Lessons from the Lockdown: What I Learned These Last Few Months

I remember the early weeks of the pandemic when New York City, and the country at large, began shutting down. I can distinctly recall the last “normal” weekend in the city. We had dinner, saw friends, caught a show, and stayed out way too late for 39 years old. Covid was but a cautionary news conversation over dinner with friends and family. By the following week, we wouldn’t be allowed out of our apartments except to buy food, and all intimacy with friends and strangers would be limited to an invisible boundary of 72 inches.

Firmly into the lockdown, we gave up most of our normalcy in day-to-day life. No more gym, no more yoga, no more coffee or concerts with friends or wandering the halls of museums. We all swore we would take this new, undetermined amount of time to learn something new. Some of us claimed we would be bilingual by May (*meekly raises hand*), and others had a pile of books to get through.

I didn’t learn any new languages, or how to knit, or all of the moves to Janet Jackson’s If (that last one was a true goal). But I did learn a LOT about myself in the 28 weeks since the pandemic inserted itself in my life.


The pandemic broke down almost all barriers that we maintain in our normal daily lives. There was suddenly no work/life balance, as they slowly melded into one strange universe that existed in the same place and same pajamas. For some, working from how was always our normal, but for a large majority, this was a new environment to navigate with homes full of children, spouses and barking dogs to contend with.

The new at-home dynamic was (and remains) tough, but Covid had even deeper impacts into our lives, beyond inconvenience. In just the first few weeks, my partner lost his job, my parents became stuck on a cruise liner for weeks, and I had several friends and family hospitalized with the viciousness that would become associated with the new virus, and some even pass away from it.

The lockdown had a very acute way of making us feel *very* alone. What I realized quickly however through friends, family and colleagues was not only was I not alone, but nearly everyone around me was also battling with some terrible outcome or tragedy from this. I began spending less time on “how does affect me” and more time on “how has this affected you”. Remembering that others may be suffering unbeknownst to us is an important lesson to take with us, whether in the throws of a pandemic or not.


Oh lord. Patience. Heaps of patience. I’m already a very patient person, but nothing will test patience like months of lockdown in 600 square feet with your partner or standing in line for hours to buy one roll of paper towel. For those of us with more impatient tendencies, the pandemic created forced lessons in getting over that trait. In no uncertain terms, we were told daily that “we don’t know when this will be over” and, to some degree, we still don’t when it will be normal again. While news of the pandemic came at us with lightning speed every day, life in the pandemic moved a bit slower.

We decided to buy our first house. What would be a major stress event in any normal time, was magnified times infinity. We couldn’t even see most houses in person – most were virtual affairs that were equal parts online dollhouse and video game. And when we did find houses we liked, they were quickly snatched up as mortgage rates fell to record lows. Through it all, I used patience to fight patience. We had patiently saved up for this moment from the day we met 10 years ago. Through set-backs, cross-country moves and job losses, our goal of owning a home was continually pushed back, so what was another few months of waiting when we were *so close* to our finish line. I will not soon forget this reinforced value of patience as we continue to tackle projects in the new home we’ve created.

It’s Okay to Find Happiness in Tough Times

No doubt about it, there was tremendous stress and sadness over these last few months. We saw direct impacts in each of our lives, whether financially or maybe the loss of a loved one. We saw our cities shutter and go silent, and the country take a combative “us vs them” stance on nearly all matters.

It was easy to commiserate with others over stress and sadness – it had become a new commonality between friends and strangers alike. What was harder during these times was feeling that it was okay to be happy or celebrate moments when so many others around us were sad or suffering. Whether it was an accomplishment at work, finally buying a home, or being able to run consecutively for more than a mile, it’s hard to be proud or happy when others are suffering. But, we have to. We all need to find the moments of celebration, big or small, even in hard times. The light in the darkness, if you will.

Leaning into the Quiet

You would think a lockdown would create endless moments of quiet, but I don’t think I need to tell any of you how untrue that statement would become. Our thoughts of tackling reading lists or writing while watching spring emerge outside of our windows quickly faded into the constant news reports, divisive social media, and *so many* Zoom calls.  

I quickly made it a point to take quiet moments to myself. My usual quick morning walk with Marla turned into a twice a day (at least) 1+ mile stroll through Brooklyn and Fort Green Park. These moments outside to freely and quietly move about became my saving grace away from the noise, as well as much needed exercise.

I also backed away from social media a bit. While I enjoy contributing and writing, social media can so quickly take a toll on our psyche even in the best of times. So, I incorporated a few breaks, and made it a mandate to put the phone away early each evening.

We need quiet moments to check in and converse with ourselves. We can’t be compassionate with others if we can’t take the time to be compassionate with ourselves.

So, while I didn’t learn a new language, a Tik Tok dance or how to cross-stitch (sorry mom), I do feel that I am a bit better prepared when it comes to life’s unexpected twists and turns. And if 2020 has been anything, it’s a twisting turning road in bad weather with one headlight. Take it slow and safe y’all.

If you learned anything these last few weeks, whether it be personal insights or a new hobby, I would love to hear about it.

Are You an Ally?

I haven’t written any new content in…months. The thing is, a LOT has happened during that time personally, professionally, and globally, and the anxiety has been both palpable and crippling at times. But, there are events going on right now that NEED to be addressed, and June represents a month of Pride and reflection for many.

