I’ve been to Santa Barbara before, so I knew what to expect. Miles of Spanish stucco, acres of red tile roof, tall billowing palm trees, the cyan sea. A spot so perfect it makes people think they’re special. I’m from Cambridge, MA so I’m on to that. There’s always a morsel of merit to fabulous places, but being precious can get tedious.
I meandered my way to the cul-de-sac where Ben Crop shares a townhouse with two housemates, Joe and Francie, on a quiet neighborhood south of US 101. Not a place that students could afford, but young professionals who pool assets can swing it. From first meeting I knew the Santa Barbara gestalt lay light on their shoulders. I liked that. My affection was sealed when Francie announced that four of her friends were coming over with fish sticks for dinner.
A super family size sack of fish sticks from Costco serves eight with more to spare. Officially, we had fish tacos. We wrapped the fish sticks in tortillas with some greens and tasty sauce. But the basic ingredient was that Friday night staple from my Catholic youth. I hadn’t consumed fish sticks since Vatican II. Fifty years later, fish sticks still taste the same. Which is great for triggering memory. Not so good otherwise.
I was the dinner party outlier; old enough to be anyone’s father among a group who had no idea how Vatican II decimated the fish stick industry. Yet I felt welcome. They seemed to enjoy educating me on millennial basics of life. Venmo. Digital money transfer among friends without transfer charges. I‘d never heard of it. They all used it, to split dinner checks, carve out utility bills, or pay for fish sticks. Apparently it’s funny to send a friend a penny.
Dinner conversions often settle around a theme, ours became fast food and marketing. Rachel worked in the marketing department at Sonos, a specialty speaker company. Sam’s title was Product Manager and Director of Shakes, Sides and Desserts at Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s to folks from the East Coast). According to Sam, fast food establishments introduce new products on a regular basis. “Coming up with a new product is the market.” First they test market something, then introduce it as a specialty, and if it’s popular, the item joins the regular menu. Taco Bell recently added waffle tacos, Jack-in-the-box the Buttery Jack. Sam recently finished her first major campaign, introducing a Hostess Ding Dong ice cream sandwich. “The food is not important; it’s the story.”
Ben wondered whether marketing could ever make the world a better place. Sam believed that a product can only be successful if it meets a need. Apparently, there’s a need for Ding Dong ice cream sandwiches. Response to the sweet concoction has been strong. Rachel considered her company in a different light than Carl’s Jr. “Sonos is mission driven; to create the ultimate in-house listening experience.” As such, she thought it drew from both the non-profit and for-profit perspective. Sam didn’t see a difference. “Marketing is just story telling. The only way to run a non-profit is the same as a for-profit. You need to create unique experiences that turn into long-term connections.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“In terms of marketing it’s all about erasing privacy. Marketing is about creating a short-term attention span experience. So people will get the short-term buzzes – a series of them. It’s about capitalizing on that short-term buzz to create long-term connection.” – Sam
“Will we live better than our parents? No. We’ll have to live with less, but that’s okay.” – Francie
“I see three or four options. 1. Apocalyptic collapse. 2. We will evolve as a bell curve; everything in nature is a bell curve. 3. We’ll plateau by finding a place that’s stable. 4. We will continue to experience exponential growth and wind up with Soylent Green. I think the plateau is what will happen. People have always thought we’d have imminent collapse, but we keep going. Individual societies collapse, but civilization continues.” – Joe