I just returned from an end-of-summer family vacation to the Carolinas. We road-tripped in the minivan, fortified by plenty of hummus, apples, popcorn and iPads loaded up with educational apps and a few non-educational movies like Zookeeper. We stayed with various family and friends. And, in addition to making powerful new memories with my wife and daughters, I did a lot of one of my other favorite things: watching how people live their lives.
It is what I have been doing in advertising for over 30 years. Studying how people live; understanding their needs, desires, attachments and dreams. Trying to figure out where my clients’ products and services might fit in that big picture. Then how to have some sort of conversation that just might interest the consumer. From banks to baseball teams, beer to shampoo, and countless other categories, I have asked people to consider how what I had to share might make their life a little better, easier, happier, fuller, safer. A space to fit in their life.
Fortunately, people fascinate me. Always have. And so do the choices people make, from what they eat, to where they live, how they work, vote, play, grow, worship. I have met people from every walk of life: TV stars, journalists, artists, doctors, priests, mothers, athletes, CEOs, drunks, monks and more. And I have learned something different from each of them.
On this trip, I met one man who just dropped his first child off at college. He watched my young daughters and I play together every day, and made it his mission to remind me to enjoy it now because childhood is so fleeting. A new chapter in his life had begun.
One couple I spent time with was deep in baby land. Their first. Every moment, gesture, decision was awash in blissful parenthood, concern, care. From the finest beach gear, to their organic baby food, their one-year-old’s well-being was at the center of their life. Another couple we stayed with live a simpler life. No TV, no computer, just a record player, some chickens in the backyard and cricket flour in the cupboard. Yep, flour made from crickets. Rumor has it, it’s loaded with protein. So their life is full of cricket pancakes and Joni Mitchell albums.
I caught up with another friend, a single mom whose second child was just diagnosed with autism. She’s putting herself through college so she can open a healing arts business. So that’s her life.
And I sat on a front porch with my father-in-law, who is retired, living in a small town in North Carolina. He’s happy to build decks, bookcases and birdhouses in his work shed every day. And even happier when we come around so he can teach his grandkids a few things about life. His life.
All these lives are unique and meaningful. And now I know a little more about each one. So just maybe, when the times comes, I’ll be better prepared to tell them, or someone like them, a story. About a product, a service, a promise, a brand. A story that might make a difference. Catch their attention. Spark an interest. And perhaps, if done well, find a place in their life that fits.