To thine own self be true (and they'll find you)

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Out of the mouths of babes.

When one of my sons was in kindergarten, his teacher asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. My son said he wanted be like his dad: he'd drive the car and yell at people on the phone.

Wow! Talk about a defining moment in your life.

Self-awareness can be a rather painful experience, or – in the case of modern communications – scary as hell.

A few months ago, I ordered hockey sticks (for said son) from an online discounter. Almost immediately, ads for ice hockey equipment started popping up every time I pulled onto the information highway.

I couldn't go anywhere on the Internet without being bombarded with ice hockey helmets, ice skates and other various and sundry equipment necessary for the enjoyment of frozen mayhem at 25 mph.

But as annoying and intrusive as the ads were, they presented a pleasant change from the erectile dysfunction beseechments showered upon me since I turned a certain age. Those ads were of the more traditional variety, the shotgun approach where you inundate the market with messages that will engage only a small portion of the targeted demographic group; the old “throw a lot of stuff against the wall and hope some of it sticks” methodology (developed at the Harvard Business School, I believe).

Oh no, Georgie Orwell, that won't do.

Because here we are in 1984-plus 30, and Big Brother is most definitely watching. He knows if you've been bad or good, so you better be good and stay off those salacious sites you've been sneaking onto when the boss is out of the office. Keep in mind that “they” track everywhere you go and know your deepest, darkest secrets. “They” know more about you than your spouse, your best friend, your father confessor or your bail bondsman.

“They” even know what you're thinking. And I'm shaking in my boots.

Really.

With the media frenzy over the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, and the myriad retrospectives ad absurdum, it got me thinking about 1963.

And Canoe cologne.

Canoe cologne was my first step toward sophomoric sophistication. My generation had been weaned on our fathers' aftershaves: Old Spice and Mennen Skin Bracer.

However, that all changed one day in the high school cafeteria when a 17-year-old bon vivant was pontificating on the virtues of a magic elixir that rendered girls helpless and vulnerable to your most fantastic fantasies. He was talking about a special blend of hope and dreams imported from France where men knew how to treat women.

“A couple of dabs and she melts in your arms, helpless and panting.”

I had to get me some of that stuff. And quick.

So fast-forward 50 years and I'm on Google looking for the scent that sent me senseless (but had little effect on the sweet young things of my imagination). Within days of purchasing a small bottle (just for the nostalgic smell), ads began appearing on Facebook, et al., for Canoe.

And English Leather, of course, because anybody who wore Canoe surely wore English Leather. Now it's getting freaky because I wore English Leather, too.

In no time, it spread into other areas. I started getting promos for exact-scale replicas of vintage muscle cars: a 1964 Plymouth Barracuda, a 1969 Pontiac GTO and a 1957 Chevy Bel Air.

I drove a 1957 Chevy Bel Air in high school.

I immediately ran around the house, locked the doors and turned off all the lights. I shut down my main computer, my laptop, my tablet and my cellphone, and hid in the corner.

But you can't hide from progress, and along comes experiential advertising. I was at a recent seminar where the concept of experiential advertising was introduced, much to my chagrin. This is a harrowing new trend where “they” narrow the targeted demographic down to one: you.

Sleep tight.

Simply put, experiential advertising tries to involve a potential costumer viscerally by connecting to him on a more personal level. The goal is to appeal emotionally so he has a product or service experience that is truly memorable.

Wiktionary defines experiential advertising as “designed to evoke strong sensory responses from the audience as opposed to pitching a rational sales message.”

For my money, this is the ultimate rational sales message. It's selling one on one; it's sales boiled down to its pure essence. And it's ingenious because it gets a potential customer personally involved in the sales process so that he ends up being part of the effort to sell the product to himself.

Brilliant, but terrifying.

Like your kids' assessments of you.

When my youngest son made it to kindergarten, he was asked the same question as his brother before him: What do you want to be when you grow up? He replied that he was going to play professional ice hockey and buy his mom a house at the shore and his dad a hearing aid.

Who got the short end of that stick?

And I didn't need a hearing aid. I was tested and the doctor told me I had an advanced case of “selective” hearing.

So be careful what you say or what you punch into your electronic alter ego, unless you don't care that the world sees you as an out-of-control maniac screaming into the phone. Some people might not think that's such a good thing, but they probably drove Corvairs in high school.

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