Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Misadventures in Marketing

The story you are about to read is true. Names have been changed to protect… well, me, for one.

Once upon a time, a marketing consultant – let’s name him Mr. X – was doing contract work for a leading national business organization called… the LMNOP Corporation, where he spearheaded the development of a communication campaign to promote LMNOP’s new program, which in all modesty will be dubbed the “Impressive What-it-is” program.  This program is designed to work with LMNOP’s database of… professional associates to provide real-time updates on the latest corporation news and expert opinions of industry trends, as well as flag potential opportunities for LMNOP staff to contact an associate to build rapport and (hopefully) drive more business.

Boy, the “Impressive What-it-is,” doesn’t sound all that impressive, does it? Please keep in mind that (A), I am genericizing this to the extreme because I cannot tell you what the “What-it-is” actually is, and (B), this was long before the wildfire of electronic social media was even a “cinder on the tinder,” as it were.

Besides, whatever the “What-it-is” is is actually not the point. This story is really to talk about Mr. J, who worked on staff in LMNOP’s marketing department (as opposed to m…Mr. X, who you remember was just a consultant hired on contract). Mr. J was not happy with his job at LMNOP, and had his sights on a higher-paying position at major competitor WXY&Z Limited, which pretty much did whatever LMNOP could do, but their products were “packaged” and promoted differently (read: made WXY&Z look more like a follower than the leader that LMNOP was). But WXY&Z can be quite innovative. In fact, they have been working on developing their own version of the “Impressive What-it-is” independently (perhaps in the same way that two animation production companies come out with similar movies in the same year). At any rate, Mr. J somehow found out about WXY&Z’s project, and sto… used Mr. X’s LMNOP campaign ideas (and probably violated a number of non-disclosure agreements at the time) to land a job with WXY&Z to promote their “What-it-is” program, which will be referred to as the “Sass-N-Skedaddle-a-Bob” to avoid confusion (or maybe add to it; you be the judge…).

Of course, Mr. X didn’t know about this “idea theft” at the time. For all X knew, Mr. J simply turned in his resignation and left LMNOP. Meanwhile, LMNOP was busy conducting what X felt were too many viability studies and industry surveys and associate focus groups on various granular details of the “What-it-is” because the program development staff and senior leadership wanted to have everything “just right” before the promotional launch, which was significantly delayed as a result.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next. That’s right. WXY&Z became first-to-market by placing a teaser announcement of their upcoming “Sass-N-Skedaddle-a-Bob” to the industry press.

Suffice to say, LMNOP was not happy. Their “Impressive What-it-is” now appeared to be imitating the “Sass-N-Skedaddle-a-Bob”, and LMNOP preferred to be a leader than a follower (who wouldn’t?). X’s contract was terminated on the grounds that he “didn’t act quickly enough” to launch their campaign before WXY&Z.

It was about two-and-a-half months of unemployment later when Mr. X discovered what Mr. J did. However, X also discovered that while Mr. J had the shrewdness to land himself a prime job opportunity by stealing X’s plans for a multi-tiered promotional campaign, J did not possess the marketing savvy to effectively implement those plans. How did X find out about all this? Well, WXY&Z eventually contracted with Mr. X to save their floundering campaign for their “Sass-N-Skedaddle-a-Bob” and carry it to completion. And Mr. X did this so flawlessly, and even came up with a few new ideas to give the promotion more… ahem… sass and skedaddle. WXY&Z became the leader for once, which led to them leading more industry innovations in later years… not that Mr. X had anything to do with that. He was busy with other contract work after he made a reputation for himself with “Sass-N-Skedaddle-a-Bob.” LMNOP learned not to rest on their laurels, and the competition from WXY&Z, and others, inspired them to pioneer even more groundbreaking solutions for the industry, and for the people said industry served.

As for Mr. J, I really cannot say. He wasn’t at WXY&Z for very long.

Karma can be a harsh mistress.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Boy Named Xum

One day back in August 2004, I was fortunate enough to interview actress Maria Canals-Barrera (voice of Hawkgirl) for a Justice League article I was writing for the original “Comics 2 Film” website. As we were wrapping up, Maria complimented me on my name because it was so unique, and asked what kind of name it was.

