Category: Marketing Techniques

Don’t ask.

Roman Thumbs down 2
Wanna buy a toothbrush?

Here’s a hot tip for you ad-makers: Don’t ask for the sale right off the bat.  Really good salespeople already know this. Really good marketers also know this. Normal human beings know this. But whoever’s been producing the bulk of advertising lately don’t seem to know it. They apparently think they have to start off by asking for the sale. “Looking for tires?” “Tired of paying high prices for catheters?” “If you die, have you planned enough for your funeral?” “Wanna buy a toothbrush?” (this latter isn’t an actual lead line in an ad, but a punchline in an old joke about marketing, which I think you can reconstruct yourself.) All of these may sound like perfectly innocent questions, but we all hear them as sales pitches.

It’s a well-known fact that nobody likes being sold to. Even when we’re in the actual market to buy something, we don’t like being pitched. It feels pushy. It feels like the sales person only sees us as a mark. And forces us to have to answer something unpleasant back, “No.”

And yet, generation after generation of marketers, who themselves don’t like being sold to, seem to think other people aren’t like them. They just charge right in asking a question that they know they don’t want the honest answer to. They force an answer before we have a chance to even consider their offering.

Even as I’m writing this, I just received an e-mail ad with the subject line: “We haven’t heard from you lately, what’s wrong?” Nothing’s wrong, Bucky; now go away. The first line of this e-mail put me on the spot by asking why I hadn’t clicked on any of their recent e-mails lately (or, in my case, never). “No. No. No. Go away.” I felt like shouting. Did the poor guy who is responsible for this e-mail marketing think this approach would work? That starting off defensively, negatively, would somehow win me over? It’s like a person whom you work with asking, “How come you never want to go out with me?”

Never Ask a Question

Years ago, when I was in art school taking an advertising class from one of the industry’s great copywriters, he told us a maxim: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask a question in an ad. Even if it’s a rhetorical question. The reason is that the person reading or hearing the question will, in their mind, automatically answer it.  And, more often than not, the answer is “no.”  He pointed out, that once they’ve said “no”, even to themselves, they’ll shut you out. “No” is the most negative of responses. And people don’t like saying no. It makes them feel negative. I even felt bad sending that e-mail I just got to the spam bin. I feel like I just cost that poor guy a commission, or his job. I’m an awful person. A monster. And I hate that guy for making me feel that way. I want him to die. And now I even feel worse about myself. I’m a seething mass of negativity. And I have to lie down now.

Later…

I’m okay now.

But I’d go further than the No Questions Maxim. I’d advise you never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask for the sale anywhere in an ad, not even at the end. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a CTA (call-to-action) in it . It’s okay to let people know what you’d like people to do after they read the ad; go to this URL for more info, think about us next time, ask your doctor, etc. But it shouldn’t be to ask them to make a decision about whether or not they’ll buy. Leave that open. Because once you’ve forced the decision, that’s it. Once they’ve said no, heard themselves say no, they imprint that in their memory and condemn you and your low-priced catheters to the spam bin forever. So don’t ask.

Besides. They know you’re trying to sell them something. It’s an ad, for crying out loud! Just don’t sully the mood by asking them to part with money out in the open.

Wasp Traps: Superb Marketing

Yellow Jacket Trap
The Perfect Marketing Campaign

We’re all familiar with those chartreuse-colored wasp traps, right? Especially this time of year as we start thinking about gardening, barbecuing, al fresco dining, outdoor weddings, and Easter egg hunts. There’s nothing can ruin an outside dinner like a bunch of yellow jackets landing all over your food. And they are so pissy! You can’t just wave them away. Everything makes them mad. They come to the table mad. Have you ever had a face full of angry yellow jackets? Try it. It’s fun.

So, if you’re like me, you start hanging wasp traps around the property this time of year. And when you do, you’re doing marketing.

Here’s why: Marketing is, by definition, anything you do to get someone to do something you want them to do, even if they aren’t your species. And wasp traps are the perfect example of that.

