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  • Writer's pictureJohn Selzer

Bulletproof and Bleeding

Reality is not subject to interpretation. It is or it is not. Until, that is, perception gets in the way.

The discount shoe store, Payless, recently pulled off perhaps the greatest marketing ruse in recent history. Take a former Armani retail space, display your inexpensive products in a glamorous setting with a fancy-sounding name (Palessi), and voilà, you appear to be a luxury good. Invite a few Instagram influencers and they will rave about your product, and better yet, happily pay 1,800% over list price. (Not to worry, though; Payless refunded their money – and even let them keep the shoes.)

Gaze upon an affordably-priced product in a store in a sad strip mall, and “ewww”. But surround that very thing with swanky marble, polished steel and a house beat, and that becomes “wow”, instead.

Why is that? Certainly people can tell the difference. Quality is quality, right…?

Well, perception often matters more than reality. And our interpretation is (easily) subject to manipulation. Often with as little as a higher price tag and a free glass of chardonnay.

Perception can turn on a dime, too.

Take Harry Potter, for instance. The author, J.K. Rowling, submitted her manuscript pitch to virtually every major British publisher. She was rejected 12 times – and some of the feedback was pretty unkind.

It was the thirteenth that saw something there and green-lighted the project. Seven books, eight movies, two theme parks and truckloads of wizarding merch later, the brand has generated more than $25 billion of value. Yes, that is with a ‘b’.

What changed? Nothing, really.

But once the book was printed and set into the world, the perception shifted from doubt to possibility. A few books sold and possibility became potential. And as Isaac Newton postulated in his first law, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Once something has been given enough gold stars, thumbs up or likes to tip the scale in one direction, it is more likely to accumulate more accolades than criticism. That boulder is a rollin', so to speak.

Perceptions can also be bent when we take them away altogether.

For centuries, French wines were held out as the global gold standard. Other countries planted grapes and tried to ferment them into something meaningful, but their bottles never earned more than local consumption – and worldwide disdain.

That all changed in 1976.

A well-respected British wine merchant assembled a dream team of wine experts and held a blind tasting in Paris that pit classic French wines against the swill, er… yet undiscovered labels, out of California. The outcome was unexpected. Shocking, even. California wines won both categories, turning the wine world on its head. So much so the day became known as the ‘Judgment of Paris’ (and is the subject of a fascinating book by the same name).

If I tell you that something is good or rare or important, you are more likely to then see it as such. But take that away, and you are left to render an opinion without a gentle nudge in the ‘right’ direction.

We are the only ones that can determine the role of perception. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Real or not.

If told that someone is an expert, a product will make you a better human being, a service is disruptive or a news story is unbiased (or fake), take the time to wave away the fog of perception. Look through the mist to find the reality. Be discerning and deliberate.

And reach your own conclusions.


Bulletproof and Bleeding by dog's eye view

The stripped down nature of the music and the lead singer’s casual interactions with the mic make the song feel he is having a conversation – and we are just listening in. And it is one of those conversations that when you first overhear, you feel shameful for listening in, but you cannot turn your attention away.

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