In the last several weeks (years, really), we’ve born witness to moments ofgreat injustice against our black community, including the unjustified killing of George Floyd. Since then, communities and allies have come together to collectively and peacefully say “no more”. Today, I want to talk to you why it is vitally important to be an ally to discriminated communities. 

When I came out as a gay man several years ago, it was an *extremely* gradual, uncomfortable experience. It is different for everyone, and for me, it was long overdue but also not quite the “ripping off the bandaid” moment I wished it had been. That said, I didn’t have that choice when it came to coming out at work. 

After coming back from a quick vacation, I returned to work only to encounter what I could only describe as informal ostracization and hurried, hushed conversations behind my back. Honestly, my first thought was “ am I being fired” but the truth was somehow worse. 

At a dinner celebration that evening for our team winning a sales competition, a friend (a *true* friend) pulled me aside and told me that the reason people had been acting odd was that while I was away, a co-worker found my profile on MySpace (that should give you a sense of time here), and printed out pages showing proof that I was gay. I was angry, sad and embarrassed all within this moment of time that I can only describe as a ringing in my ears so deafening and nauseating that any thoughts I had were lost.

I have to be honest, today I am still most upset about one part of that experience, and that is that I was embarrassed at the time of who I was, and perhaps for not speaking up for myself. But it was through a select group of friends and allies in the office that helped me not only find my own voice, but also be a voice when I didn’t have one. Voices that stood up for me and told others to do better.

I also recognize that, as terrible as that experience was to me personally, I know that my LGBT brothers and sisters of color have tremendously higher odds stacked against them, and are far more likely to suffer violent crimesfor being themselves. Just this year so far, the community has already lost 12 transgender individuals – crimes that often go unreported or misreported.The only reason we are even able to celebrate pride each year was because a trans woman of color was stepped up for everyone and said “no more”. At an absolute minimum, we owe the community that same determination and spirit to do better and be better.

I can NOT stress how important it is to speak up for others, and to let them know that you will speak up for them. I don’t mean posting something to your social media accounts that says you’re an ally to the gay or black community, which is helpful and unifying, yes. It means going further than you may be comfortable with, and using your actual voice to educate others, speak up for those that can’t, and listening to those that you are supporting. If you can’t march, donate. If you can’t donate, educate a friend or family member. 

Allyship is crucial to making this world better. Discriminated communities cannot be expected to make changes on their own, nor should they be. Collectively we have all contributed in some way to the marginalization of others, whether we are aware of it or not. It is time to become more acutely aware of that and be better allies. 

I am not here to shame nor stand on a soap box and act like I am more knowledgeable or have a better moral compass than anyone. Because I am not, and I don’t. I simply wish to convey how communities need your outward support. 

You may be asking how you can be a better ally, but you need to ask yourself that question first. I know that personally, I still have opportunity to do better and be a better ally to both my community and others. In the meantime, I can certainly share some helpful resources which may help you with your own conversations and reflection:

Want to Be an Ally to the Black Community? First: Put Down Your Phone
-An Ally’s Guide to Issues Facing the LGBT Community
-8 Benefits of Being a Straight Ally to the Gay Community
-Be an Ally to the Black Lives Matter Movement

This Pride is certainly less joyous than last year, when the world came together in celebration throughout the streets of New York. This year, we find our city’s streets filled once again. Though the tone may be more somber, the message is more important than ever.

Stay safe and stay open to helping others.

Thank You.

This coming Sunday, March the 8th, is International Women’s Day. A global day of recognition for the achievements – socially, politically, culturally – that women have had on our world and elevating the continued fight for equality. It’s also a day that we should take stock of the impact that women have had on each of our own lives.

Much like my mom’s side of the family, I grew up in a large Irish-Catholic family. I had an older brother close to me in age, and 3 older sisters that kept us both in check. Probably like a lot of people who grew up in big families, I had (and still have) a unique relationship with each of my sisters. Each of them has imparted a piece of themselves that I like to think made me into the person that I am today.

My sister Amy, the youngest of my sisters, has always been the strongest in opinion and stubborn when it counts. As far back as I can remember, even as  a kid, I can remember her debating my parents – especially my dad, who by the way is a lawyer and not typically out-argued. She sticks to her guns and can talk even the most obstinate person into seeing her side of the argument. It’s also how I knew that when she got sick a few years ago, that she was far too determined for it to win. She has taught me to keep true to what you believe, say what you mean, and stick to your guns. She’s also teaching me to run longer distances, but that’s a work in progress.

My sister Katie, my middle sister, has always had a heart of gold and has never met a stranger that wasn’t welcome at the party. She connects with everyone like she’s known them forever and has always been far more extroverted than I could ever hope to be. We’ve always had a close bond, even living together during my most tumultuous of times (my early 20’s). She’s taught me to treat strangers with a kind heart, be forgiving of people’s mistakes, and to come out of my shell.

