Hairy Party To You

I’m guessing that you’ve attended your fair share of birthday parties. Me too.

I’m also guessing that at this point, you and I pretty much know what to expect at these events: brightly colored balloons, age-appropriate gifts, off-key singing and some sort of cake.

Which is why when my extended family gathered at my brother Al’s house this past week to celebrate the birthdays of both my parents, I really wasn’t anticipating any surprises. And there weren’t any.

Until, that is, it came time to put the candles on the cake.

To his credit, Al had thought ahead. Realizing that between the two of them, my parents share a combined 175 years of life, it would have been a fool’s errand – that errand being a frantic call to the fire department – to place and light 175 candles on a single cake.

Instead, Al had purchased a packet of letter-shaped candles – one candle for each of the 13 letters in the phrase, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY.” Way to go, Al.

One problem. Apparently, someone at the letter-shaped candle factory had been asleep on the job that day (an ex-air traffic controller, I’d wager). Because instead of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY,” our packet contained the letters “HARPY BIRTHDAY.”

As you might imagine, this last minute snafu caused a bit of commotion among the grown-ups that evening.

Should we put one birthday candle in the middle of the cake? Should we snap one leg off the extra “R,” thereby turning it into an aftermarket “P?” Should we just go with no candle, a carbon-neutral cake, if you will?

We never had a chance to decide. Because almost immediately, the teenagers present started reconfiguring the letters on the table to see what else could be spelled in honor of their beloved grandparents:


In the end, we agreed on HAIRY PARTY, a moniker which, if you ask me, was all too appropriate given my oddly hirsute relatives. We put the candles in, lit them up, carried the cake out to the dining room and commenced with the off-key singing.

Birthday tragedy averted, but it did get me thinking. Thinking about how enormously compelling it is – whether running a birthday party or marketing a business – to just go through the motions and do what you and everyone else in your shoes has done before.

Think about it. Thanks to a once in a lifetime candle packaging error, our group was presented with an opportunity to be creative. But what did the “wise” grownups fall back on instead … how about we snap the R’s leg off and pretend it’s a P before anyone else notices?

Luckily, the teenagers weren’t having any of that. The result was a birthday cake and celebration that was more interesting, more memorable and just plain more fun than the hundreds we’ve all not noticed over the past many years.

But it’s not just my family (I think). Take a look around at the way you market your own business:

  • Do your business cards look like everyone else’s?
  • Have the bios on your web site gone unchanged for the past 10 years?
  • Does your voicemail message share the breaking news that “I am either on the phone or away from my desk?”
  • If I took the content of your newsletter and swapped it with that of your closest competitor, would anyone (including you) notice?

You get the picture – sleepwalking through your marketing is easy to do

Here’s the bottom line. Every interaction you have with the outside world is a marketing opportunity. You can either play it straight down the safe middle (along with the majority of your competitors) or you can shake it up whenever you’re given the chance. Don’t make me send a bunch of hairy teenagers over to your office.

And Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, Hairy Party to both of you.

P.S. Got your own variation on the HARPY BIRTHDAY letters? Share it here for all to see!

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