The victims of your good intentions

This is an article that hits incredibly close to home because Charlie, my creative muse was found on the street – lost or abandoned – on a cold January night here in Toronto eight years ago.


Rover and Kitty might have seemed like the perfect presents during the mad rush leading up to Christmas, but each year, animal shelters across the country prepare for a mass return of unwanted pets in the post-holiday season.

Photograph by: David Paul Morris, Getty Images

TORONTO — Rover and Kitty might have seemed like the perfect presents during the mad rush leading up to Christmas, but each year, animal shelters across the country prepare for a mass return of unwanted pets in the post-holiday season.

“It’s a common problem unfortunately at Christmas time,” said Michael O’Sullivan, the executive director of the Humane Society of Canada. “It’s a real example of the best intentions gone wrong.”

The society hears about an influx of animals at shelters, rescue organizations and humane societies across the country every January. Fortunately, the increase isn’t as great as it used to be thanks to a number of public awareness campaigns that discourage gifting pets during the holidays. Some shelters even have strict policies prohibiting gift adoptions. O’Sullivan said people don’t always realize that all pets — whether it’s a dog, cat, turtle, rabbit, guinea pig or bird — require not only affection, but time and money. “I often liken it to a stranger showing up at your doorstep with suitcases. He’s going to live with you for 15 or 16 years and he’s saying: ‘Where’s my room?’” he said.

“It’s kind of heartbreak all around if you don’t talk to the people you’re giving the pet to first.” Animals also aren’t a “one-size-fits-all” gift; some pets require more exercise, food and medical care than others. Some dogs live as long as 18 years, while cats have an average life span of 20 years. Instead, O’Sullivan suggests those wanting to give a pet should instead give a preview gift of a leash, food and water bowl for a potential dog owner or a litter box for a cat owner and then head into a shelter in the new year. Alison Cross, a spokeswoman with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said it’s hard on the animals when they’re returned or abandoned by new owners who suddenly find they have less time to care for them when work schedules gear up again in January. “The reality is that pets end up suffering because they have to transition from one home to another, which is quite stressful for an animal,” she said.

Many times people fall in love with an animal in a pet store and rush to purchase, unaware that the animal might not be up-to-date with vaccinations or spayed or neutered — leading to a heavy cost for the new owners.

Cross said those unable to care for their new pets should first try to reach out to their social networks and see if any of other friends or family are seriously looking for an animal companion.

At the Edmonton Humane Society, the number of animals that arrived at the shelter doubled in 2010.

“It’s terrible for the animals to move around so much like that,” said spokeswoman Shawna Randolph. “An animal needs to be in a loving home, no matter what its age.”

Randolph said the increase in animals at the shelter isn’t limited to the holiday season, largely due to a public campaign the society runs promoting half-price adoptions of cats and rabbits starting the week after Christmas.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Why Brand Continuity Matters

For years I’ve argued that brand continuity is important, and for years franchisees have told me it isn’t. Here are two recent examples that illustrate why brand continuity matters.

Example #1 :: Sobeys

I lived in Winnipeg for two years and shopped at Sobeys because 1. I could walk there, 2. it was a clean bright store,  3. my father-in-law recommended it, and 4. it also had a pharmacy. I came to look forward to my frequent small shopping trips. Better yet they had a number of products that I came to love. I’m not a foodie, but Sobeys did it’s best to make me one. So now I’m back in Toronto – missing my local Sobeys and some of those special treats. I drove to the nearest one, only to find it small, dingy, unfriendly and worst of all – the treats I loves to buy in Winnipeg were nowhere to be found in the Toronto store.  The result: i will not go back to Sobey’s in Toronto and I’ll share my brand disappointment with others.

Example #2 :: Days Inn

Charlie (my dog) and I drive to Winnipeg and back a few times a year. When my wife comes along we make it a road-vacation. we set a leisurely pace and overnight 4-5 times enroute. Over the years and miles we’ve found that some hotels and motels have no-dog policies, others charge you as much as a 2nd (or 3rd) human occupant, and others will put you up in their ‘smoking’ rooms. Then there is Days Inn. So far no matter what route we have taken from Toronto to Winnipeg and back, Days Inn was always happy to put up Michelle,  Charlie and me for a $10-$20.00 premium in a non-smoking room. Given the rooms are large, comfortable and equipped with wireless internet and a desk, they’ll continue to get my business and my referrals.

As Holiday Inn used to say in their ads: “The best surprise is no surprise”.

Go for lunch in Hixton Wisconsin


  We’re 1/2 way home. Neither here nor there. And I love it. For the last 30 years now I have been a holiday traveler. At first it was odd to be going just when most everyone seemed to be coming. But then I got to talking to those who I met on the road. Year after year I found the same thing. And I suspect that if I had a time machine I could go back to the original Christmas Story and find the same results:

1. There are two kinds of people out there as we speak: those who are coming or going, and those who help us come and go.

2. There are two kinds of people helping us come and go: some are just putting in time, and some are ‘Transition Experts’. They help us along the way with everything from communications and transportation to food and lodging. For them its a calling – no less that this is mine and being a minister is my brother’s.