Sorry Bees, Wasps Only
In the first place, they are elegantly designed to target only yellow jackets. They use wasp sex pheromones that drive wasps crazy with lust. They don’t hurt bees or other pollinating insects because those guys couldn’t care less; that smell does nothing for them.  It always amazes me, when I empty out the desiccated carcasses of my traps in the fall, that the only insects in there are yellow jackets. It’s like there’s a sign on the entrance that says, “RESERVED FOR VESPIDAE FAMILY PICNIC.” What big-data-driven ad agency wouldn’t love to have that kind of market efficiency?

In the second place, because the only chemical the traps use are natural (and concentrated) wasp sex pheromones, they don’t harm the environment. No ecosystem killing pesticides or genetically altered anything. My hat’s off, though, to the brave people who have to extract those sex pheromones from the yellow jackets (they must have very tiny hands).

yellow-jacket-insect
Oh sure. They look really cute up close. But don’t be fooled; that adorable face masks a bad attitude.

In the third place, the trap designs take advantage of a peculiarity of the target market (wasps); that they are stupid. Once a wasp climbs into a trap, it just doesn’t have the neural wherewithal to turn around and climb out the way it came. I know a lot of people like this. In a way, the wasp trap follows the same design principle as the typical Las Vegas casino.

And in the fourth, and best, place, this little pheromone broadcaster also lures its target audience with their own vices; lust. I like the moral poetry of that. Prepare one of these things by squeezing in the little phial of sex juice into the cotton in the bottom, and horny insects come from hundreds of feet away, thinking they’re going to get laid. They may even see dozens of the dead carcasses of their compatriots filling the transparent cylinder, but it doesn’t matter; they can’t help themselves. They probably think all those bodies are just having a wasp orgy.  “Let me in there!” they cry, in Yellow Jacketese. It’s like a biblical lesson in the wages of sin. An insect Hooters.

Why is this marketing again?
…you’re undoubtedly asking. As I pointed out already to those of you who forget how you climbed into this post, marketing is any technique you employ to get someone to do something you want them to do. In the case of the wasp trap, the thing you want your customer to do is enter and die. A pretty tall order for a marketing campaign. But the inventors of the traps hit upon an enticement that few arthropods (or humans) can resist, the promise of sex.

And sex still sells. Even to invertebrates.

The 9 Rules of a Bad Creative Director

kingkong on empire state buildingThey say that even terrible people can serve a purpose, and that purpose, obviously, is to be the opposite of them. These people are anti-models. So I want to enumerate my rules on how to be a bad creative director, so you won’t be one yourself (should you find yourself in that office). Or, should you find yourself working for one, you’ll get out of there now. These rules should also help heads of agencies who have bad CDs working for them to recognize the symptoms and rectify it–with extreme prejudice.

But before you dive into these rules, know this: I’ve obeyed every one at some point in my life. To my shame. Just ask the broken souls who have worked for me. But I did learn. (I hope I learned.) So, see? There’s hope.

Anyway, here are the rules for being a bad creative director:

1. Fire everybody and hire your friends.

I’ve seen this breed of CD a lot.  This is the guy who, when hired from out of town to take over leadership of a creative department, proceeds to spend the next few months laying off the existing staff, one by one, like a dripping water torture, and bringing in old buddies from his last shop. This is extremely bad juju. Not only does it destroy morale of whoever is left, and therefore erodes creative productivity, it sets you up as corrupt, nepotistic jerk, a reputation that will stick to your GlassDoor profile like Crazy Glue.

Full confession: I’ve hired old friends myself. It’s hard not to, at least if they are good at their jobs and highly creative. Some great directors always use the same crew in making their movies. And that’s okay. A good team is worth preserving. But if that comes at the expense of chucking the staff of your new agency overboard,  it’s just a dick move. So only do it if you’re so busy that you have to build on an existing creative department that’s overworked.