My oldest sister Sheila had a daunting task of wrangling all of us when we were growing up – no easy task. Today, she’s still the big sister to us all – often bringing us together when it’s been too long, ensuring all of their kids grow up as close as we did, and keeping our family traditions alive and thriving. She’s also never met a challenge that she can’t handle. She is constantly learning and trying new things. She’s not only intelligent, but also one of the most creative people I know. I like to think that my creative side comes from her, but also my appreciation for science, learning, and all things animals. Sheila has taught me that there’s no challenge too daunting, and to push myself creatively and educationally.

My sisters have had a profound effect on me and how I grew up. They raised me, teased me, gave me my first beer, and a shoulder to cry on over my first heartbreak. I would not be where I am or who I am without them.

My family also has a future generation of influential women, my nieces – Abby, Emma, Chloe and Grace. Even in their young age they’re already teaching me things, concurring goals and setting records. They are just like their mothers and have beautiful, giant, stubborn hearts of gold. The world is ready for them to make their mark.

I consider myself lucky to have grown up in such a large family of influential, loving people and equally lucky to have created a large “chosen” family as well. If unfamiliar, a chosen family is a group of people to whom you are emotionally close and consider ‘family’even though you are not biologically or legally related. That’s the dictionary definition, but I just like to call them family.

Much like my sisters, the female friends that have come into my life over the years have inspired me, pushed me, and shaped me. One of my oldest friends, Sarah, has been a friend to me since I awkwardly, shyly transferred high schools in the 90’s. We bonded over marching band (till I quit), good music, and shared enough laughter and spilling of our hearts to fill a thousand nights. She also saved me from myself when I needed it most, when no one else knew I needed to be, not even myself. She has always reminded me to be true to myself, and as always appreciated me for doing just that. And while years can go by without us being able to see one another, I never forget what she’s done for me, or the bond we’ve created.

I met Jessica shortly after I met my partner – about 10 years ago. Immediately, I was drawn to her sense of humor, steadfast opinions, taste in music and all things pop culture, but also her ability to call BS when she sees it. She is a champion for other women, and for her friends. More than a friend, she has become another sister to me.

Jenn is the friend that every introvert is jealous of. We all wish we could be as outgoing and open with the world, with the ability to strike conversation with the strangest of strangers. She has a giant heart, and she is a risk taker. When other people are debating whether to make a small change in their world, Jen is turning the world over on its ear. I’m proud to have seen her create her own brand from the bottom up and strike out on her own.

Like these women, I’ve also had the privilege of working with, and developing friendship with, equally inspiring colleagues. I work with a team of immensely talented women, some of whom have become mentors to me. They push me to do my best, to stretch myself creatively, and give back to the community.

At this point, you may be thinking “um Brian did you forget your mom – literally the person that brought you into this world?” No, I was just saving her for last. There aren’t enough words to describe what my mother has done for me, or the tiny bits of her that I see in myself. So, I will just say this – if you’ve ever seen the good in me, or ever had anything good to say of me (hopefully), know that’s because of my mother and what she’s taught me.

Please don’t wait for one day a year to show appreciation to the women in your life, to acknowledge the massive impact that they’ve had on the world at large, and to elevate them in every way that you can. They are our past, present and future. They are the inventors, artists, presidents and life savers. Our mothers, sisters, nieces, and friends.  Honor them all.

They’re Gr(rrr)eat!

Mascots serve a lot of roles. They’ll be shooting a t-shirt cannon one minute, doing back flips through a ring of fire the next, or intimidating the opposing team. Whatever their shtick, the connective tissue is this – their main job is to create human emotion and a lasting memory.

When it comes to sports, most schools or professional teams lean towards powerful, mythical, or even predatory animals. A bit of useless dinner party trivia: eagles are the most common school mascot in the United States. It makes sense, as an eagle represents all 3 of those key features you’d want in an intimidating mascot. What was mine you ask? Oh, well I hail from Verona, NJ and we are the mighty, mighty…hillbillies. 

First of all, Verona, NJ is by no means in the country. We’re a 20-minute commute to downtown Manhattan and surrounded by no less than 6 malls. We were much more Real Housewives of New Jersey than Deliverance. That said, our mascot was a true hillbilly caricature all the way down to his jug of moonshine and a rifle. Oh, and he also smoked, because he wasn’t offensive enough already. He was later rightfully re-imagined with a puppy and a fishing pole (see end of article) to make him less offensive, but no less ridiculous.

But, we’re not here today to talk sports or make sense of Verona’s mascot direction, because I know very little about either of these things. Rather, let’s talk about mascots in their other well-known role as branding superstars.

Brand mascots go all the way back to when print was the primary means for advertising. Very few examples from this era stood the test of time, trends, and shifting tastes. “It’s rare that a brand hits mascot gold. Some brands are lucky if they create a character that connects with the public for half a decade, let alone five — or even a full century. Sometimes a character just connects, though” says Wendy Parish of Marketing Dive.

Two of those enduring mascots are instantly recognizable for one major commonality – their body shape. The first, and oldest, is the Michelin Man, who has been a brand identifier since 1898. For over 115 years, he’s been synonymous with tires and one of the most recognizable mascots. The other is a family favorite identifiable by his ears – Mickey Mouse. While not as old as the Michelin Man, he’s rapidly approaching 100 years of brand ambassadorship.

