Categorized | seriously dumb

Give your kid the gift of a broken arm

I want you to imagine that you’re the head of marketing for a toy company. One of your jobs is to supply catalogs with pictures of your product. As an experienced marketer, you know that it’s the parents who buy the toy, not the kids. You also know, being an experienced marketer, after all, that one of the top one or two major concerns parents have when buying a toy is their child’s safety. You don’t see a lot of battery acid bubble makers or running scissors for sale in Toys ‘R Us for a reason. You also know, because you’re an experienced marketing professional, that when you go to photograph the product with a kid playing in it, you can pick any kid in the world. Put an ad in Craig’s List and a thousand pushy moms will show up with their whining little angels in tow. So, knowing all this, because you’re an experienced marketing professional. what kid out of those thousands will you choose?

Why, the kid with the busted arm, of course:

Just to give parents that extra reassurance that your tent is perfectly safe.

Notice how the photographers, in their infinite brilliance, completely hide the unbroken arm behind one flap of the tent. No, it’s the broken arm we want to make sure all the mommies and daddies can see.

Alright, we can probably pass this one up. It frequently happens that the owner of a company wants to use his or her own kids in the ads and the catalog pics. That’s how we’ll chalk this one up.

But now, I want you to imagine that you’re the director of marketing for the toy catalog itself. Some gormless halfwit sends you a picture of a kid with a broken arm and expects you to use it as the featured picture of their product. Because you’re an experienced cataloger, you don’t shake your head. You don’t phone up the company and ask for a picture with an undamaged kid. You don’t send the picture down to the Photoshop cellar to have the cast magically airbrushed out. No, being the experienced catalog expert you are, what do you do?

You put the kid with the busted arm on the cover of your catalog:

Just to reassure parents that the toys in your catalog are perfectly safe.

I admit, because I’m a catalog professional, that these things probably irk me more than they do you. Okay, I’ll accept that a tiny bit, but there’s a highly important takeaway. More after the break.

One of my most consistently brilliant mentors, a designer named Rick Memsic, used to shake his head at things like this and mumble, “Don’t they even look?”

It may very well be that you would have missed the broken arm and, if you had seen it, not cared. But I can’t impress upon you enough the power of visual images. Even though you may not notice something like this little girl’s cast, you really do see it. And it affects the way you think, even though you may not know it. Visuals, unlike writing or any other kind of presentation, absolutely must be perfect. Study after study shows that people do respond negatively to images such as the kid with the broken arm. And what they see but don’t notice affects how they act. And how they buy. Or don’t buy.

As somebody who’s done catalogs for almost eight years now, I can tell you with reasonable confidence that Sensational Beginnings probably saw a real drop in the numbers that matter: the catalog’s response rate and the average order size. In fact, I’ll bet you a $150 shopping spree at Sarah Palin’s consignment store in Wasilla that sales dropped significantly on this catalog.

The best marketers, the best designers, and the best photographers notice these things. They’re paid to see things the rest of us miss. And the reason we pay them to see the things that we miss is that, well, the things we miss change the way we think, act, and ultimately buy.

It all goes back to what Mr. Memsic said: you’ve got to look. If the kid shows up to the photo shoot with a busted arm, give her a Mars bar and show her the door. Really, trust me on this.

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2 Responses to “Give your kid the gift of a broken arm”

  1. Peta Ware says:

    If you are either the photographer, parent or catalogue professional and you are faced with this scenario – a picture perfect child with an arm in plaster – I have the perfect solution. A creative cast cover from Busted Bling. My website features a huge range of solid and pattern designs for all ages of children through to the elderly. Priced from only $12, my cast covers are very popular and would improve your marketing response, not to mention have everyone wondering where you got that awesome cast cover from!


  1. […] In a previous post, I emphasized that visuals matter. The stuff you see and the stuff you don’t see translates into attitudes and behaviors. I also said that we pay photographers, designers, and marketing professionals to notice all that stuff in visuals that we don’t notice. […]

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