April 06, 2011

Say what?

The good folks with Hear Toronto at the Toronto Indoor.At Highland games, bouncy castles, Scottish sweets-stands and greasy pies are pretty much the norm. You get the odd Ham-a-lot or Montreal smoked meat, and of course the essential beer-tent. Naturally, there are the vendors of Highland gear and pipes and drums. All of this is pretty familiar and predictable stuff.

I’m a big fan of marketing ideas that resonate so immediately that you can’t believe that they took so long to appear. Sometimes, the most obvious stuff is the smartest.

At the recent Toronto Indoor Games I had a eureka marketing moment when I did a double-take after almost walking by a little booth with folks who were selling hearing protection devices. I’m so used to the same-old-stalls that it’s easy to bypass something like this.

But it made perfect sense. Here’s an indoor piping, drumming and pipe banding event held in a cavernous hall. Pipers and pipe band drummers play loud instruments, and hearing loss is a serious concern with players over time. Of course! The audiologists from Hear Toronto set up shop and were selling serious protection devices by Etymotic Research, including custom-fitted models. They were even taking silicon impressions on-the-spot for anyone who wanted to pay $200 to protect their hearing while providing “uniform 15 dB sound reduction across frequencies,” i.e., quieting, not degrading, the sound quality of the pipes, drum, pipe band or nagging spouse.

I was talking – or, rather, shouting over the piping/drumming din – with the venerable Brian Pollock, a veteran of nearly five decades of top-level piping, hundreds of competitions and, I’d guess, more than 10,000 practice sessions. Brian seems to have all his faculties still, including hearing, and he’s also got serious business acumen. I mentioned that it was impressively smart for Hear Toronto to do some marketing and selling at the Indoor. Bagpipes, drums, pipe bands = hearing loss.

We both wondered why it had to stop there. Why not look at other afflictions that we pipers and drummers face? Can’t they, too, come on out to our events? We started to brainstorm.

  • Massage therapists – anxious competitors could take a load off and get a good rub-down before their event.
  • Psychiatrists – just set up a little screened-off booth for discreet visits and I bet this would be booked solid by neurotic competitors.
  • Loan accountants – is there a piper or drummer who doesn’t need more money to support his/her affliction? Cha-ching!
  • Hypnosis therapists – who doesn’t know a piper or drummer who couldn’t use a little of this? “look into my eyes. . . . you are getting sleepy . . . sleepy . . . when you hear the words ‘quick march’ you shall play perfectly until you must stop . . .”
  • Marriage counselors – maybe this little booth wouldn’t get much action, since, as I’ve only witnessed on TV (honest!), marriage counselors need both parties to attend the counseling. The many who need it of course wouldn’t be at the contest with their spouse . . .

So, forget the big lemonade stand and the taffy booths. The real marketing and selling opportunities at the games are with stuff we really need. I’m sure you have your own ideas about what would sell.


  1. I never even went around looking at what was there, expecting it was all the same stuff you see at every other event and I didn’t need any “stuff”. When I heard that these guys were there I was sorry I missed them. After a practice just 2 weeks ago that was just way too loud for comfort, I Googled for a solution and bought online (probably at a premium!) some Etymotic earplugs. Who knows when they’ll arrive since I bought them direct across the border. I’m sure if I knew these guys were there I’d have a custom fitted set on its way. I’d be interested to know if they thought of having audiologists visit more pipe band events to peddle their wares. Makes sense….especially since we have all experienced hearing damage over the years…..

  2. For those games that have obscenely long opening/closing ceremonies it would be nice (just to make a point) to have a beer and a hot dog vendor walking the ranks of the massed bands like they’d do at a ball game.

  3. A Kilt Press stand would actually garner a LARGE following, as it would avoid a lecture by your PM and/or band managers towards the end of the day. Or maybe it’s just me…

  4. Beta Blocker vending machines. Shoe-shine stand. Gym membership stall. A quit-smoking stall. Fashion police patrolling the grounds (the busiest people there!). Alcoholics Anonymous support tent – welcome friends! Anger Management therapist. A roaming umpire for settling Beer Tent disputes. Someone playing a harp to really tacky backing music and wearing long, heavy velvet. Those insufferable geeks who ‘re-enact’ battles with face paint, jacobite shirts etc – give them each a real targe and claymore and set them upon each other, we’ll all watch that! A Beer Tent that is adequately staffed and that stocks good beer, not just the one that offers the best profit margin!



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