2. Hold creative competitions.

The industry term for this is a clusterf***.  This usually happens with a new business pitch, when it’s all hands on deck and the agency is in panic mode. But since it’s never a fair competition–the “winning” idea is judged by you–it tends to drain morale. As your teams line up to your office to present you with their concepts, they feel like the biplanes trying to shoot down King Kong off of the Empire State Building. And if you’ve hired your friends (see Rule 1), all those who aren’t from your entourage feel like it’s rigged, and won’t give you their best. If you try to correct for this and award the winner to the legacy team, you’ll just piss off your friends, and you’ll worry about letting personal feelings cloud your creative judgment. Of course, you can fool yourself into thinking that that would never happen, that you’re completely objective, but–well–see Rule 5 below.

3. Have mass brainstorming sessions.

Creative meetings where everybody in the department (and the account executives too!) all hole up together to brainstorm ideas are the tell of a CD who hasn’t got a clue how creativity works. In the real world the muse comes for each art director or writer in their own way, using their own idiomatic techniques. Sitting for hours in a stuffy meeting room while an enthusiastic CD stands in front of a white board writing down ideas that are tossed up is usually on the bottom of that list of techniques. This method of idea formation works really well in Congress, but never in a creative department. (I’m being sarcastic, in case you can’t tell.)

4. Hog all the juicy assignments for yourself.

If you’re a creative director, and you work in an adequately staffed department, you have to get out of the trenches. Being a creative director is not just being a souped-up art director or writer. It’s being a leader. It is way too tempting to reserve the sexiest projects for yourself. But dole out the assignments and accounts fairly and evenly. Assuming you have hired really talented, skilled people, let them do their jobs. Trust them. And they’ll give your their best.  Hell, they’ll stay late working on their best because they’ll feel ownership in their work.

5. Convince yourself that you have creative objectivity.

Really bad CDs talk themselves into this trap all the time; believing that their judgment in creative concepts is completely objective and that it’s simply the “best” idea that will win. And yet, somehow, the same golden team just keeps winning the competition time after time, even when the rest of the department thinks their ideas are crap. When I was starting out, I worked for this guy who was committed to the whole creative competition thing, believing that competition brought out the best in people.  He had a little speech at the kickoff for each gladiatorial tournament, “This isn’t about favorites. It’s about the best idea. The best idea will stand out.” Then guess which team’s concept would always have the “best idea.” Go ahead, bet you can’t guess.

But if you’re a CD and admit to yourself that you’re human, and not objective even in your creative judgment, you’ll be able to avoid that trap. Just keep telling yourself that you have bias. Or that you like Kyle and Chad’s ideas because you guys go way back to when they worked for you at McCann.

6. Write long, rambling creative briefs with pages of irrelevant information.

Depending on the ad agency, the person whose job it is to actually write the creative brief might vary. In some agencies the creative director or creative group head does it. In others, it’s the account executive. In  more enlightened shops it’s the account planner. It doesn’t matter; bad creative directors don’t pay attention to this brief anyway. They don’t even read them. (Who’s got time to read?) But if you come on board as an agency’s new CD, one of the first things you should do is look at and fine tune whatever they’ve been using as a creative brief format.

The criteria for a good creative brief are to be found hidden in its two descriptive words, “creative” and “brief.” Make sure it’s written with information that’s useful to the creative team. And make sure it’s brief; try for one page. But you should put together a format that anyone can fill out. That’s your first job. Day one.

(For reference on what a useful creative brief format looks like, you can use one I’ve lifted for years).

7. Micromanage your staff.

This is most frequently a fault of CDs who started off their careers as art directors, or worse, graphic designers. While taste and appropriateness in art direction are certainly important, leave those calls to the art directors who are working for you. Make sure you’ve got good ones.  But don’t hold their wrists for them. Show them respect. Art direction or copywriting are not your job anymore. Unless, of course, your staff is so overworked that you need to pitch in, too. But make sure it’s “too” and not “instead.”

This is not to say that one of your jobs isn’t to mentor, or even just train young, inexperienced talent. But as a manager, you have to judge whether you have time for that, or whether you should put a neophyte under the wing of a more senior art director or writer. In doing that, you also mentor your more senior talent for their own leadership development.

8. Keep your mind closed.

Just because you can’t categorize an idea that’s presented to you, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. I once knew a creative director who used to say, “If it’s so original, how come I’ve never seen it before?” (To be fair, he only said it once–after we all laughed.) He also used to tell us, “The best idea is never the first one.” Good warning. So we’d always keep our best concepts to show him last.

