What a mosquito bite on the bottom in Kobe taught me about Moments of Truth and the power of RTB’s (and my inherent inability to mime).
A few years ago on a trip to Kobe, I had the oddest experience. The memory of which still makes me wince, laugh and sigh in equal measure.
Be warned, you may have read Kobe and imagined it’s an experience with a beer fed cow (that would indeed have been more fun) but sadly it’s not. It involves an errant mosquito, a 90 year old Japanese pharmacist and a Brit, who it turns out, cannot mime for love nor money.
You’re hooked aren’t you, I can tell.
[Note: in case you’re wondering, there really are brand lessons to be learned from this if you keep going…honestly…]
So there I was, sound asleep in the world’s comfiest bed, high up above the streets of Kobe, when all of a sudden I was woken by a strange sensation on my bottom.
I know at this point I could fib and say my arm or leg to retain an iota of professionalism but ass, derriere, posteriore it was…
As my eyes opened to the skyline of Kobe, I became immediately aware of a rather pressing itch. As I tried to burrow down into the mattress topper, trying the sheet smooshing version of a scratch, I came eye to eye with my partner who wanted to know what the heck I was doing.
It’s probably worth pointing out we’d not been together long and an ‘arse-itch’ is not what most people consider to be a sexy wake up visual hence my attempt at something more subtle.
Anyway, moving on. After a few minutes of trying to deny anything was up, the itch became unbearable. So much so, I had to get out of bed. As I stood up I heard a gasp behind me and turned to see my partner’s wide eyes and laughing mouth as he pointed at my bottom.
“Oh no” he chuckled “you react to mosquito bites don’t you?”
Looking down over my shoulder I took in what might be the biggest mosquito-bite swelling I have ever seen. In a few minutes it had gone from slightly raised dot to plum sized lump on my poor derriere. And the itch, oh god the itch was terrible.
After trying to sit back down on the bed and discovering that sitting would not be a part of my future anytime soon, I was left with one option — find something to help. A root around our toiletry bags revealed no antihistamines and very little by way of soothing cream.
As I started to pace, trying hard not to scratch but quickly resembling one of those baby monkeys who can’t stop touching their bottoms, I knew it was inevitable, I’d have to go in search of help.
And finding help at 3.30am in Kobe on a quiet weekend, is not as easy as I’d imagined.
After hitting the hotel lobby, the concierge informed me I’d have to wait at least 6 hours to see a doctor or 5 hours to visit a pharmacy. He told me I could always go to the emergency room but said it with such a look of disdain (given it was ‘only a bite to the bottom’) that I nixed that idea.
After realising I wasn’t going back to my room anytime soon, and the visual trauma of me trying to surreptitiously scratch my bottom was too much, he finally relented and told me about one final option. A “little old man” he knew (ostensibly a pharmacist) who had a 24hr shop that sold things that might help.
He hurriedly drew directions on a map and literally ran to the door to open it for me.
After several minutes wandering the deserted streets of Kobe at dawn, I finally found the tiny little street he’d marked on the map. A few feet later and I found a metal shutter half way down, and heard the sound of a loud snore. I tapped on the shutter, then finally crouched down and peered up to see a real ‘little old man’ snoozing on a chair.
After making enough noise to wake the dead, he woke up, saw me and trotted forwards to open the shutter. As I rushed to tell him of my troubles, he looked up at me blinking, and with a look of confusion, repeatedly shook his head.
He didn’t speak a word of English.
Of course my Japanese was limited to hello and thank you, and my phone (with the amazing Google Translate) was back in the room with my sleeping partner.
So, I did what anyone would do in my situation. I attempted to mime my problem. It started with me pointing to my bottom and itching. No reaction. I then tried to mime something buzzing through the air, landing on my bottom and then me itching. No reaction. I tried to mime me sleeping then slapping my bottom and then itching. Still nothing.
Now it may well be the case he knew exactly what I was trying to say but I had turned into his morning entertainment and it was too good to pass up.
Eventually, I thought there’s nothing for it but pull your jeans down and show him.
As I sighed and started undoing my jeans, he scurried back behind the counter and with no small look of alarm on his face, held up a notepad and pen. He then mimed to me writing and drawing. Or at least that was my interpretation. Let’s face it, neither of us were winning any Charade awards.
As I took the pad and pen and started to draw what it was, he let out a squeak and ran to one of the aisles. I say one of them, there were only two. He picked up a little bottle and came back to me with a toothy smile on my face. He kept pointing to it, pointing to my drawing and then pointing to my bottom and nodding.
