Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Can Cheerleaders Successfully Market Science?, an organization started by the dynamic and committed citizen scientist Darlene Cavalier, has a noble goal. It wants to demonstrate to young girls that it’s OK to be pretty, smart, and love science. In fact, all of the cheerleaders want young girls to believe in themselves and do what they love to do.

At the first USA Science & Engineering Festival in 2010, the Science Cheerleaders drew large crowds, as they shook their pompoms, did a brief summary of what kind of scientists and medical specialists they are, and joined in unison to yell “Go Science.”

The Science Cheerleaders travel around the country and do many public appearances. They hold cheerleading clinics and try to inspire young girls to take science seriously as a career path.They have gotten a lot of media attention, as well they should. It’s a unique idea and it negates a persistent problem in science - the notion that female scientists are weird and frumpy.

With all that said, I simply can’t get away from the fact that the whole concept of cheerleader, whether pushing science to girls or not, has always bothered me. Perhaps it’s because I was one of the smart girls who hung out with but didn’t date the jocks. Perhaps it’s because the cheerleaders didn’t like me and I didn’t like them. Perhaps it’s because even at my 30-year high school reunion, the cheerleaders still wouldn’t speak to me.

Or perhaps, it's because I’m the mother of a 12 year-old girl and I don’t want my daughter to be a cheerleader or a beauty queen or a model. I want her to be liked, and loved for that matter, because she’s funny, smart, cool, a total jock and all the other wonderful qualities that make her, her.

Of course, if my daughter wants to be a cheerleader then I will support her in every way I can. But I would feel a lot better about that choice if the image of a cheerleader wasn’t such a negative one, particularly as it is portrayed in media.

If you watch a lot of bad teen TV, or teen movies, which I insist on viewing if my daughter does, cheerleaders are still portrayed as not very nice girls. They are the queens of the high school, the popular girls, the ones who wear too much make-up, really short skirts, and date the captain of the football team. They are shown as the original mean girls, shallow, foolish and admired not for who they are, but what they look like.

Cheerleaders conform to a male, let’s face it pretty darn sexist, image of who and what girls are and should be. The Science Cheerleaders have a serious message to impart, but they’re attention-getters because they are pretty, sexy and good dancers. That’s a fact.

The beauty queen who followed the Science Cheerleaders at the event I saw them performing in, lost me within seconds. She talked for a good half hour about the work she does with growing passion. But no matter what she said, she couldn’t negate the image of the woman I saw heading towards the stage, strutting her stuff in skintight jeans, boots with five inch heels, with an entourage of men beside her. After she changed into her long white beauty queen dress – I think she even had a crown on but I could be making that up – she wanted to be taken seriously. But I don’t think she was.

So do I think that smart, beautiful women who want to level the science and engineering playing field should be out there doing what they do for science? Absolutely. But there is a part of me, and not a small one, that wonders how much good the Science Cheerleaders can really do if all those good intentions get lost behind the stereotypes.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How The Kane Show Markets by Saying I Love You

On the Kane Show, which is on Hot 99.5 FM and one of Washington, DC's most popular morning shows, Kane has the usual radio line-up of 20-something cohorts, including Sarah, the perky, pretty one, who comments on everything without saying anything vaguely controversial, and Samy, the post-college boy who always seems to be hung over and sounding very About Last Night.

Kane and his team tell listeners they love them all the time, and those who call in to answer various questions do the same. It's like a great big love fest, and it works for branding and bonding listeners to the show.

A much milder Howard Stern

I don’t know Kane’s first name but he reminds me of Howard Stern when he was funny and silly, before he became a shock jock. I used to listen to him while driving around Manhattan early in the AM searching for on-street parking, and hating every car that managed to get into a space before me.

Now it's my middle school-aged daughter and I listening to Kane after we drop her brother at high school (he wouldn't be caught dead listening to the kind of music she does), and it's only for about 20 minutes. But at least, in the middle of traffic, speeding cars, morning crankiness and a lot of last minute hair brushing, it gives us something to smile about.

Kane does cross the decorum line often, and when he does we shut the radio off, and my daughter doesn't argue because it's so abundantly clear she shouldn't be listening. But we still listen every school day because Kane is like the annoying uncle at Thanksgiving that gives you too much information, but makes you laugh hysterically.

The show also has a strong morality streak, bathed in humiliation. On our favorite segment, called “War of the Roses,” half of a married or deeply involved couple asks the show to call their significant other and find out if they're cheating. Generally they are and a cat fight ensues.

The ruse to get the person they phone talking is that they will get a free bouquet of roses sent to the one they love. The "War" depends on who they decide to send them too.

But this blog isn't about the various antics of Kane and his gang, it's about building relationships with listeners or customers.

At the end of almost every call from a listener, Kane or Sarah or Samy say “I love you.” Listeners tell Kane and his sidekicks they love them too. The love flows so freely it seems natural - like we're all part of one big happy family. No wonder it's one of the most popular radio shows in our market.

I think telling people you love them is much more accepted now than it used to be. Today’s parents say I love you all the time to their kids. When they end a call. When they say goodbye. When they just feel like it.

My 15 year-old son tells his friends he loves them at the end of phone calls. “Love ya man,” is often the goodbye. It reinforces good feelings and in today’s screwed up world that’s a big plus.

Should marketers call to say I love you?

So it got me thinking. What would happen if marketers started telling customers they loved them? How much do we thank those who have helped us for their support?

If you’re in a service business you work for people that you love because they are a great fit with you and they are easy to work for. When you work for people that are jerks you immediately regret it. So why don’t we tell the business people who are good to us that we love them? What holds us back? Do we think they’ll be embarrassed? It’s better to tell them then not, don’t you think?

The Kane Show gets it. Kane shares the love. It's expressed many times during his show, out loud by the people who work with him and those who listen to him.

Better yet, in a lousy market, it sells a lot of advertising.