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“Will its tapes play in my VCR?”

These words grated like fingernails on a chalk board in the mid-90’s to anyone in Sony’s Personal Video Division. I know. I was in the Recording Media Group, responsible for selling the tapes that, so we were told, wouldn’t play in our customers’ VCR’s. It was a powerful line.

It was also a lie.

The rival tape format to our homegrown 8mm was VHS-C, a compact ½ inch tape produced by JVC and Panasonic. It had VHS quality, a euphemistic expression for “lousy,” particularly compared to the technical superiority of the 8mm format. It ran a total of 30 minutes, compared to the usual 120 minutes of 8mm tapes.

But it had something that 8mm didn’t have. Stickiness.

If you asked, “Will its tapes play in my VCR?” you cornered the Sony spokesperson into a position of hyperventilation. “Well… well, no… they don’t play in your VCR exactly… BUT…”  The spokesperson may still be talking, but the conversation was over.

Here’s the thing that makes me shake my head to this day. VHS-C tapes didn’t fit in your VCR. They needed an adaptor that was clunky, finicky and expensive. And 8mm camcorders were VCR’s themselves. They probably had more VCR features packed in them than the glowing box beneath your television set. All you needed was a cable to plug it into your TV – and the cable came free with your camcorder.

With 8mm, its tapes played on your television set – where you were most likely to view them, not for nothing – longer, with higher quality, and for less cost than the clunky, poor resolution of VHS-C.

The problem for Sony was that the VHS-C posse of Sharp, JVC and Panasonic had hijacked the conversation. They had planted a sticky and somewhat misleading rallying cry in the mind of the public that Sony was unable to shake. VHS-C outsold 8mm for most of the 90’s in unit volume because of this.

“Do You Support the Building of a Mosque on Ground Zero?”

An American President was cornered into responding to this emotionally charged question while hosting a Ramadan dinner in the White House. His handlers should be sent to media training hell for this.

Given the overall sentiments of a post-9/11 America, most are opposed to building a mosque where the Trade Towers once stood, not for First Amendment reasons – which would be indefensible – but for the obvious symbolic reasons. There’s just one problem with all of this.

The proposed “Ground Zero” Mosque isn’t at “Ground Zero.”

It will be on Park Place, two blocks north of Vesey Street, which once fronted the Towers in a fairly normal 15 story building in lower Manhattan.

The conversation, in other words, has been hijacked. Skillfully, too.

What was once a proposed multi-purpose community center that also housed a mosque – and not the only one in the neighborhood, by the way – is now the “Ground Zero Mosque.” It has a label.

The President could have quickly defused this political bomb by saying that he, too, would be opposed to a “Ground Zero Mosque” and that after discussions with city officials and representatives of the Islamic community, the proposed mosque would be located several blocks away from Ground Zero – up on Park Place, to be exact.

But he didn’t, and so he’ll continue to pay the price.

What does all this mean?

Luring the other side over the thin ice of your own creation is a deadly effective means of making yourself look good and the other side look foolish. VHS-C was only #1 in the US and was less than an afterthought everywhere else in the world. Stickiness matters a lot.

When you hear the gentle sound of crackling beneath your feet, get off the ice. The faster you can respond emphatically to the attack, the better. Sony did what Sony always did: it had internal discussions dismissing the opponent’s claims because “everyone knows our stuff is better.” Everyone didn’t and it cost Sony tens of millions of dollars.

An attack fails when one of three conditions occur: it is countered with a greater attack, the target of its attack is nowhere to be found, or the attack is met with ridicule.

Being stuck in your tracks and unable or unwilling to defend yourself is not a strategy. It’s masochism.