Mickey Mouse has achieved what a real, live spokesperson typically can’t do, or at least maintain, and that is providing a human component to a brand, but also creating trust and recognition across all generations. Regardless of age, sex, geography or education, Mickey has a brand recognition rate of 98%. One could argue that Amazon and Google also have high recognition rates, but they’re not championed by a giant talking animal in a tux (yet).

Mascots are storytellers for their brands. They can bring life to a product, exude values, and create human connection with the audience – all while being completely controllable. And that’s a major difference between a mascot and a spokesperson, or even the more modern equivalent, the influencer. Spokespeople and influencers are flesh and bone, and they can make mistakes that can easily tank a brand’s image. You won’t find the Jolly Green Giant or the Bounty Man embroiled in a media scandal. They operate as controlled character extensions of the brand, and never ask for a raise!

Mascots made a lot of sense during the era of print advertising, and certainly into the age of television advertisements. Any other 80’s baby will fondly remember some of them: Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald, Snap Crackle & Pop. I could go on. But unlike many forms of marketing that went extinct in the advent of the digital revolution, mascots have flourished.

Social media channels have created the perfect platform for personifying a brand, and mascots have helped many companies do it. For several years now, Flo has been a signature presence of Progressive Insurance. In fact, the character came about around the time that social media was gaining a growing part in our daily routine. In fact, Flo’s Twitter presence has more followers than Progressive itself, and it’s easy to see why. A mascot can exude the same values and brand traits, but in a more personified way. It adds human elements and entertainment to an otherwise cold process – buying car insurance. They can also dramatically boost a brand’s social presence.

According to a case study written by Mark Kelly of Convince & Convert, “brand mascot boosts shareability significantly when compared to non-character visual content. For example, the Charmin Bears contributed to 585% more shares, Tony the Tiger led to 279% more shares, the Keebler Elves led to 203% more shares, and Mr. Clean led to 182% more shares.” Recognizing this sort of traction, brands continue to create new mascots to this day – with Hinge’s “Hingie” being the latest to enter the arena.

Do mascots always work? Certainly not. Do they always last? Nope, a lot of them have gone into permanent retirement after becoming irrelevant or annoying everyone into brand avoidance (looking at you Noid). Additionally, certain mascots resonate better with some generations versus others. For Gen X, Chuck E. Cheese ranked higher in recognition than the Cheerios Honey Bee, even though the bee gets significant air time in commercials to this day. Chuck E. Cheese, or Chuck, made a deeper emotional connection with that generation at a young age, and a lasting memory.

While other means of marketing and branding continue to fall out of favor in the digital age, mascots persist. As long as we need a human touch in our brands, mascots will continue to delight, sing, joke, dance, and occasionally, annoy us into buying something.

(By the way if you want to know where your favorite character ranks, or which ranks best amongst certain generations, check out Advertising Week’s  PopIcon).

Also, as promised, Verona’s re-imagined Hillbilly:

It was Rome, not Hallmark

You may be sitting here thinking “Ugh, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Another holiday created by the greeting card industry” and you may be surprised to hear that you’re not *totally* wrong, but there’s more to it than a conspiracy launched by Hallmark to steal dollars and break hearts.

While American’s drop close to $30 billion a year on this holiday, it wasn’t created by marketers. Valentine’s day goes way, way back. Back before the stories of our grandparents courting each other on Valentines day in 1955. Back before what’s-her-name purposely didn’t give you a Valentine in fourth grade even though she gave everyone else one (I hold no grudges). Rather, it dates to ancient Rome. Let’s take a trip.

Ancient Rome was a super volatile place with violence serving as both punishment AND entertainment (and you thought watching The Bachelor was horrible). Sometime around 270 A.D., Rome witnessed the very public execution of a priest named Valentine. Why you ask? Well, this gruesome story actually has a romantic angle. Around this time, the emperor of Rome actually banned marriage. He thought marriage and family was keeping men from joining the army, and what was Rome without its Army back then?

Valentine, who was a priest and clearly a romantic, continued performing marriages in secret. Being that this was Rome and defying the emperor never ended well, it led to Valentine being sentenced to death by beheading. The story goes that before his very public death, he left a letter in his jail cell that was signed “From Your Valentine” and someone that worked at Hallmark in 272 A.D. was like, this is such a great idea. (that second part I still need to validate).

So why February 14th?  Well that part is a little murkier. Valentine was eventually recognized as a martyr, and for sainthood, becoming Saint Valentine. At some point, the anniversary of his death aligned with another ancient Roman feast – Lupercalia, which was February the 15th. I can spare you the research of Lupercalia and assure you its ancient sacrifices had very little to do with modern day Valentine’s Day. Rather, it was centuries later that the Pope decreed Lupercalia and all of its dark practices be replaced with a day of observation for St. Valentine, and all he did for love (and probably more accurately  – the church).

There was obviously a LOT that happened between then and today when you’re sending your Valentine’s Day eCards or a meme about hating Valentine’s Day. Most notably, the religious observation of February 14th came to America around the same time as Europe was exporting settlers here along with their religious beliefs (1700’s-ish). According to the History Channel, one of the practices that came to our shores via England, was “for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes” in observation of February 14th. I think you see where we’re going here.

