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What word do you “own”?

November 5, 2009

Yesterday as I was flying home from a totally unplanned trip to Hong Kong, I sat next to this kid on the plane. I think he’s about 13 or 14, I dunno, but he was traveling alone to Singapore to see his mom. We sort of started talking nonsense and halfway over the South China Sea, he came up with this idea of playing a word association game.

How it goes is one of us picks out a random word and the other says out the first thing that comes to his mind. The original word could be anything. You got 3 seconds. Where’s the fun you ask? Hell if I know but my objective was to make it harder and harder for him to respond.

So it was my turn and it went something like this.

Me: “Airplane”

He: “Wings.”

Me: “Spaghetti.”

He: “Meatballs.”

Me: “Mechanic.”

He: “Harley Davidson.”

Me: “Amateur.”

He: “Uhh… porn?”

I stopped dead in my tracks. “Porn? PORNNN?? Whoa, what’s the connection?” I asked.

“Ummm… nothing, nothing.” he stammered, embarrassed. “It just came to my mind, that’s all.”

“Riiigght,” I said with a big grin on my face. “So what else have you been looking at on the net?” I asked innocently. πŸ˜€

Anyway the point I wanna make is, word associations don’t apply to objects only. They apply to people too.

So if I said Einstein, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? What if I said Megan Fox? Or George Bush?

You’ll notice that when it comes to people, word association responses tend to evoke one thing – reputation. Maybe its the most memorable part of someone and because of that, the word association tends to be descriptive. Like genius, sexy, trustworthy, slimeball.

Okay, so what if someone mentions your name? What word do you think will come back? Jerk? Fun? Boring?

Let’s say your friends have one word to say about you – crazy ass, and the reverse works the same way too. Mention crazy ass and your name immediately pops up. Congratulations, that’s one heck of a confirmation that you own that word, like how Jack Russel terriers own the word “havoc.” Good or bad, you’re that word and that word is you. At least in your circle of friends.

So how did you get to own that word? By accident or by design?

If you can answer that question, you’re well on your way to understanding how brands work.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2009 2:22 pm

    Damien = Son of the Devil

    Son of the Devil = Damien

    Dude , you corrupting young kids to watch porn is it ?
    Skip the amateur part , go straight to 2 girls 1 cup .

    Cup? What cup? πŸ˜›

  2. November 6, 2009 8:15 am

    o_o did you purposely miss out something in between

    Me: β€œAmateur.”

    and

    He: β€œUhh… porn?”

    Something must’ve triggered the kid’s imagination. hmmmm

    Yeah I expected him to say “photography” in response to “amateur.” He’s far a head of me on that one, lol. πŸ˜€

  3. November 6, 2009 9:24 pm

    ah well, fortunately he’s 13 or 14, and not 7 or 8.

    Oh they get younger I’m sure. The UK wins hands down. Kids as young as 11 & 12 becoming parents.

  4. November 10, 2009 11:51 am

    Malaysia is getting close too.

    Really? I could tell you stories about Singapore… πŸ˜€

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