Bad creative directors are always looking for concepts that are derivative of something they’ve seen. It’s like they have no imagination. Which begs the question, how did they ever become a creative director?

I have to say that this rule is the hardest to break. It is so tempting to look for the familiar or to imitate an old concept that’s somehow due for a revival. It’s probably why King Kong has been remade so many times.

9. Keep your door closed.

If you work in one of those old fashioned agencies with offices (at least for the officers), and if you want to be a bad creative director, be sure to stay unavailable. Keep that door closed.

If, on the other hand, you want to try to be a good CD, the only time you should close your door is when you’re changing into your superhero costume. Or you’re firing someone. Otherwise make yourself available all the time. In fact, don’t wait for them to come to you; circulate, look in on what people are doing, stay accessible to your team.

That same CD I once worked for in my youth (I’m not going to tell you who, they might still be alive and possibly reading my blog) made us a speech when he came on board, telling us his door was always open. Then he walked into his corner office and shut his door. Literally. It was always closed. And he used his administrative assistant to block access.

Was he a bad creative director? I wasn’t saying that.

Solving Problems We Don’t Have

Shaved catThere’s been, in case you’ve been in hypersleep for the past five decades, a revolution in shaving technology. When I started shaving, all we had was a chipped shard of flint we shared within the Clan of the Cave Hamster. Worked fine. Then came the safety-razor. Then twin blades. Then three. Then four. But they didn’t stop there:  Then five with advanced sensitivity strips. Then vibrating, triaxially-rotating, self-lubricating heads. And now there’s Dollar Shave Club.

What I find unintentionally hilarious about the Dollar Shave Club’s advertising is that they solve problems I don’t have (which, to be fair, is something all razor marketing has ever done for years). Some of their commercials revolve around men having to get around the Mission Impossible security evidently guarding razor blades in stores, with the poor shopper being Tasered or beaten up when he tries to buy them–something we’ve all experienced, I’m sure.  Other spots  focus on how expensive traditional razor blades are, cleverly depicting hapless customers forced to trade in their grandpa’s wristwatches and all their clothes to afford to buy blades. Now there’s a new series of ads featuring gross, talking, “Brand X” razors that need replacing, which the owners are loathe to part with because the cost of replacement is somehow prohibitive. Also the Brand-X razors talk and have googly eyes, which is a little off-putting when you’re shaving.

Solving problems that don’t exist is an old trope in bad marketing: We’ve got nothing anybody wants, so invent some problem and solve it.

The trouble with the Dollar Shave concept, and with other mail-order razor subscription services, is that even if you understand the problems they make up, their solutions are weak. The misnamed Dollar claims they are cheaper than the Gillettes or Schicks you’ve been using. But they aren’t. Dollar’s run about $2.25 a pop for a comparable six-bladed cartridge, which is, depending on where you shop, about the same as the Gillettes and Schicks you toss in your basket (and, if you buy in bulk at Costco, a lot more expensive). So even the name Dollar Shave is misleading.

Also, do you know any store that locks their razor blades up? It isn’t exactly a controlled substance.  Maybe where I live, out here in the Wild Wild West, we can sashay into any old feed store and openly buy blades, condoms, weed, ammo, and weaponized anthrax right off the open shelves. But I’ve never seen razor blades locked up. Cigarettes maybe. But not razors. Is this an East Coast thing?

And then there’s the curious marketing concept of buying your razor blades by subscription–mail order.  What you get with both Dollar Shave and their competitor, Harry’s, is a package of four or more razor cartridges per month (depending on the subscription level) for about the same price you’d pay if you picked up a pack of Gillettes every six months at your local supermarket. The advantage, I guess, is that you don’t have to remember to put razor blades in your cart as you pass down aisle 14; you can wait for them to be mailed to you. Why this is an advantage, I don’t know. Unless you are housebound and can’t leave your front door because you are an invalid or under surveillance by spy satellites or are in the midst of a Call of Duty marathon. Again, another problem that just doesn’t exist.

