Tiger marketing

It’s a bit surprising, at times, to look around and realize how many webloggers have been hired by big companies. For the most part, such hiring is based on the person’s skill, drive, and interest, and I celebrate their good fortune and the company’s good sense.

There are occasions, though, where the hiring seems less based on obtaining the person’s expertise and more an effort to ‘buy’ goodwill–to put a ‘human face’ onto the big soulless corporation. Oh not because the company is going to stop being big. Or soulless. It will just seem less so because Jack (whom we love) or Judy (whom we respect beyond all measure) now works for the company. Now, when we say the company sucks, we’re saying our friends suck.

Weblogging is also a popular approach with these companies, as is the use of other social media. Look, it has weblogs. Look, it goes to the ‘unconferences’. Look, it has podcasts, and vidcasts. The company invests time and energy for the ‘greater good’; provides APIs and data web services; even open sources fragments of its technology–all of which demonstrates that the company is part of us. It ‘gets it’.

It’s a familiar approach, too, but I couldn’t figure out what was so familiar about it until it came to me this morning, while I was on my second cup of coffee.

When I was very young, I and my brother used to visit my aunt and uncle in Seattle every summer, and my uncle would take us to the zoo. This was back when the zoo was just starting to add natural habitats, and at the time, most of the animals were still in the large cages with iron bars and glass fronts. It wasn’t a good place for the animals, but it did allow visitors to get closer to the animals.

One summer, there was this tiger that was about a year old that was quite popular with visitors. I can’t remember its name, but I remember the tiger quite clearly. Beautiful creature and very engaged with the visitors on the other side of the glass. What was interesting, though, was how it reacted to me when we visited.

As soon as I appeared in front of the glass, the tiger’s focus became riveted on me. It wouldn’t look at anyone else, and its eyes would track me as I moved back and forth in front of the glass. My uncle even made a comment about it. “Looks like you got a new friend, Michelle”, he said (Michelle being the name I was born with before that damn Beatles song killed any fondness I ever had for it). It did seem, as my uncle noted, that the young tiger really was interested in me.

For the rest of the summer I would beg to visit the zoo and each time, the tiger’s attention would, again, become fixed on me. I grew to have a real fondness for that creature, and would later brag that I had a ‘special’ gift with animals and tell the story about the tiger and its special interest in me. He was my friend, I would tell people, and I really believe it.

Of course, as I got older and a lot less self-centered, or perhaps a lot less self-deceiving, I grew to realize that the tiger wasn’t interested in me because it liked me, or wanted to be my friend. It was interested in me because I was the same size as the deer, bison young, wild pigs, and other beasts of the jungles and forests that served as food for that type of cat.

In other words, the tiger didn’t see me as friend. It saw me as prey.

Just something that came to me today, on my second cup of coffee.

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