Does crime go away in the rain?

Many years back, I worked in the advertising business in Washington DC. If you have ever worked in a major metropolitan area like DC, NY, Chicago or Philadelphia, you know how maddening it can be to get around the city. It was worse in DC because the Metro has no REAL stops in Georgetown. The closest is Foggy Bottom.

To make getting around the city easier, the agency had a cadre of drivers and curriers in its employ. Their job was to shuttle packages and ad execs around the city and pick them up at appointed times. Carole, who ran the agency, had thought of everything.

All of us spent a lot of time in the company of these drivers and curriers and relied on them for most of our transportation around the city. I also learned a lot from them about life in general.

The gentleman (I use that term in its root sense because he was indeed a gentle man) who ran the department had grown up in some of DC’s most troubled neighborhoods. He was born and raised in the tough streets of the city and had more than his share of hardscrabble experience.

rainI was thinking about him today, because we are having a torrential rainstorm here in NC and I was quietly grumpy about the weather. Rain in these amounts seems nothing so much as an aggravation and an inconvenience for me. But I suddenly remembered the manager of drivers from my days in DC. On those mornings when the streets were silver and the skies were gray, he had a smile to light up the world. I asked him once why he loved rainy days so deeply. No one else seemed to like them at all.

“There is no crime on rainy days”, he said, “Criminals are lazy and, when it rains, they stay home in their apartments.”

I don’t know if anyone has any metrics and measures for this but it made perfect sense to me. So I share it with you now. Maybe we will all smile more on rainy days and enjoy them as they are: respites from petty crime and theft. It seems to be working for me right now.

Here comes the winter ice storm, so get your milk & bread

Our office in North Carolina is bracing for a pretty bad winter ice storm by North Carolina standards. The latest forecast is calling for almost a foot of snow with some ice on top of that by the time it’s all done.

For an area that it is not really accustomed to that kind winter weather, it actually becomes quite paralyzing when there are not enough plows to clear the roads.

People race to the store to stock up, as is the case in most places when there is the threat of weather that may force people inside for a long time. But a funny thing happens in those cases – folks stock up on milk and bread.

thSure, they may buy other things (bring on the wine!) but the bread aisle and milk cooler are always bare.

What are people planning on making? Milk sandwiches? Soggy bread?

One thing is certain – this is a predictable behavior that is repeated over and over.

And this is why it is interesting to me. Marketing, branding and persuasion are all about changing human behavior. When we talk about a brand or marketing a product, we are trying to change a consumer’s behavior from a preference of one thing to another. What is lost is that, in reality, we really do not want the customer to act in a new way. Rather, we simply want them to make a different choice within their normal actions.

What the milk and bread phenomena demonstrates is that consumer behavior is predictable.

But observing a predictable behavior is only part of it. Through research, we can understand why the behavior occurs. As marketers, we should not point out the folly in the behavior. Instead, we should understand the underlying reasons for the behavior – emotionally and rationally. And we should adapt our messaging, operations, and product mix to be a reflection of that understanding.

If we knew all of the underlying reasons people go out and clear the shelves of bread and milk before a winter ice storm or snowstorm, we could position almost anything to reflect those reasons.

As it stands now, however, grocery stores will just have to continue running out of bread and milk.