How often, in fact, do any of us (males, at least) have to buy razors? It’s not like most of us are shaving our cats and run through a blade a week. A normal razor blade (with four parallel blades and all the latest gel strips) lasts me a month. Runs about $2.50 a cartridge. Admittedly, I’m not the most hirsute of people, but I can’t imagine even somebody as brillo-paddy as Ted Cruz going through more than one a week.

How about mail order toothpaste next? Or dental floss? Tired of having to defeat ninjas at the store just to buy dental floss? Get on our automatic plan and we’ll send you 30 yards of industrial-grade waxed floss every month.

Me, I still love the feel of a freshly chipped shard of flint.

All advertising is an interruption

Clockwork'71
“HOW CAN WE MAKE PEOPLE WATCH OUR ADS?”

One of the most unintentionally hilarious questions in this Age of Data Mining must be, “Would you like to see more ads about this product?”

I wonder, does anybody actually click “Yes”?

Ironically, the thing that initially got me interested in a career in advertising was the very first thing out of the mouth of my mentor at Art Center, Ray Engle, “All advertising is an interruption.”

Nobody likes to be interrupted:

Nobody likes to have a TV show broken into with some non-sequitur thought about reverse mortgages.

Nobody likes to be called out of the blue by somebody trying to sell them something (especially the phone calls that begin with the blatant lie, “This is not a solicitation.”)

Nobody likes clicking on a YouTube video only to have to wait for 30 seconds through a commercial.

Nobody likes having pop-up windows get between them and the article they’re trying to read.

Nobody likes having to clean out their mailbox (literal or digital) of the 99% of the crap that’s cluttering it up.

And nobody likes to have their smartphone constantly vibrating with ad-mails and ad-texts (well…depending on where they carry their phones…almost nobody).

When you interrupt somebody, especially with an ad, you’ve already put them in a foul mood. Not the greatest state in which to sell them something.

And that’s why everybody hates ads. The only people who seem to like them are those that make them. And they only like the ones they make. Or the funny ones.

That’s also why there are spam filters. And that’s why there are DVRs, so you can FF through all the ads. And there have been “MUTE” buttons on TV remote controls ever the advent of the first Zenith Space Commander sixty years ago, which predated the creative revolution in advertising by six years.

Zenith_Space_Commander_600
THAT THIRD BUTTON WAS MY GRANDFATHER’S FAVORITE.

It used to be, back in the Mad Men Golden Age of advertising, that advertisers recognized this timeless fact about human nature;  people don’t like ads. This recognition was first uttered (supposedly) by David Ogilvy, “Nobody ever bored their customers into buying their product.” But for some reason, the majority of people making ads today seem to think that human nature has changed in recent generations and that people nowadays seem to love to be interrupted by ads. And bored into buying products.

I’m not a scientist, but…

Now, I’m not a behavioral scientist (even with my degree in it) and I haven’t actually read any studies to the contrary, but it seems to me that people still don’t like being interrupted. That hasn’t changed. That app is still working in Human Brain OS 1.0.

So, what’s an advertiser to do? What’s the anti-anti-spam technology? According to my first ad mentors, Ray Engle and Lee Clow, and to countless other genii of the Golden Age, the answer was simple: Make it good. You just pissed somebody off by interrupting them–you can’t get around that–so you’d better make it worth it. And “worth it” doesn’t mean telling us about all of your J.D. Power Awards.

The “worth it” is where creativity in marketing comes in. Make it entertaining. That was the giant, forehead-slapping discovery made by Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach and all the ad people who weren’t working at that hack-factory, the Sterling Cooper Agency, in 1962. Why are funny ads ten times more successful than information-only ads? (There actually have been studies to measure this.) Because they reward us for listening. They respect us as intelligent people. They know they just interrupted us. So they give us a peace offering.

And then we are not so inclined to hit mute, or change the channel,  turn off the TV, or click “skip” on the pop-up window.

Want to make somebody watch your ad? Then make them laugh. Or cry. Or scared. Or at least feel entertained. Other than kidnapping them, duct taping them to a chair, and clamping their eyelids open, there’s no other way to do it. Legally anyway.

