Practicality is the enemy of impact

This guest post is from Andy Nulman — President of Just for Laughs and author of “Pow! Right Between the Eyes: Profiting from the Power of Surprise.” See the original post this was adapted from and more like it on his blog.

Jack Marketing
I once spoke at a conference gathering of Quebec’s Young Chamber of Commerce Groups. The event was an inspiring one, assembling youthful entrepreneurs, business and financial people, as well as policy and governance enthusiasts (and there are many more of these than I could ever imagine).

As is usually the case at these events, there was a whole whack of sponsors. They ranged from the provincial government and some of its agencies, to some major groups in national accounting and consulting services, all the way down to an independent company named Jack Marketing.

While teeny in stature, the company made the most of its sponsor status by standing out and standing tall in any way it possibly could.

Female representatives wore neon-colored Jack-branded earrings, while their male cohorts sported similarly personalized neckties and hats. Every table had a little crossword puzzle promo and branded pen, which brought winners gift bags filled with booty like Jack Daniels whiskey (quite the treat while composing late night blog posts, lemme tell you).

And of course, the company spread its business cards across table surfaces like confetti.

Said business card (that’s it above) was emblazoned by simple white lettering on black background… although there wasn’t a lot of background to write on, since approximately 65% of the card was missing due to a die-cut of the company name smack-dab in the middle of it.

At my table, there was much talk about Jack’s business card.

Most of the talk focused on how utterly impractical it was. Random comments included:

  • “It’s very fragile.”
  • “Look, I try to put it in my wallet and it bent already.”
  • “It must’ve cost a fortune.”
  • “It doesn’t really give you a lot of information.”

In the end, in my mind, it was a massive success.

Despite all the things “wrong” with it, people actually talked about — of all things — a business card! While there were other cards on the table, they were basically ignored. The utter impracticality of the Jack card made it a conversation piece, and it cut through the clutter.

Which brings me to a related story, and then to the overall lesson.

When I first started at Just For Laughs, we had a business card that resembled an old school European “calling card” way more than a North American business card. It was printed on both sides (albeit the back was simply the front but in reverse) and was the size of a small index card. I remember people howling at its impracticality. “I have to fold it in half to fit into my business card holder!” was perhaps the most oft-heard complaint.

But I also remember people remembering it.

“Oh you’re the guy with the weird business card,” was one of the ways I was greeted in the late ’80s.

Granted, we’re using business cards — a method of identification soon to be rendered extinct by the digital revolution — as our paradigm. But this lesson can be applied to just about any product or service, namely:

Andy Nulman quote

I used the qualifier “often” as there are many great designers — Philippe Starck, Sir Jonathan Ive, Ray and Charles Eames — who have found ways to combine both. But until you get to their level, you will probably be left with the trade-off.

Like this one: I once attended a dinner party at a C2-MTL event. It was held at a spectacular place called L’Auberge St. Gabriel. To get to the restaurant we had to walk in a small door, go up three dark flights of stairs dotted with costumed characters and works of art, walk a smoky maze of hallways with more characters and art, and descend three dark flights of stairs filled with you-know-what, before arriving at the restaurant.

Sure, we could’ve entered via a back alleyway that let out about 15 feet from the tables. But the impact, the mood created by that inconvenient walk-through, was the set-up for what was about to come. In the end, while impractical, it was every bit as important as the food we ate, the wine we drank, and the company we kept.

Same thing goes for the Jack business card.

By replacing convenience and standardization with a dab of flair and a touch of nuisance, the — dare I call them this? — “kids” at Jack Marketing managed to create an impressive impact, punching well above their weight.

So the question to you is the following:

Andy Nulman quote

Hope so, because you can always bring people back down to earth after you send them into space, but if you bore them from the start — no matter how “practical” you are — chances are you’ll never even get them near your launch-pad.

About Andy Nulman

President of Just For Laughs, world's biggest comedy organization. Former mobile tech entrepreneur. Wild public speaker. Wilder public dresser. Author. Hockey player. Gym rat. Needs a longer bio.

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