Taking Time Seems Hard To Take

I met Jennifer on April 19 during the second year of this decade now coming to a close. She was sitting next to me on a flight from San Francisco to New York. I was flying back East to surprise my nephew for his ninth birthday and she was returning home from a business trip to the headquarters of her company, Sun Microsystems.

We hit it off before the plane left the ground, and our conversation never encountered any turbulence. Five or so months later, during another of my trips to NYC for work and to take my seatmate-turned-girlfriend to the U.S. Open men's finals, Jennifer left a voicemail on a crisp Tuesday morning alerting me she had escaped safely from Tower Two.

I had planned weeks prior to work from our New York offices, so being in NYC on 9/11 was as predestined as my relationship with Jennifer. We barely left each other's side for the weeks that followed, and a few months later she moved out to San Francisco and in with me. While we were living together, she came home one day with a cardboard box containing two furry black kittens. She named the boy Momo and his sister Maxine.

Life sort of twisted and turned from there, and Jennifer and I grew apart. Today our relationship is intact, but no longer romantic. After our split, Jennifer (and the cats) moved back to NYC. Years later she married a great guy, and became both pregnant and allergic to the cats.

By this time, I had moved back to NYC and was an obvious choice for Jennifer to ask to take in Momo and Maxine. I hesitated due to my travel schedule and the distant memory of cat litter sticking to my bare feet -- but I knew giving the cats away was very hard for Jennifer, and she knew I missed them, so they moved in with me.

Like most cats, they walked around a new home on edge, spending most of their time huddled under the bed as their nerves were tested by doors opening and buzzers buzzing. Today however, over a year since they'd moved in, the cats act more like loyal dogs -- greeting visitors, sleeping on top of the bed instead of under it, and constantly following me around instead of scurrying away.

Now that Momo and Mackie feel safe and secure, our connection has become the unwavering and unnerving kind that makes normal people talk to animals while claiming to understand what is said back. Built with positive reinforcement -- aka, treats and gentle nose-rubbing -- this relationship took time to evolve.

Everything worth anything takes time.

This includes advertising to work -- if you define working as building a relationship with a consumer that will last a lifetime. As a medium, we started this decade in such an aggressive rush to prove online "worked," and we have never shed this manic positioning. So everything we do, make, and sell gets positioned as something that will work right away.

We need to stand behind our innovations, but stop promising advertisers that what we do works the second they take it out of the box. I understand the market pressure applied by buyers looking to report instant success, but we as a medium (both buyers and sellers) take way too much credit for consumer's actions, as if these actions aren't based on time spent with other media. In doing so, we feed the frenzy that ads must work versus positioning what they work towards over time.

Building relationships with consumers so they are less skittish, more ready to cozy up to an advertiser's brand and follow it around for the rest of their lives, takes time. Online publishers and ad agencies would better serve clients (and themselves) if they built this into their dialogue when they present the solutions they create.

This decade started by handing all of us a devastating emotional blow, regardless of where you were that day. As this decade comes to a close, I wonder why we operate at such a manic pace, trying to convince those we sell, that what we produce will work the second it's bought. Is it possible we are all moving so fast because we're all running away from the same pain?

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10 comments about "Taking Time Seems Hard To Take".
  1. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service , December 3, 2009 at 12:54 p.m.

    Exceptional, even poetic. Good writing is vulnerable and sometimes involves a little bleeding, and there's very little of anything like this in the media (and even less in the media about the media, which is the universe MediaPost actually lives in).

    But how can we in marketing and advertising create repeatable 'I met you on the plane' moments that are anything but random? I think we do what we do, clumsy, ineffective, boneheaded as it often is, because we can't repeat those kinds of successes on any scale. How many people have you sat next to on a plane that DIDN'T end up giving you their cats after a long period of building trust? How many cats aren't living in your house? I agree that this is an ideal conclusion, but how do you get there in any methodical, repeatable, teachable way?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , December 3, 2009 at 1:08 p.m.

    Maybe it should be twitted that immediate gratification may not be bringing the intended results. There are still virtues - a concept in and of itself are obscure to generations - in patience.

  3. Helene Kremer from L'esprit de Vin , December 3, 2009 at 1:35 p.m.

    I think what I can take away, both professionally and personally, is that change, even in a new and exciting relationship, is painful. However, despite this pain, we all know that change is necessary for growth and development. Thanks for sharing your personal story with us!

  4. Tim Rohrer from Radio One , December 3, 2009 at 2:37 p.m.

    I like the article and agree with the point. Unfortunately, I kept thinking about the fact that you met your girlfriend in 2002 (the second year of this decade) and then something happened in 2001 (9/11 attacks. Very confusing until I figured that you made the same mistake as most - assuming the decade starts with the zero year. The decade and the century start with the 1 year.

  5. Tony Anderson from SF Ad Guy , December 3, 2009 at 3:28 p.m.

    Very touching and uplifting Ari...thanks for sharing...shows the world that "us salesfolk" do indeed have a human side and it's not all about dollars and cents! I've tweeted and shared this column on facebook.
    - Happy Holidays - Tony Anderson

  6. Jason Krebs from Maker , December 3, 2009 at 4:06 p.m.

    Cats are as cool as Ari is true.

  7. Jonas Halpren from Federated Media , December 3, 2009 at 5:20 p.m.


    Great column and nice way to make a much needed point. Advertisers can be sure be skitish.

    Glad you have the kitties. Went through a similar experience, I have the cats now. And yes, I do speak to then like they are people. :)

  8. Jesse Kohl from Environics , December 3, 2009 at 9:08 p.m.

    Hi Ari -

    As far as I'm concerned, this piece was a work of art, but it should have ended at "Everything worth anything takes time." This really hit home.

    Let us figure out for ourselves how it relates to advertising.

    This piece would have been worth it.

  9. Jeff Bach from Quietwater Media , December 4, 2009 at 11:42 a.m.

    #1 - One of the best examples I've read of how well storytelling can be used to make a point. Great writing!

    #2 - Love the point Monica Bower brings up. I think her very good observations brings up the divide between commodity and specialty.

    Commodity media scales well, is cheap to produce and reaches lots of people. It is a "spray and pray" kind of thing, poorly OR NOT AT ALL designed to create interaction or relationships.

    Specialty media is smaller, it can be cheap to produce (but this is not always the case), and it is crafted to increase the odds of interaction and relationship building.

    Monica, to me, is making the very good point that you pretty much cannot get the methodical, repeatable teachable moments with a consumer UNTIL you have built their trust and have a relationship. You tend to get that relationship with small specialty efforts over a long period of time, NOT with one time spray and pray big ads done at scale.

    Those big bazillion dollar CPG firms are too big and spend too much money building stuff for scale, which fails to stick in the way they want. But they have not figured out how to do the small local patient relationship building. They only know "commodity" and largely fail to recognize "specialty".

  10. Michael Spitz , December 11, 2009 at 5:23 p.m.

    Daring, creative segue', Ari....you made a "stretch", maybe more worthy of the last content page of The Sunday New York Times Magazine Section than MediaPost but, you pulled it off....

    Sorry if I may have missed some of your other more recent contributions...