PROMOSCUITY

6a00d8345233a569e200e54f6264d38833-800wiI may be alone in this, but I think it’s the nadir of bad form to troll for dates on Match.com when you are married. You may think you’re just trying to hedge your bets in case your marriage goes south, or to increase your list of leads, or maybe you’re a Congressbeing who has a compulsion to torpedo his own political career. Whatever the excuse; there isn’t one. And your spouse probably isn’t going to understand. But, of course, I don’t know her…yet.

Well, in commerce, it’s also bad form to troll for new customers in front of your old, loyal customers.

Of course, you know I have an example: Last week, while logging on to the New York Times, a big, fat, roadblock ad popped up announcing a promotion of so-many weeks digital subscription to the NYT for only $1.88 a week, considerably less than the $8.75 a week they currently automatically charge me. So, naturally, I lunged for the bait and spent the next several minutes entering in all my data, including my credit card information. It was only after I clicked “submit” (a curiously loaded marketing word) that I got an automated reply that I was ineligible because I was already a subscriber (paying full fare).  Oh, I’m sorry.

Aside from wasting 12.7 minutes of my time, I felt cuckolded. And (like any cuckold) stupid. I should have known the ad wasn’t for me. Just as your spouse should know your Match.com post is not for her.

I sent the NYT customer service department an e-mail sharing my hurt feelings and formally requesting that special  advertised promo rate (at the very least, to reward me for my loyalty and recompense me for my wasted time). Three days later, I got an e-mail telling me they “value” my readership and “welcome any feedback”, but no dice. I was told I was sent that e-mail in error (it wasn’t an e-mail, it was an ad, out there for all to see–but, okay, I shouldn’t have read it). Not “We’re sorry, let us make it up to you by offering you this special, limited time rate.” Not squat. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have read that ad.  But at least I know they value my readership.

Free Advice for All (Even My Paying Clients).

Here’s some free advice, something I usually charge big bucks for, but something  I’m also offering free to my paying clients. Get a pencil and a piece of paper. Here it is:

If you run a promo involving a price reduction, make it across the board. Don’t insult your existing customers for being loyal by only rewarding people who aren’t yet customers. The bad stink you spread by doing that will also lose you business. And since we are all sophisticated consumers, we know that once we’re in the CRM database we’ll be shunted aside in future promotions. This has happened to us all before. A lot.

Instead, show everybody, loyal customers and not-yet-customers alike, how generous you are.  Throw a promotion and invite everybody, even your loyal customers–even your spouse. Make them glad they’re your customers, or want to be, and want to tell their friends.

But if you aren’t generous, certainly don’t advertise it. And certainly don’t compound your marketing booboo to those you’ve insulted by telling them they weren’t invited.

But act on this advice today. It’s a limited time offer. Next month, I’ll charge you for it.

Cafe Wi-Fi: No good deed goes unpunished.

No-WiFi zone
Bless her heart. Wonder how this is working for her.

Caféteurs* are facing a marketing dilemma. The ubiquitous availability of WiFi connections has made it almost as standard a requirement for a café’s amenities as restrooms and a full thermos of half-n-half. People need to be able to surf the Internet on their tablets and laptops while they enjoy the fare. Or they’ll just go someplace else. But the dilemma comes when those people won’t leave. Long after they’ve done with their coffee, they’re still there, taking up a table. It’s just rude. And new customers, coming in at peak times, see that the place is full and turn right around.

Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

One frustrated chain, Panera, has tried limiting access. An innovative company, Panera was one of the first café chains to offer free WiFi, long before Starbucks.  And they’re one of the first to suffer the flood of WiFreeloaders.

The original marketing idea was to attract more customers, looking for faster connections than they get at home. But lately it’s starting to backfire. Customers won’t leave. Some won’t even buy drinks or food. They just come in, plop down, open up their laptop, and hog a table for hours. To discourage this, Panera is experimenting with a new policy: You now get 30 minutes of WiFi and then you’re cut off. This clears the tables, but it also pisses off regular customers, who always have a sense of entitlement from their weekly $1.47 coffee order.

