factor which you can read in more depth at  I am struck at the number of people who belittle climate change, but their points strike me as being politically/economically linked.  Climate scientists for the most part seem very reluctant to draw links from climate change to weather problems such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts, but the links seem stronger almost daily.  I recall that the Arab Spring started with a protest of one man in Tunisia who was affected by food prices.  Food prices were affected by drought.  This is only one factor, but really unemployed youth and food prices have been critical.

Should the United States use a military strike against Syria and if so how can they contain it?  The risks are very high that the best they can achieve a rebel victory or less likely a chastened Assad. They will inevitably fan anti-American hatred.   Who knows how Russia, China, Iran might react. Mideast turmoil seems inevitable.  If not resolved the same question might be asked--can a regime do whatever it wants to suppress its own people?  Will any nation feel they can do what they want even against American threats?

What alternatives are available?  America needs international support.  The United Nations is frozen by veto's allowed to only five countries.  The Arab League has its own factions.  Turkey is a Muslim country that is negatively impacted by Syrian refugees and occasional stray bombs.  They have concerns over Kurds, another complicating issue itself.  Can United States afford to be the world's policeman without at least some economic support.

The Americans have been hurt and embarrassed by the efforts of the George W Bush government to deceive them with false information (some of which was deliberate) regarding the Iraq invasion.  I think they were stunned that the Iraqi people resisted and then learned that they had opened a hornet's nest.  At the same time a new President finds himself dealing with a polarized electorate.  A part of the electorate seems to feel that Obama is a Muslim or sympathetic to radical Muslims.  Seems ridiculous, but not something that can be ignored.  For some this seems an opportunity to make him look bad while on the other side some think this is an opportunity with respect to dealing with the sequester problem as well as the debt ceiling.  Some support as they feel the need to support a president, others to send a message about chemical warfare.  Others feel that we need to commit to democracy.

The rest of the world has its own perspective.  They are split in that they mostly seem to think that the Syrian government is guilty of using chemical weapons against their own people, but are skeptical of any course of action.  They fear potential spread of violence, even world war.

Are there alternatives?  I can't see a risk free short term alternative and either striking or not striking sends a powerful message with horrific consequences very likely.

The United Nations was created to deal with these types of problems, but many see a single country veto as insurmountable obstacle.  At the time it was thought to be an inducement to get participation of the winning Allies.  Since then many changes have occurred and newly empowered nations such as India, Brazil and others are left out.  My solution would be to negotiate a new deal such as a veto of one of the selected countries (or even two or three) can be overcome by 2/3 votes of General Assembly members representing 2/3 of the world's population.  China is a delicate issue as they might feel ganged up with a too low a population requirement as they represent approximately 25% of the world population.  This would also empower India.  We don't want them to have an effective veto based on population, but to gain their co-operation we don't want them to feel too threatened. This will only happen when the original veto holders see it in their best interest to accept world opinion.

The International Criminal Court is another  possible solution.  One of its weaknesses is that United States will not join as they feel they will be ganged upon.  Other countries resist to protect themselves.  Perhaps the UN veto and the International Criminal Court membership issues can be negotiated together. Perhaps that is naive, but other forces are making it a little more possible.

One of those forces is climate change.  It affects everyone, although not evenly.  The biggest problem is  distrust of science and economic short term self interest.  We in North America and Europe need to realize food prices even in remote parts of the world can have global effects.  We need to realize that floods, droughts, hurricanes although natural are being aggravated by our actions on an international scale.  War is one of the consequences.  To provide our own security in our backyard we need to be concerned about forces in areas we haven't given much thought to.

Did I cover all the issues?  Definitely not, but I hope that more people take a long term view so we can minimize future damage and get on the course to a more logical future for all mankind.  Syria is a mess, but it didn't happen overnight.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How much is enough? by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky

It is common enough to credit greed with all the troubles of the world.  But we all play a role as well as being victims of our own greed.  Most of us are not satisfied with what we have as there always seems to be something else we need for happiness, but the goal is always elusive.  Other people have pretty much everything we want and they still want more.

Originally read the book to think about my own individual situation and the author does have some relevant thoughts.  The author feels that happiness should not be the goal, but rather to have reasons to be happy, such as health, respect, friendship and leisure time.  Much of the focus is pointed towards society as a whole.  A big obstacle is the acceptance of inequality.

I had read "A Book on John Maynard Keyes" by Robert Skildelsky explaining the famous economist.  Keynes underlying theme was that the only purpose of any economic system should be to improve the well being of mankind.  Of course the study of economics attracts those who want to know the secrets of getting more money.

The constant push towards more growth seems to cause all sorts of problems--the environment is stressed, inequality seems to increase, while some people work more hours than they want others can't get enough work.  What makes this possible is mankind's insatiability. Once our basic needs are taken care of we want something extra and nowadays our fantasies are coming to life.  Maslow's pyramid points to less materialistic goals which do drive some people in their search for meaning, but are not universal even amongst those who have all their physical needs met.

Before society could move towards the ideal of everyone enjoying life instead of pursuing money competitively we need a change in philosophy.  It would be normal to expect skepticism as those on top appear horrified with sharing their wealth.

One step is to increase taxes so that money can be redistributed, particularly to public service.  This of course would be resisted by those who would pay.  Some who have attained wealth understand that it comes from wage earners and that everyone benefits from pooling our resources into infrastructure. Unfortunately too many feel that only they deserve the highest standard of living possible.  Spreading the wealth can have the effect of growing the wealth, but also diminishes incentives.

The pressure to consume needs to be reduced in order to reduce the pressure to work.  If we didn't want to own a bigger house, a faster car, snappier clothes than our peers there would not be as much desire to work overtime or work hard for a promotion.  We compete for more glamorous vacations, best seats, etc.  It is not just that we want to have more, we want to have more than our neighbours.

Reducing the effect of advertising is a key remedy.  A lot of people make their living through advertising (I am one) and their efforts often increase the growth of companies and institutions, providing jobs for others.

While I agree that business and advertising are aimed at getting you to buy things that you don't necessarily need, marketing actually starts at the other end by trying to find out what you would be willing to pay money for.  Basically advertising is a tool which can be used for a wide range of tasks including what might be considered noble ends.

The problem is we have to make a living and unless you have a great deal of  (perhaps "enough"is a better word choice) money an individual has little power to change the system.  You don't necessarily have to be filthy rich in order to set your own priorities.  If you don't have all the needed resources to get something you have to either re-evaluate what you want or figure out how you are going to get the resources.

I understand the mission, but feel I am not much closer to an answer.  I have found that a lot of my stuff is not as valued as when bought.  Experiences are more valued as I age. There is a fear that the money will run out before I do, but want to enjoy life while I can and I do realize that money is only part of the solution.  How about you?

You can read more of Robert Skidelsky's views at