From that tradition, bore good old American entrepreneurism. Esther Howland received a greeting card in the 1800’s and instantly recognized that there was a lucrative market to be built upon this holiday and greeting cards in general. She created cards that, to this day, still lend creative elements to the modern-day valentine. Lace-fringed box of mediocre chocolates? Yup, that was Esther and her lace in 1800-something. She built an empire on the hearts of Americans, and husbands everywhere racing out to CVS at 8:00 because “they forgot”. Today, she is known as The Mother of the American Valentine.

This year, according to the NRF, Americans everywhere will break spending records out of pure obligation. Collectively we are expected to spend, on average, $196 on V-Day gifts, and 27% (including me) will spend money on valentines day gifts for their pets. You can read all about this enlightening day of spending here and feel better knowing that there are millions of others spending spending money on Hallmark cards and candy.

I hope you learned a little history today, and I do really hope you all enjoy your Valentine’s Day, especially since it falls on a Friday this year and literally any holiday is better when it occurs on the weekend. I will be home with my partner and Marla the Bulldog eating pizza in sweatpants and *maybe* enjoying some chocolate and wine.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone…even the girl who didn’t give me a card in fourth grade even though literally everyone else got one.  

No Purchase Necessary

We’ve all done it whether we want to admit to or not. We’ve dug to the bottom of packed cereal boxes or popped the caps off countless Pepsi bottles. Or, if you were like me at 8 years old, maybe you monitored the street outside of your home for a roving camera crew holding balloons and a giant novelty check.

Sweepstakes have been driving consumers into a frenzy since they came into popularity in the 1950’s. Though they’d been around in one form or another for centuries, it really wasn’t until the golden age of advertising that they became the powerful tool of brand promotion that we know them as today.

During this era, company-sponsored contests were so popular that some people used them as a means to support their families! They would enter as many sweepstakes as possible, using the winnings (typically food and other products) to supplement their income. I once repeatedly (like, REPEATEDLY) entered a contest for a major candy producer to win a lifetime supply of candy, telling my parents that I could live off it while giving no regard to my dental future or a lifetime of eventual diabetes.  Author Terry Ryan actually recanted her own family’s experience in her biographical memoir The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.  (BTW- This was later turned into a movie starring two of my favorites – Laura Dern and Julianne Moore).

We understand why consumers engage with such fervor when it comes to sweepstakes – money, cars, maybe even 15 minutes of fame. But, why did companies start using them for marketing? Because they are profoundly powerful when it comes to promotion and word of mouth. Before our days of digital media, word of mouth was king.

Contests were a great way to drum up conversation over a product or company that wasn’t part of the daily discourse amongst friends or coworkers. Think of Mcdonald’s and its infamous Monopoly contest. Yes, McDonald’s was a brand staple for many American households in the 80s, 90’s and today. That said, it’s not like they came up in every day conversation. But that all changed with Monopoly. Even with exceptionally impossible odds, conversations turned to “If I win that $2 million…” or “all I need is Boardwalk, do you have it?” or “all of these fries are making me sick, but by god I am going to win that Dodge Viper”. In it’s initial 6-month run in 1987, McDonald’s witnessed the fruits of their labor as both sales and brand recognition jumped dramatically.

No purchase necessary?

Once when I was 10, I took it upon myself to get everyone in my family a magazine subscription. I’m sorry, but what teenage sister didn’t want a subscription to Tiger Beat in the 1980’s? And how could my brother not be into Compute! magazine when he was so good at playing Carmen San Diego on our Apple II? Anyway, I was ambitious and wanted a life of grandeur and thought I could dramatically improve my family’s odds of winning by ticking off the box to nearly every magazine subscription that Publisher’s Clearing House offered. It took my mom MONTHS to fix it, with one nearly un-cancellable subscription to Good Housekeeping lasting nearly a decade (um, you’re welcome Mom). In the end, it literally had zero impact on our chances. Thanks for nothing Ed McMahon.

Many sweepstakes were so popular in America that it didn’t even matter that a purchase wasn’t required in order to participate. However, that requirement wasn’t up to the companies nor the marketing brains behind the campaigns. It boils down to the fine line that exist between contests, sweepstakes, raffles, and lotteries and ALL of them are closely monitored by government agencies. For a sweepstake to be, well, a sweepstake and not a lottery, there must be no purchase made in order to enter or enhance the chance of winning. A lottery on the other hand, offers prizes directly based upon the money from entries and ticket sales, and is also much more tightly governed.

Then and now.

Sweepstakes in the 1950’s and 60’s had a much more creative element to them than many do today. In the earlier days of contests, many required a bit of participation from the entrant – such as writing contests or naming sweepstakes where individuals could actually name a product and win, I assume, a lifetime supply of that product. There’s even a certain Christmas movie where a child enters a writing contest for Ovaltine (gross) so he could win a rifle.

Today’s sweepstakes are no less prevalent but have become much more digitized. Digital marketing solutions have taken the classic sweepstakes campaign and put it on a dose of steroids. Likewise, social media has created much easier means for smaller companies to jump in on the sweepstakes game, and it’s paying off.

Unlike the days of writing and naming contests, today’s entries usually require no more than a fillable electronic form. Whether it’s providing your email or tagging 5 of your besties on Instagram, entering a contest and providing valuable marketing data on the backend is as easy as that. If you log onto any platform right now, I assure you that you’ll find at least one example asking you to reshare their post as means to enter, thus creating a mandatory word of mouth campaign for that company. Sneaky? Maybe.  Efficient? Very much so.

