Friday, February 15, 2008

fishing for complements

The other week On the Media had a fascinating interview with Clive Thomson, talking about connectors and trend-setters. One of the most catchy ideas in the marketing world has been that a tiny group of highly influential people exists -- Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point calls them 'connectors' -- and that these connectors can basically determine what jeans you'll be wearing or music you'll be listening to next year. Thomson argues that this whole influence business is a lot more dispersed, and a lot more random, than that model would suggest:
[T]here were no all-important Connector hubs. Only five percent of the messages went through highly connected people. The rest of them just went, oh, sort of democratically through people that were weakly connected together. The data seem to show that those Connectors really are not out there in the way that they're supposed to be.

What [Columbia network researcher Duncan] Watts seems to have found and what he argues is that it’s not how influential each person is. It’s how influenceable everyone else is. So to put it another way, if society is sort of ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start it.

It's kind of a powerful idea, and way more empowering than this whole connector business. Anyone can start the next big thing, and lift a fashion, book, or band into the spotlight -- you just need to have the right ideas at the right time. And beyond that, you don't have to look to some flashy elitist media type to know what's cool -- the answer might be anywhere, on your friend's iPod, or your mom's bookshelf, or maybe the idea you just came up with in the shower. We're all connectors, or rather we're conduits for ideas that are bigger than us, and those ideas don't play favorites.

I've been thinking a lot about marketing lately, since I was asked to help out writing program blurbs for the CPO's brochures next year. We were given the full season schedule, or as much of it as has been finalized, and asked to title each of the programs and write a 40-word description to be used on posters and ads. If you go to the CPO website you'll see the one for this week:

Romeo & Juliet

Tchaikovsky, Romeo and Juliet: Overture-Fantasy
Schumann, Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54
Elgar, Enigma Variations, Op. 36

A Valentine bouquet of symphonic delights! Tchaikovsky’s soaring Romeo and Juliet is complimented by Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a fascinating masterpiece that was an expression of affection towards his wife and friends. Pianist Jean Louis Steuermann joins the CPO in Schumann’s passionate and romantic Piano Concerto in A Minor.

It's quite a trick writing one of these things -- so little space to work with, and you need something that will catch people's attention, with some style and sparkle, but still accessible and aimed towards a general audience. And oh yeah, it might be nice to actually convey some factual information about the music!

This one works pretty well I think -- it certainly gets the 'romantic' message across. My only criticism is that I think 'complimented' should have been 'complemented'. That's not a huge thing, but I know people who get very annoyed by misuse of the word 'complimented.' And many of them are very passionate, romantic people who I hope would still want to attend this concert!

I won't put any of my blurbs here yet, but maybe if they're approved and published I'll take responsibility for my work. That way everyone can complement me, or just make fun of me.

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