Of Mice And Mad Men

Last fall, as usual, a mouse moved into my house when the weather got cold. Also, as usual, I began my quest to remove it. But this year, planning its demise, I suddenly felt sorry for the mouse. I realized, with a small twinge of guilt, that I was doing to the mouse what Internet marketers do to everybody.

Nonetheless, I went to work to find the right bait.  Peanut butter makes good bait for mice. Link bait is the preferred solution for humans. I wondered if signage would appeal to the mouse: “5 ways to chew through a bag of dog food,” or,“Minnie Mouse in torrid sex positions you thought you’d never see!”

Of course, I had to go get a trap. There’s the snap-its-neck version, the poison-it version, and the cruel mire-it-in-glue version. In online marketing, the trap is a big fat message, or the classic, “did I mention you have to give me your email address?” Or maybe it’s the silent type: Just set a cookie. Either way, as trap-ee I feel the sucking sound of my brain going down someone’s funnel.



The problem with the mousetrap-marketing model is that the bait usually makes it too obvious that a trap is set. To consumers, bait smells like trap.  After a while, the bait is a signal to stay away. What’s worse, assuming the message is branded, consumers know who set the trap. They also know to stay away from certain places where traps abound.  The message sent by the deception is likely more memorable than the message the deception was intended to communicate!  

How can we change the game?

Perhaps I could befriend the mouse, and ask it nicely to leave the house. That was once the promise of social media. Perhaps I could leave a trail of bait that leads to a place outside my house where the mouse might comfortably spend the winter.

What, indeed, is the win-win alternative to the mousetrap model of marketing?

Whatever it is, it’s friendly, provides honest value, and communicates something about the agenda. After all, if I’m your friend, we will have opportunities to chat in the future. No point in seeming insecure by dumping the whole story in one corpulent download. No point in lighting up visual fireworks if I am already paying attention. (Maybe attention paid to boring content is the ultimate test of someone’s interest in the subject matter!).

Simply being nice does not guarantee anything, of course. The mouse might take advantage of our friendship, eat all the bait, and then move back in. (Ad blocking).  But savvy trappers are patient. To them, a miss is just another opportunity to strengthen the story, tell another aspect, change the bait, or create more value.  

Overplay your hand, and the mouse will know you are not its friend. It’s in control. It can hide. Your bait and trap will be worthless if the mouse becomes skeptical of your peanut butter.

Honest Ted’s Humane Consumer Mousetrap makes the following claim: The bait honestly communicates the consequences of taking it, and the consequence will be something pleasant that nudges the mouse in the right direction. Tender trap.

I used to work with a company that had a model that suggested you set the bait, and then you try to build a relationship. It was: Catch, Connect, Close. Pretty good, but still a bit predatory.

After considering my resident mouse, I offer you a gentler version: Bait, Wait, Relate. The difference is a softer close. That’s the sort of thing a friend would do. And, by the way, don’t make the “relate” into some sort of “Hi, buddy -- you and I, we think alike.” That’s gag-worthy. Hey, you’re an ad. Own it.

3 comments about "Of Mice And Mad Men".
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  1. kevin lee from Didit / eMarketing Association / Giving Forward, March 31, 2016 at noon

    Great story.  I guess I'd add that if all the other house owners are using bait, even if you aren't, the mice get skeptical and won't relate to anyone, they will just stay in the wall. 

    Can all the neighbors go cold turkey on bait at the same time?  Probably not.  Prisoner's Dilemma meets Tragedy of the Commons. (OK, so I had to take economics once undergrad and again in grad school).

    Another way to think about it is craft messaging as if you were with the recipient, F2F. If you wouldn't pull a bait and switch in a conversation F2F, why do it online?


  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 31, 2016 at 12:41 p.m.

    So Ted, what finally happened to the mouse? Is he---or she----still lurking about? Or are you considering another solution---like getting---or renting---a cat, for instance?

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 31, 2016 at 5:48 p.m.

    WHere there is one, there are many. There is no such thing as just one cockaroach either.

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