Even McDonald’s Monopoly, the behemoth of sweepstakes, went digital in 2005. While I preferred the physical collection of game pieces (and the physical collection of fries), McD’s knew that a digital interface would provide them far more control over the game, but also heaps upon heaps of data about us. Understanding what we all do about data today, we know how useful that data would prove to be for future product and marketing enhancements.

I never win anything.

It’s a running joke that I never win anything. The odds could be as low as a game of “guess which hand” and I’d lose, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming of a win and entering my name. Maybe it’s the allure of cash prizes and an early retirement, or maybe it’s just getting caught up in the frenzy of a good sweepstakes. Either way, sweepstakes remain common today, gifting even larger prizes in an increasingly impossible odds of winning. But, as Ed McMahon once said, “It could be you!”

(Also – If you’re interested in reading The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio, (it really is a great read) you can pick it up here )

Must Have Been an Earworm. (Ew, a what?)

It’s the morning after the Grammy’s, and I for one, can’t get Billie Eilish out of my head. Perhaps it was the fact that she nearly swept the awards alst night, keeping her song playing for what seemed like every 5 minutes. Or, maybe it’s something more scientific  – and maybe even something in common with a Mentos jingle.

Some of the younger readers may or may not be familiar with advertising jingles. In all fairness, they’ve fallen out of popularity from their once pervasive presence. Many of us will likely remember such unforgettable classics as the Kit Kat theme or the ode to Oscar Mayer Weiners. I apologize if these are now echoing through your head.

Jingles came about in a time of significantly less marketing channel availability. There was no social media, email, or even *gasp* television. The first jingle rolled out in the 1920’s when radio was the media of choice for America and beyond. In 1926, General Mills became the first brand to use a short combination of words and melody to advertise their struggling Wheaties brand, thus inventing what would become the jingle as we know it. Also, this was literally sang by a group called the Wheaties Quartet (they did not sweep any Grammy’s awards, by the way). Following the jingle’s release, the cereal that was up for discontinuation experienced record sales and would persevere into the future, being the cereal of choice for countless breakfasts and late night snacks.

As radio continued to dominate, so too did the jingle. As you may know, television wasn’t popular or affordable for most until the 1950’s, and while TV had the notable benefit of visually illustrating a product’s benefits, radio did not (obviously). So brands battled the airwaves to have the most memorable jingles to not only differentiate themselves, but also echo through the heads of Americans as they browsed the aisles of grocers.

So, what about jingles (or Billie Eilish) makes them so memorable that we can’t seem to expunge them from our brains? Well, there’s actually some science to it – and they’re called earworms. I know, the word evokes terrible images of some horrific insect planting musical repetition in our heads. While this sounds like a great plot to a Sci Fi film, it’s actually much less frightening and far more nerdy and scientific.

Earworms are technically just catchy songs or melodies that get stuck in our brains. Technically speaking, they’re usually 15 to 30 second sections of a song – making jingles perfectly suited to fit. Beyond jingles, they can be a bridge of a song, or a repeating verse, or maybe a terrible song about a…baby shark (Sorry that I just planted that in your head). The simpler the piece, the harder it is to get it out of your head.

Even with advances in all things science, experts still don’t know the exact reasoning for why the phenomenon occurs, but do recognize that it most likely has to do with our working memory. This is the section of the brain that process and stores verbal information – so sort of the same process and section of the brain that we use in classroom experiences.

While radio is still present today, it’s golden era has mostly passed as newer media channels have emerged. So, what becomes of the jingle? They still exist to some degree in television commercials and socially shared internet content, though they a far cry from their wholesome tunes of a bygone era.

Very few large companies are still using the jingle – but if you listen hard enough you can find them. One of the more notable modern jingles is the short, but catchy “I’m Loving It” of the fast food giant McDonald’s. (Fun music nerd fact: This jingle was originally sung by another multi-award-winning Grammy artist, Justin Timberlake, and the jingle was then turned into a song on his album, produced by The Neptunes).

Aside from shifting media channel preferences, another factor has led to the decline of jingles: original licensed music. As original music ages, it becomes easier for companies to license an artist’s original song. While many artists have notably fought to keep their songs from becoming the next jingle selling a burger or vacuum cleaner, many have lost and witnessed their songs go on to grace countless commercials.

Today, we see far more original music being used in advertisements than we do jingles. In fact, many artists and labels will readily sign off on the opportunity. With declining royalties and streaming services cutting into traditional album sales, artists see music placement as a new channel of income. And, it works. 

Unless you’ve been under a rock this past year, Lizzo has dropped all sorts of earworms on us. Her music is literally everywhere – from commercials, to movies, to television shows. She has inserted her hits in every channel that presented itself and it has paid off. While she didn’t walk away from the Grammy’s last night with the biggest award (which, I think she deserved), she did take home Best Traditional R&B Performance and Best Urban Contemporary album. 

So, the next time you can’t seem to get that tune out of your head, just remember it’s just an innocent earworm.

