Are We Selling with Dead Dogs?

pearlizumiDid you miss the recent uproar over ads by famous athletic apparel manufacturer Pearl Izumi? The ads, both in print and in video (now yanked from YouTube) suggest that the ultra-fit owner of a yellow lab is forced to perform CPR on his canine buddy after literally running him into the ground—wearing his sleek and fleet Pearl Izumi shoes, of course.

NBC news featured a story that summarizes the facts neatly.

The Denver Post  also featured a story about the brouhaha, including some thoughts from Margaret Campbell, marketing professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder:

“Several different companies have fallen into this same trap over time,” Campbell said.”Humor is hard to get right; it is easy to offend. So, I always say go out on the street and test it on at least a few people.”

So let me get this straight: a company dedicated to helping people improve their quality of life through fitness…or at least dedicated to making money by selling them shoes to help them improve their quality of life through fitness…honestly felt that these same potential customers, including many who do run with their canine pals, would be so amused by the image of a dying dog that they would rush out and buy the shoes?  Huh?

Keep in mind that someone was paid, and paid handsomely at that, to come up with this idea, arrange the photo shoot, and purchase the ad space in the Canadian magazine in which the ad ran.

Running with his dog at Palo Alto Baylands

Running with his dog at Palo Alto Baylands (Photo credit: donjd2)

This started me thinking—as virtually anything does—about how we “market” education to  our students. Again and again I hear tales of teachers who offer the image of a dying academic career to students by trumpeting the difficulty of their courses as evidenced by failure and withdrawal rates. We warn our students that they are signing up for a steep climb and a lot of work. We preach that academic achievement demands focus, sacrifice, and diligence.

Fair enough. Acquiring almost anything of value does require effort and sacrifice. Some courses are tough, and we don’t need to apologize for that. But do we spend too much time stressing the “dead dog” part of the process? So many of our students have had experiences in education that have left them feeling like their dog just died.  The last thing they need us for us to elicit those same sad and hopeless feelings.

In the real world, an accomplished runner with a genuinely fit canine companion would be out in that beautiful landscape having a great time. They might get winded, but they would both enjoy the sensual pleasure of moving through the mountains, meeting an achievable challenge, and gaining something of value in fitness and well-being.

RUN Hills Pullover in action!

RUN Hills Pullover in action! (Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

I wonder how many of us remind our students of those pleasures on a regular basis. Learning anatomy and physiology can be a long run up some steep grades, but over and over I see students who buckle down to meet the challenge and gain valuable knowledge…and a lot of them ultimately enjoy the process.  When the term is over, they are genuinely sad to leave the group they’ve become a part of.

Maybe we need to ask our “focus groups” what they think about the way we market our disciplines and our classes to them. I would rather offer the pleasure of a good workout than the misery of losing a friend.


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