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Thursday, August 09, 2007

What's in a Wrapper, er, Title

From the Houston Chronicle:
CHICAGO — Anything made by McDonald's tastes better, preschoolers said in a study that powerfully demonstrates how advertising can trick the taste buds of young children.

Even carrots, milk and apple juice tasted better to the kids if it was wrapped in the familiar packaging of the Golden Arches.

The study had youngsters sample identical McDonald's foods in name-brand or unmarked wrappers. The unmarked foods always lost the taste test.

Yes, you say, this study was about the influence of marketing on toddlers. We are not toddlers. We are adults and we are above such things.

Are we?

Let's say you are in a meeting. Joe, the intern has an idea. Everyone immediately rejects the idea. Two days later, Karen the VP makes the same suggestion. Suddenly it's the best thing since sliced bread and everyone is immediately on board.

It's not the idea that changed, it was the wrapper.

Companies hire consulting firms to tell them things that their people have been screaming about for years. Sr. Management doesn't listen when it is Jose from accounting and Linda in accounts receivable, but when it's Steve from Big Named Consulting Firm that interviews Jose and Linda and reports the information back, suddenly it's believable and actionable.

Why do we do this? Well, there are some good reasons and some bad reasons.

Good reason is that Joe, the intern, is an unknown quantity. He doesn't have a great deal of experience (he's an intern, after all), while Karen is a VP and your boss's boss. She wouldn't have gotten to that position if she didn't have great ideas. Right? Of course, it doesn't hurt your career to suck up to Karen and championing the ideas of Joe the intern could hurt you if other people aren't on board.

But what about Steve, our consultant. Do you know who consulting firms hire? People straight out of school. Joe is straight out of school as well. But, we listen to Steve the consultant because he has the title and the backing and the resources.

Those resources are helpful. But, it would be cheaper to ask Jose and Linda who do the job what problems they see and what potential solutions they think are possible. If you get nothing back, then it's time to spend money to hire someone. But, if you do and you ignore it, just know that there's a pretty good chance you'll get the same answer back from your expensive consultant.

The difference? Instead of an e-mail with 3 bullet points from some chic named Linda in accounts payable, you get a fancy power point presentation from a guy in a suit. Same hamburger, different wrapper.

Now, I'm not arguing that the intern's ideas are always as good as the VPs. And I'm not arguing that the highly paid consultant is just repeating back what the accounts payable clerk said. What I'm arguing is that by only looking at the wrapper the idea comes in, you can end up missing some pretty good hamburgers and choking down some that don't taste so great.

Evaluate ideas on their merit. Listen to people who actually do the job. You might be surprised.


Anonymous said...

I thought you might go in a different direction with your "what's in a wrapper" post. When I saw the same article, I thought of appearance bias. We are about due for another round of surveys or articles about how good looking people get better jobs, raises, and service for no other reason then they are attractive. To use a cliché, perceptions are reality. Isn't that why companies spend millions on advertising?

Your point on evaluating people and their ideas on their merits is intellectually unassailable. However, if it were universally practiced, society wouldn't need laws against discrimination and job bias. Discrimination is, at least partially, a bias based on the wrapper, rather than the content.

Finally, maybe the really handsome or pretty intern would get his or her ideas noticed…. or at least get noticed enough to get a better job, raise, or evaluation.

P.S. I love McDonald's food.

Evil HR Lady said...

Michael--I'm amazed that I didn't even think about looks. I just thought about titles.

I guess I should think more.

I love McDonald's chicken nuggets. Yes, I know--parts are parts--and all that, but for some reason, I love it.

Bruce said...

Ah, I remember the good old days of being in consulting. Watching colleagues in their early twenties tell CEO's how to run their business, and be taken seriously. I don't get it. I just can't see the wrapper being that important.

Spudlet said...

Evil, I know exactly where you are coming from. I often feel as though I throw out some pretty darn good ideas from time to time, but that because of my generic brand wrapper, they get overlooked. Boo hoo, wah wah. I guess I should go into consulting. I'm still in my twenties so maybe that'd increase my chances of getting the job!