I myself experienced this when I was meeting with a client at a Panera. We lost our connection in the middle of some online research we were doing, abruptly closing our meeting. It was like being kicked out of a conference room at Intel. My client was steamed and swore he’d never patronize Panera again. I suggested we move to the Starbucks across the street (no, that other one–no not that one, either, the one next to it) where we picked up where we left off on their free WiFi. But he still kept glaring back at the Panera, plotting his boycott.

Other solutions

An entrepreneur in Moscow, with Tsiferblat Café,  is trying something radical (What? Radical? in Russia?) by charging for WiFi access but offering the food and coffee free. This is a riff on the old Las Vegas marketing model in which the drinks are free while you’re busy throwing away your kids’ hope of ever going to college. Of course, that model is based on the fact that drunks are more reckless about making wild bets, the life blood of any casino. We’ll see how well the Moscow marketing experiment goes.

I’m sure other caféteurs are trying different solutions to get these people who won’t leave to…well..leave. But also come back. Panera, according to some articles, is reportedly thinking of awarding free WiFi only to members of their frequent nosher program, MyPanera (don’t take the “my” literally). I can also see a promotion where you get a temporary log-in password entitling you to so many minutes depending on your “points” or the size of your tab. This would be a reverse of the 6th Unbreakable Rule; Give Love to Get Love–Get Love before you Give Love.  It would still rankle customers who are not yet MyPanera members.

You can also do like Lulu de Carrone did at her Lulu’s coffee shop in New Haven, Connecticut and just ban laptops and WiFI altogether. Everyone predicted that she’d soon go out of business, but, partially thanks to an APM Marketplace story on NPR reporting on her Luddite stand (yes, pun intended), she says she’s busier than ever–as a haven for fellow Luddites, presumably. Ironically, we couldn’t help but notice when we visited Lulu’s website; you can still order your coffee online…just not on the premises.

Of course, it’s just wrong, to my socialist mindset, that we should have to depend on some  retailers to provide WiFi at their own expense, even as a marketing ploy, for us iParasites.  Their margins are thin enough as it is. Why isn’t WiFi a public utility yet? In some cities in the world (Seoul, for instance, with its citywide IEEE 802.16e WiMax) it’s been one for years. And the growth of 3G has made at least mobile access independent of WiFi.  But until access truly does become like air–free–the burden of providing it is going to fall on the poor café operators.

Don’t abuse your host. Be a courteous guest.

But what can we, as customers do? Well, as patrons, we could just be more respectful of other people and not abuse the gift. This is part of the 6th Rule, too; giving love works both ways. When a restaurant starts to get crowded, we could look up from our screens and say, “Hmmm, maybe I should pack up and give someone else a seat.” Or if we were alone we could only occupy a small table instead of spreading out on a four-seater like I’ve seen a lot of people do. Or we could occasionally order another mocha or cookie.

Another thing we could do is something they’ve long done in Europe, the land of the rude waiter, where the tradition of the sidewalk café is centuries old. We could just sit down with strangers. If you’re at a table in a café in, say, Paris, or Venice, or Amsterdam, you’ll not be surprised when perfect strangers just sit down at the empty seats next to you. Of course, In North America, this just isn’t done. We respect each others’ space. That’s why our ancestors, with their anti-social genes, immigrated here to begin with; to get away from crowded, sidewalk cafés (and you thought it was for religious freedom). But there’s really nothing preventing us in the Seven Billion Strong 21st century from sitting down with a stranger who is only partially occupying a table. Given the North American tendency for being polite, the likelihood that person will get up and leave without causing a scene (we don’t do that either) is pretty high. We just don’t know how to confront rudeness like the self-respecting Parisian.

Finally, there’s always the effectiveness of the Full-Tray Hover. Try standing next to someone hogging a table with their iPad, passive-aggressively holding your full tray over them. They’ll get up and leave. You won’t even have to say anything.

*I’m taking a liberty here with this word caféteur. The French slang definition of “caféteur” is a stooly or squealer. But I don’t mean that; I mean a proprietor of a café, like a restauranteur runs a restaurant.