In both books, we talk about the FOCII elements of interest: Fame, Oddity, Conflict, Impact and Immediacy. As far as the elements go, we tend to pay a lot of attention to certain ones, and less to others. Conflict, fame and immediacy tend to be at the front of the list, with impact almost being a requirement, based on audience-centricity.
Oddity, is well… the odd element out.
In the past two months, however, I’ve come to appreciate and value the importance of things that are out of the ordinary, thanks in large part to what we have come to call the Avocado Pig.
To make a long story longer than it needs to be, when we moved to the farm, we found out that we didn’t have trash service and that we’d have to haul our own mess to the dump. Amy didn’t want her car to be a filth magnet and I wasn’t about to put rotting crud in the back of our Highlander, so we set about looking for a beater pickup truck to do the deed.
After months of searching in advance of the move, I found one truck that tickled my fancy: A 1975 Ford F-150 super cab. It had everything I wanted: It had a large bed, so I could move a lot of stuff if I needed to. It had a cap on it so the bed wouldn’t fill with snow. It had a “back seat” (and yes, that deserves to be in quotes, given what that actually entails) so I could fit extra stuff or extra kids in there if I got called at the last minute to do after-school pick up. And, it was an older Ford, so I knew how to fix most problems on it, based on my Mustang adventures.
The thing came out of North Dakota, a state that apparently doesn’t use salt on its roads during the winter, so it had almost no rot or rust on it. The guy selling it was doing it as a favor for a friend, so it was reasonably priced and he was happy to tune it up at his automotive business before I bought it. It also didn’t hurt that it was the least amount of money I had spent on vehicle ever.
With all of this going for it, why did it sit on this guy’s car lot for multiple months, you might ask. Well, it screams “1970s” louder than a polyester plaid leisure suit with a John Holmes porn mustache, wearing stack boots:
It’s not only painted 1970s avocado green on the outside, but on the inside panels as well. The dash, the seats and the glove box are all avocado green. The flooring is the same color, done in beautiful shag carpeting to boot. It’s got an AM only radio, making it almost impossible to find anything other than talk radio or polka for in-cab entertainment. It also has a CB radio.
(If you don’t know what that is, ask your parents. Chances are, they will spend the next 20 minutes telling you about some sort of trucker story and explaining why they used something like “Foxy LaRue” as their CB handle.)
This thing is the vehicular equivalent of the uncle who shows up at your wedding in the same ruffled tux he wore to his wedding 30 years ago and proceeds to hit on every bridesmaid in the wedding party.
I didn’t care. It started, ran and hauled stuff. I was able to fix several problems on it for about 10% of what it would cost to hire someone. Also, and it becomes clear if you’ve ever seen how I dress, I could give a crap less about being fashionable or trendy.
As is the tradition in our house, we sought a name for this vehicle, eventually settling on “The Avocado Pig.” Why? First, it’s avocado green, so that was a given. Second, it’s a fuel pig, in that it has a 390 engine and two gas tanks that need constant refilling, due to its gas-guzzling nature.
It was the kind of vehicle only I could love, or at least that’s what I thought. Turns out, people have some sort of weird fixation with this truck.
It started about a day after I bought it and drove it to my parents’ house in Milwaukee. I was putting stuff into it while it was sitting on the street when I noticed a police cruiser pass. It pulled a U turn and sidled up next to the truck and I thought, “Oh crap…”
“Is that your truck?” one officer asked.
“That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I told my partner we had to swing around to take another look.”
He left and I was just happy I hadn’t violated Milwaukee’s arcane parking laws somehow.
About a week later, we moved into the farm house and I had it parked out back. A truck pulled into our driveway and someone was banging on the back door. I was elsewhere in the house, so Amy answered the door and was faced with someone who had known the previous owner. We figured this would happen, as the guy lived here for 54 years, but the reason these people stopped had nothing to do with the guy.
“They wanted to know if you were selling the truck,” Amy said with a tone that mixed exasperation and bewilderment. “What the hell is wrong with these people?”
Apparently, if they suffered from some sort of avocado fetish, they weren’t alone. Over the next two weeks, I couldn’t go to the grocery store, the dump or a hardware store without at least one person asking about the truck, including at least one offer to buy it on the spot.
On the way home from work one day, I was at a stoplight, when someone coming through the intersection on my left pulled over on the median. He got out of his vehicle and pointed at me before doing the “Wayne’s World” thing of “We’re not worthy.” He then got back in his brand new truck and drove off.
