Not Dead. Just Resting.

I’ve always marveled how marketing seems to imitate Saturday Night Live. My blog has a few pieces on how many SNL commercial spoofs turned into real products years later. Among their ranks are the Fusion razor, Southwest Airlines, candy/cookie/donut-like breakfast cereals and more.

Now life is imitating Monty Python. The famous “Dead Parrott” sketch has a man returning a pet bird he just bought a half-hour earlier because it’s clearly dead as a doornail. “This is an ex-Parrott!” “No, just resting,” replies the unscrupulous pet shop owner. (It’s hilarious. Watch it here.)

Today’s news featured a story about two women who tried to take a dead man on a plane – as a passenger – from England to Germany. The New York Times article reported that “efforts by the two women to claim that the man, 91-year-old Willi Jarant, was just resting were thwarted when it turned out that he was, in fact, dead.”

Too weird.

Another, seemingly unrelated headline in today’s New York Times optimistically declared: “Upbeat Signs Revive Consumers’ Mood for Spending.” Seems that improving retail sales may indicate that the worst of the Great Recession is over.

Yet many still feel just as strongly that the fundamentals are just awful and the economy will not be roaring back anytime soon. And everyone believes they have the “facts” to support their point of view.

So, is the economy “dead” or “just resting?”

All this ambiguity was strikingly apparent to me on my recent visit to Las Vegas. I was there to visit a client in the casino business and to attend a trade show for the Travel market with our SteriPEN client. Like our economy, the self-proclaimed Entertainment Capital Of The World was both depressing and uplifting. Desperate and hopeful. Able to change its mood and direction in the blink of an eye.

Maybe it’s just me, but the upbeat energy and electricity of The Strip seemed to be toned down several notches. It was far less crowded, and though the usual eclectic mix of people were out and about, the crowd seemed, to put it kindly, a little less “classy” this time around. Lots of younger 20-somethings carrying around beers and those huge tropical drinks in strangely shaped glasses.

Spontaneous fun seemed like hard work. They all looked a bit like they were trying too hard.

Over at the trade show, there were very small crowds and a palpable lack of excitement. Only a few booths drew much traffic (I’m happy to say that our client’s was one of them.) It seemed that many businesses, big and small, had invested a great deal of time, money and hope into this show, only to come up very short.

Then again, while I have seen the casinos far more crowded, there were plenty of people at the slots and the tables. It was here that you saw people full of hope, optimism and for the most part, win or lose, having fun and happy just to be in the game.

And the “ultra-lounges!” They were all lining up in their fancy clothes, waiting patiently to get past the velvet ropes to pay outlandish cover charges and buy exorbitantly priced drinks.

Yes, the numbers are the numbers, the house always wins in the long run, but it just goes to point out how much more powerful perceptions can be than facts.

Meg Whitman, the former e-Bay CEO now running for Governor of California, calls the state’s problems “a crisis of confidence” in one of her TV ads. If you know anything about how state government works in California – or should I say doesn’t work – you will understand how foolish this is. With a system of incomprehensible state ballot initiatives and the legacy of Prop. 13, the hands of the governor and legislature are nearly completely tied.

Still, Whitman has a point, and it’s no accident that it is rooted in her marketing background. Agree with her political stances or not, she understands that the thoughts we have, our rhetoric, our belief systems, and most importantly, our collective self-esteem, are the keys to success. In government, economics, business or our personal lives.

I sure hope that the optimists are right about our economy and business prospects, but regardless, I will unfailingly take the “glass half-full approach” to marketing every time. In focus groups and Kitchen Table Sessions that we’ve run across a very wide range of products and services, people tell us again and again, “Don’t remind us we’re in a recession. We know!”

This doesn’t mean we should all go stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality that surrounds us. It does mean that brands that act like leaders with a positive vision for the future and a better life ahead will resonate far more powerfully with consumers.

“Times are tough and we’re going to help you out” can never be as strong as “We’re going to help you get where you’re going.”

Our economy isn’t dead, not by a long shot. Just resting.

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