The Roach emotion

'One of our first visits was to a sixtyish woman named Lillie, who lived in a mobile home park near Tampa, Florida. She welcomed us in and we perched ourselves on folding chairs while Lillie dropped into a La-Z-Boy recliner. I asked Lillie to tell us a little bit about herself and she launched into the story of her childhood in Mississippi, her first marriage, the birth of her two kids, her hardworking life, her divorce and remarriage.

Just as Lillie was telling us about the sudden death of her second husband, an enormous cockroach emerged from the kitchenette and ambled into the living room. My client and I noticed it exactly at the same moment. We looked at each other, wondering whether we should mention it or pretend we hadn't noticed.

But Lillie spotted the cockroach too. "Damn!" she growled. She leapt out of her La-Z-Boy, tore open a kitchen cabinet, and pulled out a can of my client's very own brand of bug spray. She closed in for the attack, bent over, aimed the nozzle at the roach, and nailed it. I counted- one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand- as the roach jerked into a deathly paroxysm and the spray formed a toxic puddle around him.

"Take that, you bastard", Lillie said.

My client and I looked at her with raised eyebrows.

Roaches!" she said with disgust. "Reminds me of my first husband". She placed the rim of the can on the carcass and bisected it with a definite crunch.

What did we learn from our visits? First, that customers can use far more spray than necessary. More important, Lillie demonstrated that even a utilitarian product like bug spray can have deeply emotional, even primal, meaning. Our visit with Lillie became a reference point for the bug spray organisation as it created news and improvements for its products.

- Michael J Silverstein, 'Treasure Hunt - Inside the mind of the new consumer'.


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