“Who You Gonna Call?” (Hint: Not the person that ghosted you)

Halloween may be over, but there are still ghosts lurking about (cue creepy music). Unfortunately, the Ghost Busters aren’t going to be able to confront these ghosts- it’s all on us.

Ghosting, a term once reserved for the world of dating, has made its way into the professional world. According to Merriam-Webster (wait, let’s pause here – that’s how prevalent this is- it’s made the dictionary), ghosting is “the act or practice of abruptly cutting off all contact with someone (such as a former romantic partner) by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls, instant messages, etc.” By that definition alone, you can see how this phantom phenomenon can easily translate into the workplace.

If you’ve been ghosted before, whether personally or professionally, you understand the feeling. It leaves you wondering, annoyed, and even hurt. As an introvert, I put a lot of weight into my interactions with others, so when steady communication is suddenly and inexplicably ended, it hits particularly hard. Further, as a communications professional, you can understand how a broken chain of communication can both baffle and frustrate me.

Let me be clear here, I’m not talking about one email that may have gone unanswered. That happens. We all have inboxes that could make us blush if others saw them. What I mean are situations that entailed weeks of constant communication and proposals. The situations where you feel the other party supported your new idea, or perhaps you as a candidate, and was ready to take it to the next level (see- more dating correlations).

You may have already planned your future moves -just like the days of writing your middle school boyfriend’s name all over your notebook as you envisioned your future married life (we all did it). But unlike middle school, these future plans have real consequences. They could include forgoing other opportunities or offers because you’ve been led down a path that ends in…silence. We all deserve responses.

Mass communication is both the solution and the excuse. We excuse our behavior and that of others because “we’re so busy” and inundated with information from everywhere. But, on the flip side, it’s just as easy to communicate outward through those same channels. In the time you’ve been reading this article, I would bet money that a few of you stopped to respond to some email or text that came through. It only takes literal seconds to thoughtfully respond.

Communicating in 2019 is easy. If my mom is able to send me a text message, or an email at 7am about someone that she thinks I may know from high school that she saw in the grocery store, than we can also say things like “Thanks, but I’ve reconsidered” or “Sorry, still thinking about this but I’ve been busy” or even “I don’t like the idea but I’ve been too afraid to be an adult and say that in the first place”.  If you think it may hurt to reject someone’s idea, please think of how much more it hurts to leave them hanging on.

On the other hand, perhaps YOU are the ghost. Have you abruptly left anyone waiting for an answer or update? Avoiding contact because perhaps you don’t want to deliver certain news? It’s not too late to return to the world of the living. Own your lack of communication and take action. Get back to those individuals and either deliver the closure they so desperately need, or help the project or candidate move along to the next stage.

Recruiters and hiring companies have been doing it to candidates for years. Weeks of fast paced interviews followed by weeks of silence, or even nothing at all. It comes as little surprise than that they’re facing the same ghost problem today. According to a Recruiting Daily study, over 58% of respondents say they’ve been ghosted by candidates recently. With the job market being as strong as it currently is, many aren’t waiting around for answers or even giving them. The script has flipped, but it certainly doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

As professionals, I call on everyone to take responsibility from their end as well if they think they’ve been ghosted. Don’t be afraid to respectfully check in, or to move on should it feel like the right thing to do. Every individual’s time is valuable – whether you are the CEO or just starting out. We all have the same amount of time in the day that we need to balance.

If you’ve tried all avenues of communing with the spirits and you still aren’t getting an answer, perhaps its best to put your energy and effort towards someone else or a different opportunity. Sometimes, no amount of emails or questions for the Ouija board are going to uncover an answer. Much like the dating world, there are plenty of fish in the sea and some are just better at communicating than others. Work with those fish.

Do we need to say No, more often?

 “Focus is saying ‘No’.” – Steve Jobs

Growing up, my least favorite word was no. In fact, I’d be lying if I said the sound of that word doesn’t still make me cringe a bit. If my parents said no to one of my (many) requests, I would simply interpret it as our mutually agreed starting point for negotiation.  “Maybe if I try rephrasing this?” “Maybe if I just ask Dad first and secure his support before I approach Mom?” “Maybe if I highlight the benefits first before I ask?” My 7-year-old brain was clearly destined for a corporate career one day. 

Fast forward to my 30’s- I still take some issue with hearing the word no, but I have an even harder time saying it. What is it about saying no that is so hard for some people?

For some, the inability or hesitance to say no stems from the desire to appear agreeable or flexible. For others, it could be a sense of “FOMO”  – that by saying no to some additional project, they’ll miss out on the opportunity for advancement. Neither reasoning is wrong, and I would argue it’s almost natural.

Saying no takes thought and conviction. Odds are, if someone is asking you to take on some extra work or if you agree with their idea, they are expecting to hear yes. In fact, most often, that’s really all we want to hear. Saying yes is easy, often requiring no further explanation. But for many, saying no means having to back it up. We start spewing the reasons behind our no’s – trying to verbally validate our decisions. Appeasing others is practically hardwired in our brains.

We also assume that people aren’t going to “take no for an answer” because it’s been instilled in us. Before someone even has the chance to ask “why not?” our minds (or, at least mine), have probably already generated a list of reasons to justify our decision, or avoid looking like the bad guy. Going back to the childhood example, how often did we accept that answer? How many times did we ask why, hoping for a change of heart?

