How to Make the Most of Zombie Time

In my last post, I recommended that strategy teams spend 10% of their time–uncompensated by the client–looking for challenges that most marketers don’t even know exist.  I call this concept “zombie time” as a nod to the book and movie “World War Z,” in which we learn that Israel anticipated the zombie apocalypse because they routinely assigned intelligence analysts to imagine the unimaginable.

So, assuming you haven’t received training from Mossad, how do you do that?

To begin with, it helps to have a knack for asking stupid questions.  So, as Shock G used to say, “let’s get stupid!


First, determine the approach.

Every brand or category has its conventional wisdom.  Unfortunately, conventional wisdom becomes so ingrained in our concept of the brand or category that we often don’t acknowledge it, much like the air we breathe.  Before strategists can challenge conventional wisdom, they need to identify it.

Brainstorm time!  Everyone brainstorm!

As in, brainstorm around the idea of “everyone.”  Generate a list of statements that begins “everybody knows.”  Let’s take my go-to category for hypotheticals, toilets.  Imagine that you’ve been assigned the marketing duties (oh, grow up) for Dave’s Toilets.  You’ve assembled your team, uncapped your dry-erase marker and you start coming up with a list.  It might look something like this:

  • Everyone knows that people like clean toilets
  • Everyone knows that people don’t like actually cleaning the toilet
  • Everyone knows that toilets only go in the bathroom
  • Everyone knows that toilets are made of porcelain
  • Everyone knows that people prefer privacy when they use the toilet

And so on.

You’ll want to generate a lot of these because a lot of them will inevitably involve sheer physical impossibilities.  No matter how cool it might sound, a toilet on the ceiling confounds gravity, except in outer space.  After eliminating (again, grow up) the physical impossibilities, focus on the “everyone knows” statements that hinge on social convention.

Social convention changes slowly, but it changes.  How many of us reared on the legend of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate could have imagined a Republican debate that sounded like a syndicated chat show?  Or, to paraphrase Jerry Della Femina, that those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbor would go all-out to sell cars on President’s day?

Narrow those “everyone knows” statements about social convention down to a manageable number and assign each participant one or two to chase down.  By way of a brief, the assignment has three broad components:

  1. Identify the pillars of the social conventions behind the “everyone knows” statement
  2. Look for current trends–no matter how small–that challenge those social convnetions
  3. How to get on top of these trends

For example, let’s examine “everyone knows that people prefer privacy when they use the toilet.”

  1. Pillars behind this convention include:
    1. Modesty about bodily functions
    2. A sense of feeling unattractive or vulnerable while using the toilet
  2. Current trends challenging this function include:
    1. Ubiquitous pharmaceutical advertising about erectile dysfunction, chronic diarrhea and opioid-induced constipation
    2. Social media oversharing
    3. (I’ll leave out anything related to Urban Dictionary because even I have standards)
  3. How to get on top of these trends
    1. Test more explicit language in digital communications
    2. Identify, follow and potentially cultivate relevant over-sharers on social media

In short, ask stupid questions as intelligently as you can, even about toilets.  As we all know, Shock-G did get busy in a Burger King bathroom.  Happy zombie hunting.

One thought on “How to Make the Most of Zombie Time

  1. Pingback: What “Fear the Walking Dead” Taught Me About Marketing Strategy | Plannerben | Anecdata

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