Today my wife and I refueled our vehicles at a truck-stop that’s on I95 on your right when heading into Hixton, Wisconsin.  Given the size of the truck parking area and the number of trucks there, we decided to see what the main attraction was. My years on the road told me that there was a lesson to be learned here. There was.

Here’s a summary. They give a shit. And the fact that they do permeates the entire environment. It’s a testament to my mantra: All we say and do tells your customers that they have come to the right place – or the wrong place.

:: Super clean, neat & tidy 60′s diner environment.

::  Lunch was served by a genuinely cheerful \ quirky waitress.

::  They use real Fiesta ware and complimented by heavy, matching cutlery.

::  $3.95 bought Michelle a home-made meat-loaf sandwich.

::  $3.95 bought me a cup of home-made chili and a grilled cheese sandwich on home-made bread.

We stayed much longer than planned because I need to drink it all in. Clearly the owner of this establishment gets it. S|He understands the hallmarks of great service, customer retention and how to get referrals – from the very 1st visit.They make it look easy in Hixton – but it’s not. What I found there is genuine and rare. If I weren’t hurrying ‘home’ for Christmas, I’d stay there a few days to better understand how they weave their brand magic.

Here’s what they did NOT have:

::  A great logo, nice business cards, identity kit, website, etc, etc. And that supports another of my brand theories.  A lot of brands get screwed around by Agency guys like me who think they can make the good better and the better best with more sophisticated packaging. NO TRUE. The Brand Owner in Hixton would loose most of his business if he allowed his brand to be Managed.

This is why I love the road. There is so much to learn.

In the meantime – check them out. Sorry they don’t have a website.

About love, condoms and brands

A few days ago the lunch time conversation with the group I work with took a romantic turn and the conversation became a great metaphor (my favorite kind of animal) for better understanding brand romance dynamics.

When Mary asked Adam “so like – when did you know you were in love?”, the first thing that shot through my head was: “Which time?”.  But I bit my tongue and silently listened to the group – fascinated by their emotional triggers.

A quick flash-back produced an interesting profile of emotional triggers for those attracted to a brand named Frank:

  • Ann-Marie had a peculiar weakness for my brown Levi corduroy pants.
  • For Pam it was my loyalty under adverse conditions.
  • Susan loved my smarts and out-door orientation.
  • Anna told me she’d marry the 1st man who could answer this question: If God can do anything, can he make a boulder that’s too heavy for God to move? I answered the question for her – then declined the proposal.
  • Paula liked me for my earning potential.
  • Inge appreciated my heritage.
  • Michelle likes single dads. While she likes kids, she doesn’t like babies enough to go into production.

Brand Lesson #1:

People fall in love with people and brands for the most arcane reasons. Help them fall for your brand by watching and listening to them rather than telling them how great you are. Look for ways of making them feel that you are accommodating their individual needs while you court and accommodate millions of others. I call it “MASS INTIMACY”.

When I was dating (read doing Brand research) I (as well as other young brand researchers) that I did research with were VERY frustrated by the apparent mismatch between who we wanted to attract and who we actually attracted.

Brand Lesson #2:

People love (or hate) well defined people and brands.

Brands ‘in transition’ don’t do as well. I’m being polite here.

To make the most of my research expeditions, I played out the most mundane to the most outlandish scenarios and prepared for every eventuality. Here are a few of my date night tangents:

  • Breath freshener – in case I smoked, she didn’t and I got to 1st base.
  • A car, a full tank of gas, a map, cash and credit cards. I always plan multiple exit strategies.
  • Condoms: in case I hit a home run! For the record, my Son Ian is ‘illegitimate’ and a wonderful part of my life.
  • My mother’s 1st rule of adventure: wear clean underwear in case you have an accident & are hospitalized.
  • And when I turned 18: lots of fake ID. Hmmm. Now that I’m heading for 60, I plan to revisit the fake ID thing.

Brand Lesson #3:

What you plan for and what happens are two very different things. Keep an open, opportunistic mind.

While I’ve had some very strange relationships in my time, they have all contributed to the rich tapestry that is my ongoing journey of self discovery.  One of my masters (Gurudev) once taught me to become aware that every decision I have made in in my life has led me to where I am today.

Think about that last sentence before you read on.

Lesson #4:

We are the sum total of all that we breath into our brands and allow them to become by understanding how they are loved – and why. A brand is a partner on your journey – just like my wife, my son and Charlie Doodle our most excellent poodle.



My father and father-in-law both served in WW2. My father was in the German army and my father-in-law was in the Canadian Navy. They didn’t see each other much because my family lives in Toronto and my wife’s family lives in Winnipeg.

I remember the 1st time they met. They talked about a lot of different things for a long time and about the war for a short time. I remember them agreeing on the stupidity and the futility of that war, the one that preceded it – and all of those that have followed.

My father came to Canada with his wife and five children (and me on the way) to escape conflict and conscription – and to give Petra, Henry, August, Martin, Barbara and me a better life.

My wife, Michelle, and I went to the Winnipeg Legislature Buildings this morning to remember Heinrich Wilhelm Wehrmann and Robert Bernard Convey as well as all the others who have stood on guard for us for all these years.

If we’re really as smart as we think we are – why can’t we figure this out?