In business, as in life, the pressure to say yes is constant. But rather than the peer pressure of friends and family, we encounter pressure from colleagues, bosses, and customers. There is no shortage of demands and requests for our attention and time, but there is a shortage of time. If we said yes to every request, where would we come up with the infinite amount of time required, on top of our normal responsibilities, in addition to our personal lives? Life is always a balance of time and constantly saying yes can easily tip that scale and create undue stress, unfinished projects, and no forward momentum.

We all want to advance, and often we associate opportunities presented as the means of doing so. But maybe all opportunities aren’t necessarily roads to success. Perhaps they’re just roads to new experiences, or even more mundane roads that just need to be traversed because it’s part of the job.  Being able to identify the opportunities that will truly benefit you in the long run, versus those that are going to add avoidable stress is key. Being able to say no when we need to shows conviction and that you value your time and energy.

Sometimes having that one great idea means saying no to many others – even your own. But maybe we should look at it differently. Think of it less as saying no, and more as editing. You’re editing your choices to create more time for the best parts – both professional and personal. As professionals, we often have a lot on our plate. We can’t expect to ask for more if we can’t handle what’s there. Take a look at your leaders. If you think they’re saying yes to everything, or even a large percentage of requests and ideas, you’re mistaken. Just like us, they don’t have the time or resources to take on every request or new idea presented to them. Next time you’re presented with a request or idea, consider whether it’s going to keep you from finishing an already-assigned project or even a key goal for your role. If an opportunity keeps you from meeting those standing objectives or leaves you with no time for personal pursuits, maybe it’s not an opportunity after all.

Do you ever struggle with saying no? How do you say it while still entertaining opportunities and new ideas? I’d love to hear your thoughts, unless you don’t have time – in which case – it’s totally okay to say no.

(Also- I’d like to dedicate this article to my mom, for teaching me the power of no)

“Hi Dad…It’s me…”

Growing up, my siblings and I were transported to and fro in the velour-covered confines of a wood-paneled Buick wagon. Throughout my childhood, we had 5 of them in differing shades of blue, with one brown example thrown in the mix when my dad made a decision without my mom’s input (which was always blue, if that wasn’t clear). You would think these family haulers blessed us with comfort and luck, but you’d be surprised (or not) to know that they left us stranded more times than I can recall. So, why did my parents keep buying them? Because: blind brand loyalty.

Prior to the golden age of the internet, most of our research came via word of mouth. We asked our friends, family, neighbors and milkman for their input, and it likely ended there. Often, we leveraged our own family experience with a specific brand to determine our choices. Many folks within the Baby Boomer, Gen X and even older echelon of Millennials will probably recall vividly the brand loyalty our families typically had. We were Ford families or GM families; Tide families or Ajax families. I could go on, but you get the point: our research mostly ended at the loyalty our family already had. And so, wood-paneled Buicks for life. Or, at least until the early 90’s.

By my own middle school days, my parents had grown weary of being left on the side of the road and the subtle art of not flooding an engine. In the mid 90’s, product research had evolved in the Foran household. We had…dial up! My dad still relied on input from coworkers and friends, but for the first time, this was cross referenced with diligent, but slow, internet research. He leveraged articles, consumer reports, and even chat rooms (can you imagine?) to finally break the chain of wagons and begin what would be a very long stretch of Honda minivans.

These days, like a lot of other Millennials, I find myself making most of my decisions based upon a variety of sources, most of them digital. Like my dad back in 1996, I rely on the knowledge of the internet – heavily. I read reviews, I ask questions in real time, I’ve even polled my followers on social platforms when I just need someone to take the wheel for me. But there are some decisions that can’t be weighed simply using digital avenues. When it comes to decisions like finance, home buying, or other big life decisions, those queries start with these key words: “Hi Dad, it’s me again…”

The Foran Clan, 1982

Even growing up in the age of the internet, and being true digital natives, older generations (i.e. Mom and Dad) are still represent our primary beacons of financial knowledge. “According to a 2017 Instamotor survey, 78.5 percent of U.S. millennials say their parents have given them financial advice, and more than half feel their parents prepared them well to make good financial decisions.” And why wouldn’t they be? Unlike strangers on the internet or anonymous reviews, we are certain that our parents have 2 things: experience and our best interest at heart.

Older generations have been the experience – they’ve bought homes, saved for retirement, and raised families. While 2019 is different than say, 1985, the basic tenets of these processes still exist and we should be leveraging experience. The internet is great, but first-hand knowledge is undeniable. I ask the internet for a LOT of advice. Sometimes it’s great – it most recently helped me choose my new car. But, sometimes it’s terrible, like when it told me my cold symptoms were probably a life-threatening tropical disease and set off a flurry of panic.

When it comes to child-to-parent conversations, Instamotor discovered that “The most popular subject was saving, with 72 percent discussing it with their parents, followed by budgeting at 59 percent.”

Like the internet, we may not always agree with the information or advice that our parent give us. I would say the take-it-or-leave-it ratio with my own parents is about 50:50. But, I still ask, and I always will. Life’s big decisions  – those absolutely life changing decisions – are best reserved for research that doesn’t begin and end at self-service and internet research. We owe it to ourselves to speak to those that have been through it.