Using Houdini to Escape Marketing Department Constraints

Although Harry Houdini was both a master magician and illusionist, his legacy can be summarized in two words: 

Escape Artist.

Read on for his career highlights…

>>>  1906, stripped of all clothing, cuffed, and locked in a cell inside of D.C.’s Murderer’s Row Prison, Houdini takes all of 2 minutes to break out. Following his escape, he takes 20 minutes to shuffle eight other prisoners between cells, without a key.

>>> July 7, 1912, Houdini gets thrown from a boat on New York’s East River. He’s shackled hand and foot, inside a wooden crate nailed shut. To ensure the crate doesn’t float, it’s weighed down with 200 lbs of lead. Houdini escapes the death chamber in 57 seconds.

>>> Aug 6, 1926, Houdini performs his last and greatest escape. Inspired by Egyptian magician Rhaman Bey, Houdini lays in a coffin at the bottom of a full swimming pool — with no outside oxygen — for 91 minutes.

But what almost nobody knows is that Houdini’s signature moves came by way of necessity.  

Houdini was a guerrilla marketer

You see, long before Houdini began cheating death on a public stage, he perfected the art of the getaway using real life police handcuffs and paddy wagons.

And no, the prop owners were not in on the act!

Unlike say, David Blaine, Houdini didn’t have a bedroom in a suburban house to practice his craft. His studio was the crowded streets of Milwaukee, circa 1890, in full view of the teeming masses.

An original guerrilla marketer, you might say.

Houdini (i.e., Ehrich Weiss) learned to attract a crowd. The people would hoot and holler, leaving the police no choice, as they saw it, but to break it up.

“Keep it moving folks! Nothing to see here.”

But jail, even short stays, can crimp a magician’s swag. For one thing, release might be conditioned on promises to “stay out of trouble.”

Which for Houdini, would have meant ending the street performances. 

Wasn’t gonna happen!

So, rather than compromise and turn down his act, Houdini risked harsher sentencing as a repeat offender. No matter. He’d give the cops the slip and live to perform another day.

Which probably isn’t much different from what you face at the office: a boss who’s always ready to clip your (creative) wings…

Maybe not intentionally, but whether by neglect (“the campaign we discussed is not a priority right now”) or penny-pinching (“we’ve had to shift resources”), the constraint is just the same.

It’s enough to send you into a pit of frustration, despair, and fatalism.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t have to end there.

Marketing department constraints = creative blessing?

Like Houdini proved countless times, there’s ALWAYS a way out. The escape hatch is normally hidden from the naked eye — buried under reams of data — but it’s there.

And the devil in THOSE details are what’s going to carry your next campaign. Trust me, you don’t need more “big data.” The most important things for your company’s future success are normally hiding in plain sight.

Now obviously, I can’t tell you what those are — your company is unique. I could probably though tease them out of you, though. That’s what I do with all of my copywriting clients. Just sayin’.

Let’s face it, if the hook for your next campaign was obvious to your boss, he or she would find the money — somewhere — to get the message out.

The marketing department constraints will fall away as soon as you can deliver the proposal in a way that flatters your boss’s intelligence and self-interest. Yes, bosses love to be flattered. 

Fortunately, even without the boss’s blessing, the RIGHT copy, at the RIGHT time, using the RIGHT medium will still convert in spite of miserly spending limits.

I know, I know. That last point probably sounds obvious. But it’s not. Here’s why:

Many otherwise savvy marketers never fully adjust to the feast/famine cycle common in corporate marketing departments. You know what I mean… when times are good, every resource is put to work… whether it’s truly needed or not.

When times are bad, these same marketers quietly panic. Suddenly, all looks lost without those same (unnecessary) resources.

Let’s face it… ad spend can overcome a lot of marketing campaign deficiencies. Even a loser campaign (“Got Milk?”) looks good when it’s flush with money.

But metrics don’t lie. And if your campaign can do it’s ONE conversion job (whatever that is) reasonably well, on a test budget, then you’re at least on the right path.

By the way, Houdini believed his death-defying stunts were laying the ground work for scientific breakthroughs.

And they were! For example, after his coffin-in-a-pool trick, he sent a letter to a psychologist with the U.S. Bureau of Mines, who was analyzing ways to maximize the physical endurance of trapped miners.

“The important thing is to believe that you are safe, don’t breathe deeply and don’t make any unnecessary movements,” he wrote.

In the same way, your current marketing campaign is laying the groundwork for the next one, and the one after that. That’s how “breakthroughs” happen, regardless of the marketing department constraints imposed upon you.

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