I wish to preach to you today, dear brethren, about perception, reality and the art of communication. Pay good attention and this homily will get you through your career in the advertising industry without having to endure the rigours of stomach ulcers, spastic colons and two years in rehab.
Ever since I can remember, my three older siblings have insisted that while they were all born in maternity hospitals and then taken home after a few days, I was born at home and after a few days my mother was taken to hospital. It was 15 July 1943 and the Allied High Command celebrated the occasion of my birth by invading Sicily. Two months later my father left the Dutch Reformed Church and converted to Catholicism.
To this day, I have no idea what caused my mother to take one look at me and have to be taken to hospital and I am equally mystified about why my father took several looks at me and became a Catholic. I very rarely talk about it, preferring instead to recount how my arrival on earth gave the Allies the confidence to head for Sicily and give the Axis forces a thorough walloping.
When I was old enough to go to school, unlike my brothers who all went to boys’ schools, I was sent to a convent. It occurred to me that perhaps my parents were so desperate to have another daughter that their disappointment in producing a third son drove my mother to hospital and my father into the arms of the Catholic church. And their continued state of denial drove me to a Convent. Bear with me please, the lesson starteth thoon.
A few years later, I decided to leave the convent and pop across the road to continue my schooling at Christian Brothers College, Pretoria.
By the time I had reached standard nine and started taking an interest in girls, I kicked myself for ever having left the convent when I did.
Our principal at CBC in those days was Brother JP O’Meara who insisted for years that my parents had never applied for me to attend CBC and that I just pitched up on the first day of school. What were my parents thinking, I wonder?
While Bro O’Meara was a strict disciplinarian, he was also a brilliant touch kicker at rugby and remarkable communications psychologist.
He managed quite simply, to stamp out rampant cigarette smoking that became all the rage at CBC in the late 1950s. His solution was stunningly simple. Here beginnith a lesson on effective communications.
At assembly one day he said that with immediate effect all standard nines and matrics were allowed to smoke during break. Terms and conditions applied. He stipulated that this was only on condition that all smokers gave him the guarantee that they would not smoke outside of the school while wearing school uniform. He would also assume that all smokers had parental permission and that if any parent complained, he would take his cane to the posterior of the guilty party.
For the next three days the rugby fields on which the two senior classes took their breaks, were completely obscured by a cloud of smoke reminiscent of Nagasaki. United Tobacco shares increased by 17 points and life was good.
On the fourth day, our star rugby player, Ray Kruger, gathered his cohorts about him and declared that he had decided to give up smoking as it was ruining his sex life.
Everyone was stunned. Not about Kruger giving up smoking but that a CBC boy in the year of grace, 1959, actually had a sex life. CBC boys simply did not have sex lives. Most CBC boys in those days didn’t even know what sex was. We didn’t even know about storks.
But, not one of us was going to openly admit that we had no sex life, so we all had to follow suit by giving up smoking. Even some boys who weren’t smokers gave up smoking to protect their sex lives.
By day five, the incidence of smoking at CBC was non-existent. O’Meara was happy to the point of developing a permanent smirk and an extra bit of wrist action when administering ‘cuts’.
Parents were happy and most of all the boys were happy particularly those who actually didn’t like smoking but succumbed to peer pressure and had to spend the first period after break throwing up in the bog.
I must admit that taking my entire school education into account, the communications and youth motivation psychology we learnt from JP O’Meara was the most valuable of all my lessons. Here beginnith the lesson on perception and reality.
When my daughter brought home a boyfriend I really didn’t like, instead of displaying my displeasure, I would insist with all the enthusiasm I could muster that I thought he was a really great guy and that I would love to have him as a son-in-law. Inevitably, he would be history in days if not hours.
Education, it’s so important isn’t it?
The big marketing lesson: It’s not what you want to say but what the consumer wants to hear. Here endeth the lesson. Now piss off back to your desks.