Later that week, another guy in a truck that Amy said looked like a pimped out UFO showed up while I was at work and asked if he could buy the truck.
At a certain point, this feels like either I’m making this up or that we’re in the theater of the absurd, but I can assure you I’m not good enough at fiction to pull this off as some sort of metaphor. Even more, I had the truck at work a week or two ago and came out to find this note, written on the back of a “WalPhed” box, stuck under my windshield wiper:
I completely understand why people ogle other people’s vehicles. I’ve practically gotten whiplash looking at vintage vehicles and screaming sports cars on the road. But of all the vehicles I’ve owned or driven… the Avocado Pig? Really? The Firebird, the classic Mustang, the Buick Grand National… sure. I also had a 1966 F250 camper edition for truck fans, but nobody seemed to have this level of fascination with it. I’ve been behind the wheel of a vintage Corvette, a Cadillac sedan and even an Escalade or two. Never even got half of a conversation or a cash offer.
What was it about this 45-year-old eyesore that got people into such a lather?
Amy nailed it. “When was the last time you saw something like this on the road? People love weird shit.”
And if we’re measuring weird, the Avocado Pig has it in spades.
So, after that extensive build up that was, as promised, longer than it needed to be, what does this mean to you?
If you want to draw attention to your work, you need to find things that make it unique in a truly distinctive way.
ADVERTISING: Bad advertising tries to get people to pay attention to it through hype, calling things the “fastest” or the “cleanest” or the “richest” or the “cheapest” or whatever “-est” you can manage to stick in there. The intent is to highlight oddity, but all it does is bore people.
Instead of “-est”ing me to death, look for exactly WHAT makes some something faster or better or stronger or whatever in regard to that product. The oddity of this product or good or service is likely right in front of you. Find the characteristic in the product that is special and then tie it directly to the benefit the users can get out of it.
NO: “Filak’s wet wipes are the strongest protection you can get against the coronavirus!”
YES: “Filak’s wet wipes are the only wipes on the market with Plutoxin-7, which means they kill the coronavirus as soon as it lands on any surface that was cleaned within the past 24 hours.”
PUBLIC RELATIONS: When you are planning an event or attempting to garner media coverage of something, focus on what makes this situation different from the other 912 things you’ve sent me a press release about in the past month. At a certain point, much like we do with “-est” advertising, we’re going to tune you out the minute we see your letterhead or email address.
The key thing in public relations that tends to get missed in this regard is that PR professionals know what their clients are doing and have a sense of why those actions matter. Because they tend to internalize this, it’s like reporters who become too attuned to “inside baseball” on their beats. In short, the practitioners KNOW the value, so they can’t believe that the reporters can’t see it, too.
What helps is taking that extra step and outlining the “this matters because” step for the reporters. Don’t assume they see the unique element of what you’re doing or the key value in what it is that you’re pitching. Instead, take them by the hand and show it to them by saying, “Look how neat this is!”
NO: Comedian and world traveler Bill Jones will speak at Central College on Friday as part of the school’s “Never Give Up” motivational program.
YES: “Bill Jones, the only man to ever eat an entire elephant in 24 hours, will deliver his “One Bite At A Time” comedy routine at Central College on Friday as part of the school’s motivational program.
NEWS: News folks have no problem looking for weird things. It’s why we’ve had “News of the Weird” as a syndicated column for years and why local radio shows play their “Small Town Crime Wave” stuff to the delight of morning-show listeners. That is usually where we find oddity to start and stop.
In short, if it involves a man from Florida, requires a firefighter to note “please don’t use a blowtorch to kill spiders,” or includes the phrase “priest’s three-way with dominatrices,” we’re pretty much clear it’s going to go viral. (If all three of those topics converged, I’m pretty sure we’d break the internet for good…)
However, oddity isn’t just about those items. It’s about focusing on firsts, lasts and onlies, so don’t be afraid to start asking questions like, “When was the last time X occurred?” This sense of wonder can turn an interesting story about a sports triumph into a bigger piece involving certain rarities. It can push you to look for things like what was the longest we had to wait to figure out who was president? Or when was the last time a bishop had to burn an altar that had been desecrated? Or what was the fastest amount of time it took for someone to drive the cross-country “Cannonball Run?” (That last one is a heck of a story.)
Or even, “How many 1975 Ford F-150 Supercab trucks came in avocado green?”