Wanna be friends?
By: Heather DiLeo
Brands haven’t quite figured out what to do in a world where they’re easily ignored and their motives plumbed to the deepest fathom. They may know less than a reasonably successful fifth grader. Let’s explore.
SCENARIO: YOU’RE IN FIFTH GRADE. AND STARTING AT A NEW SCHOOL.
Lousy Piece of Advice #1: Some older person, maybe your mom, is going to tell you there’s nothing to worry about. Making friends is easy, she’ll say. Remember to play nice.
She’s lying to you.
If you haven’t been an awkward kid in a new school, allow me to be authoritative. Even though mom led you to believe that hanging around the school lunch table and radiating a certain sunshine was going to do the trick, here’s the real deal. The people you want to get chummy with are likely going to be made uncomfortable by your universal and bland affability. What’s wrong with her? is what they’re really going to be thinking.
Lousy Piece of Advice #2: A magazine article your babysitter leaves behind is going to give you another bit of instruction you’ll take to be relevant to your pursuit of new friends. The article will probably be about how to “Get Him to Put a Ring on It” or something like that, but you’ll see it in your own light. It’ll suggest that having a relationship is as easy as inviting other people to talk and making out like you’re interested.
This is also not true. Listening passively to other people is going to land you in one or two seriously awkward relationships you’ll have difficulty disengaging from later. The people you’ll really connect with probably won’t be interested in sharing with someone they just met and will find a one-way conversation pretty dull.
Lousy Piece of Advice #3: I don’t know who is going to give you this “guidance” specifically. You’ll probably just infer it from watching television. Anyway, somehow you’re going to get the idea that if you disguise your real intentions, you’ll be more likely to achieve the desired result (more friends than can fit in your parents’ car at any given time, too many texts to respond to, etc.) You’ll embroider the truth. I’m from Kentucky. That’s where all my friends live, you may hear yourself say—if the word “Kentucky” sounds as thrillingly exotic to you as it once did to me.
END OF SCENARIO.
Brands adopt all of the above stratagies to ill effect.
They try to be friends with everyone, which is impossible. Even if it were possible, it would be pretty much parallel to not having friends it would mean so little. Brands imagine that by alienating no one, they’ll be the most popular kid at the mixer. If only it were that simple.
Brands are also fond of encouraging people, even people they’ve only just met, to “share” via ever-more-sophisticated platforms. The results can be as disastrous for said brands as they are for wallflowers.
Finally, brands are really conflicted about admitting what it is they really want—in their case to sell things to people. There’s as little wrong with this ambition as there is with the goal of being surrounded by a group of friends. It only gets weird when brands pretend that they’re really about something quite different. (We don’t want it to look/seem/feel like an ad is a near mantra in the industry.)
To sum up, making friends isn’t easy. It is, however, worth the effort. Real friends will stand by you in hard times and tell you when you’re becoming a bit of an [EXPLETIVE DELETED]. Most important of all, friends will talk you up to others with an enthusiasm you couldn’t buy even if you had the money.
I don’t claim to have mastered the whole friendship thing. But the friends who inspire me and whom I’d defend to the point of angry bruises enjoy being argued with. They interrupt my stories. And they never pretend they could do without our friendship.
(photo credit: Saritarobinson on Flickr)