Commentary

Chatbooks' Get-to-Know-Us Appeal Is Catnip For Overburdened Parents

Between work nuisances, another appliance apocalypse and a blown-out lower back, it’s been quite the week. Rather than rage against the whims of fate, though, I sucked it up and did what history’s most courageous individuals - Indira Gandhi, Arthur Ashe, Buffy the Vampire Slayer et al - might have done if faced with a similar set of circumstances: Pick a pointless fight with the head of my kids’ school over its picture-day pricing and practices.

Am I the only one who thinks school photos are a scam on par with Internet inheritances and solar power? Package E has the class photo and the 8-by-10, but not the 4-by-6… unless you spring for the “bonus” package (an additional $6), which includes the 4-by-6 (“with border”) and adds 50 wallet-size photos, or roughly 43 more than I can foist on friends and family. The configurations are dizzying.

The photo companies co-opt parental guilt for maximum commercial impact: If you don’t spring for the glossy finish, you’re a terrible parent who might as well sell Junior to the gypsies. Thus I can get a bookmark embossed with a shot of the little one ($6 for five bookmarks) but not a CD containing both the kid pix and the class photo. There’s no a la carte menu. Retouching (of “cuts, bruises, stains and flyaway hairs”) costs extra. This is bullshit.

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I spent a solid eight minutes ranting about this to the obnoxiously calm school director, who’d just heard an earful from someone else about the newly installed “peace education” curriculum and still somehow wasn’t contemplating a new career direction. Her cheery reaction was, “Don’t buy the pictures, then. You’re the boss!” Never one to fold in the face of logic, I responded, “Oh yeah? Well, YOU’RE the boss!” and fist-bumped a nearby plant.

Happily, as I glided along the anger-to-acceptance continuum, I happened to come across a company that’s the practical, financial and moral antithesis of the school-photo provider: Chatbooks. Even though its easy-to-assemble photo books are specifically targeted at people like me - the service is app-based and requires minimal uploading and organizing - I’d never heard of it. This is because I’m a working parent with children. I exist in a cocoon of Lisfranc-rupturing Legos and severed sandwich crusts. I live with a condition that I’ve come to call “yogurt shoulder.”

Chatbooks, nearly alone among companies of its kind, gets all this. In the enigmatically titled “Stop Wasting Hours Making Photo Books. This One Takes 1 Minute,” Chatbooks hits that note with authority, practically writing off parents (“imaginary moms”) who have hours to spend curating gloriously appointed, meticulously formatted photo books.

In the video, an overworked, underappreciated mom (played with knowing comic despair by Lisa Valentine Clark) dodges arrows and inquisitive children alike as she explains how the app/service works. Kids jump off the roof and tease performances of “the potty dance”; mom chronicles all the insanity with her phone and still manages to keep everyone alive, which is trickier than it sounds. The photo books - culled from Facebook and Instagram feeds as well as the phone’s favorites folder - pretty much make themselves.

Here’s where you might stop to say: Uh, I don’t need photo books. My photo needs are already well met using apps from Framebridge, Snapfish and the like, thank you very much. To that I respond: You’re almost as bad as that parent who cheaped out on his kid’s school photos.

Ha ha no. “Stop Wasting Hours” succeeds because it prompts an almost visceral I WANT THIS reaction among its target audience. Prior to watching the video, I didn’t know that I needed what it calls “a magazine subscription to [my] own life.” Now I do - and pretty much every person with whom I shared Chatbooks downloaded it and started using it right away. It’s a rare piece of marketing that strikes with such immediacy.

The clip isn’t perfect. It errs on the side of over-explaining the service, plus the gag starts to wear thin in the clip’s fourth minute. But only the hardest-hearted of parents won’t respond to the exquisitely well-stated core sentiment of “Stop Wasting Hours”: “I want to hold on to every single freaking stupid, stressful, beautiful moment.” So yeah: If there’s a smarter, warmer, funnier get-to-know-us brand video out there, I haven’t seen it.
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