What kind of name is “Xum”?

It’s a strange name that makes people stop and think a moment before they attempt to pronounce it. Well, at least in Britain, continental Europe, and the U.S., where I was called upon in many a classroom, job interview, and doctor’s office as “Ecks-Huhm” (always said very slowly and cautiously) or worse, “Exhume?” (usually in the form of a question, but sometimes stated with confidence [which sounds more worse]). In Asia – at least in Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan – most people were able to say my name (sounds like “Zoom”) without any trouble.

So is “Xum” an Asian name? It does have Asian origins. I am the product of a Japanese-American father and Chinese-Malaysian mother. So my name is part Asian, and part… well, made up.

I only said that last part in my response to Maria, which prompted her to say, “You never asked your parents where they got ‘Xum’ from?”

And up until that moment, I never thought to ask them. I knew I had an unusual name – and as a kid it was essentially a “funny” name that often invited juvenile ridicule and harassment as funny names tend to do. But the name Xum had always signified me for as long as I could remember, so I was used to the taunts and other people struggling to say it. And while I was far from being the “respectful Asian son,” I never resented my parents for giving me this strange name. Nor had I questioned my parents about the origin of it.

So the following holiday while visiting my parents, I decided to ask them where my name came from in the middle of an afternoon tea. The question seemed to make them a little uneasy, but my parents did give me an explanation. Since I was conceived at a time when ultrasound was at its own infancy, they used a time-honored Chinese method of predicting the gender of their unborn baby.

(I have to say that this was a bit surprising to me because my parents are not typically “traditional” – neither for Chinese nor Japanese customs – in fact, it has been looked upon as rebellious by both of their families that they decided to marry each other in the first place, but that’s another story altogether...)

At any rate, this prediction method was known to be accurate over 90% of the time. However, that means it can also be inaccurate almost 10% of the time – and I am living proof since this method told them they would be having a girl. So my parents had a Chinese girl’s name picked out fairly early during the pregnancy: “Xue” (which means “snow”, symbolizing tranquil purity). Of course, when they realized I was a boy, they quickly changed “Xue” to “Xum” (which has no meaning because it is completely made up) so it would sound like a boy’s name.

Now, they didn’t tell me the reason why they essentially created a male-sounding name at what seems to be a spur of the moment. Perhaps they were so very much in love with the name “Xue”, or maybe there was so much deliberation by my parents before they agreed upon that choice (or possibly a little of both), that when they were surprised with the arrival of this bouncing baby boy, they decided to simply “man up” the name they had already picked for a daughter rather than start all over to figure out a suitable name for a son. Maybe they already had “Xue” typed up on the birthing document and this was the easiest way to “fix the mistake” (I admit I may be reaching here, but my birth cert is a very old certified copy so I cannot tell either way by looking at it).

Actually, I will never know about this part of the story, at least not in this lifetime, for both my parents had passed away the following year. But it really doesn’t matter, neither now nor during that awkward December tea. No, what mattered at that time was how uncomfortable and embarrassed my parents sounded as they told me this story. Being the great parents that I only now realize that they were, they were very well aware of the taunting and teasing I received as a child. Maybe they felt a bit… guilty… about the difficulties that came from the name they gave me. I was quick to explain that they had no reason to be. I even shared with my parents what Maria told me during our interview regarding her thoughts about my name. This made them laugh and feel very proud, and made the rest of what was actually our last holiday together much more enjoyable.

So what kind of name is “Xum”?

According to Maria Canals-Barrera, “It’s a great name. It’s so different, like a ‘rock star’ name. People may have trouble pronouncing it with the X… but once you figure it out, it sounds real cool.”

Now that’s the kind of name I’d like to have. Lucky thing that I do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There Is an Insanity Clause.

Santa Claus is real. There is really no argument about that. Though there was one evening when he became both unreal and then more real…

On November 31 of this year, my seven-year-old son and I decided to start a “25 Days of Christmas” tradition whereby we would watch one Christmas-themed movie or TV show on video each night until Christmas. And we were not limiting it to the typical “TV specials” of the season. As long as the program had some link to Christmas (no matter how small), and that it was age-appropriate, it was fair game.  And before you ask -- yes, this would’ve included Santa Claus Conquers the Martians… if we had “26 days of Christmas.” Maybe next year…

Anyway, on the “fourth day,” my son and I settled in to watch the Justice League episode, “Comfort and Joy,” which is a wonderful tale comprised of three interchanging stories featuring how five of the superhero "stars of the show" spent their holiday season. For Superman, it was inviting his more-alien comrade, the Martian Manhunter, to spend Christmas with him and his parents in Smallville. Drinking cocoa in the kitchen of their cozy farmhouse, Ma and Pa Kent would reminisce about past Christmases with young Clark. I still chuckle when Pa mentions how he had to wrap the presents in lead foil so the super-lad wouldn’t “peek” using his x-ray vision.

“You mean, Santa wrapped them.” Clark interrupted, showing a charmingly hokey aspect to the Superman character on this show by having him earnestly believing in Santa Claus.

“Yes, of course, dear.” Ma Kent briskly replied, which caused the Martian guest to ponder at this strange new element of the conversation.

This reply also made my son ponder as well.

“Wait, does that mean Santa isn’t real?” he asked me.

I stopped the video. I will admit that the last thing I wanted that evening was for Ma Kent to ruin the Santa Claus myth for my son at an age where Christmas is at its most magical -- as well as ruin the myth for my son’s parents that can always use the extra incentive to illicit good behavior from a mischievous seven-year-old.

But I wasn’t going to be dishonest to him either.

So after we finished Justice League, we used the Internet to research Nikolaos of Myra, a.k.a. Saint Nicholas -- a real person who served as the original inspiration for the Santa Claus we know today. We spent the rest of the evening reading about this historical Saint, who was a well-to-do well-known for his secret gift-giving, and my son was pointing out the parallels between Nikolaos and the Santa Claus currently viewed by most of the world.

And, of course, my son quickly figured out who really wrapped the “from Santa” gifts, who filled the stockings, and who ate the cookies the kids would leave by the fireplace each year on Christmas Eve. I’m sure the “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” song he recently learned in school took an entirely new meaning for him (which was, actually, the original one).

I cannot claim to know why other parents do it, but I did explain to my son that my wife and I “do the Santa routine” in respect to the original patron saint -- a way to honor Nikolaos’ life and memory -- as well as add a little bit of magic to our kids’ childhood. “Of course, we may need to stop doing that now…”

But my son would not hear of that. Because of Saint Nicholas, “Santa” had essentially become more real to him now more than ever. He actually told me that we should continue to honor Nikolaos and “keep the magic going" for his five-year-old sister, who still believes in the flying-reindeer-driver, frozen-tundra-property-owner, cookie-addic… er, loving, elven-factory-director Santa Claus. So this year there was a new “Santa’s helper” on December 24th, one who would still be surprised on Christmas morning with a special present “from Santa.”

Because Santa Claus is real. There is really no argument about that.

(That reminds me: we never did get around to figuring out where the flying reindeer and the elven factory workers came into the picture. Perhaps next year.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Who’s Blogging Now?

Hello. I’m Xum (pronounced “Zoom”) Yukinori, and yes, I have a blog now. Who would’ve thought? Those who know (of) me from Twitter and Facebook know that I hardly use these amazing technological wonders to transmit the latest trivial nonsense from my sometimes scrambled noggin to the mostly faceless masses.

Facebook was designed to bring people together, and I would like to think that for many people, it does. But in my case, most of my close friends don’t use the site; a majority of my Facebook “friends” are people I hardly know at all. And they hardly know me.

This blog is supposed to help change that. This will be a forum for me to share my stories, views, and insights from my personal experiences. Not that I claim to be an expert in anything, or one to give advice, but this blog will help those who know of me to actually know me… and for those who already know me to get to know me a little better. That is what the social media is supposed to be for, after all.

Or maybe this will end up being a collection of random self-serving claptrap that will add to the digital noise that is already bombarding a technologically numb world.

Let’s find out. Onward.