Convinced and happy our silent (and somewhat ridiculous) encounter was over, I paid, picked up my drawing, the little bottle and headed back to the hotel.
I will spare you the details but suffice to say the little old man was onto something. Whatever was in the bottle was nothing short of miraculous. Within seconds of the liquid touching my skin, the itch was gone. Within a couple of hours, the Vesuvius sized lump diminished into little more than a raised bump. Unbelievable. And after a couple of days, you’d never know it happened.
The little bottle became my go-to for every trip that followed. Every bite, sting, itch I ever had was tended to with the contents of it. It went everywhere with me, from Brazil to Botswana. It was a true miracle find.
And then one day it ran out. I ran the pad over my skin and nada. Empty.
I remember the moment clearly, I was in Beirut and despite Lebanese blood flowing through my veins, the mosquitoes had sensed the Cadbury’s* in it and come at me 24/7. I looked like I had chicken pox so many and so bad were the bites.
But nothing. My trusty saviour was gone.
And as I turned to my laptop, I suddenly realised I had no idea how to find it. I couldn’t read Japanese so I couldn’t translate the bottle, I didn’t even know the brand name let alone the product name. After hours of googling ‘Japanese insect cream’ I came up empty and started to contemplate a flight to Kobe to find the little old man again.
Refusing to give up I emailed people I knew in Japan, I trawled travel sites, I went down a myriad of Google rabbit holes until I finally stumbled upon their image search. Finally I found a match. And once I found a match, it was only a short trip to eBay to find a seller. (In case you’re interested it’s called “Muhi Ex”)
A couple of minutes and a few hundred pounds later, a shipment of 20 bottles was on its way to me. My love for this product great, my need for it absolute.
And since that time, one of the little bottles has been in my possession 24/7. At home, in travel bags, in handbags. At my parents, my partners, my friends and my office.
I can’t think of one other product that has made its way so intrinsically into my life.
And yet, I have zero knowledge or understanding of the brand. It doesn’t connect with me emotionally and it certainly doesn’t communicate or engage with me.
Outside of glimpsing the product in my bag or on a shelf, I have zero brand visibility.
I don’t know who Muhi are, what they stand for, what their product portfolio is or what matters to them. I don’t know what the ingredients are, how it’s made or even where it’s made.
And here’s the thing. I don’t care.
It works better than every mosquito salve I have ever tried (and since I’ve been flavour of the month for mosquitos since I was 2 I’ve tried a whole lot) and it even works on flea bites, spider bites, ant bites and even one rather nasty bite of unknown origin. (Botswana again, I don’t like to imagine what it was).
The fact that the product does what it says it will do (or so I assume, I still haven’t managed to translate the bottle) and that any issue I have is resolved in seconds when using it, means the product benefits are so significant that I don’t care about anything else.
I don’t care that the packaging is awful and it couldn’t matter less that I don’t know anything about who makes it.
The practical and emotional relief of finding a product that works, that works so exceptionally well, despite knowing nothing at all about the brand who made it, has been enough to make me a die-hard fan. A fan who continually purchases, not in some automated habit but with consideration and gratitude for its existence each time. I’m even writing an article about it.
And back to that (for a moment I almost forgot why I was writing this — I’m guessing you did too).
The reason this was such an experience for me was because when I ran out, when I reflected on the lengths I would go to in order to reacquire it, it made me question some of my thinking on how brands could and should look to craft their RTB’s. How, over time, so many brands have talked less and less about the functional benefits of their products and over-indexed on the emotional ones.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I referred to this bottle as ‘my saviour’ so for sure it brought me an emotional benefit, but without the functional benefits being delivered on so superiorly, that emotional benefit would never have been realised.
It’s made me curious about the hierarchy of messaging of all the skincare and beauty products I use. How many have moved away from efficacy to emotion.
I understand for some this is borne out of necessity after an experience with an anti-ageing skin cream, beautifully packaged, emotionally resonant, highly endorsed but (in the words of their own R&D Director) “utterly useless”.
For those brands perhaps it’s time to re-examine their innovation pipeline and strive to create products whose efficacy can be easily demonstrated, but for others, for those whose products do work and provide real results, perhaps it’s time to bring the functional benefits back onto the stage a little.
It may be that people end up being product loyalists more than brand loyalists, but so long as the product does what it says it does, and continues to do it for the long-term, it’s never likely to go out of fashion or be easily disrupted by a competitor.
This little episode is burned into my memory because it was also a teaching experience. Both life and professional. And its questions and lessons remain relevant even today, particularly when thinking about Moments of Truth or helping shape RTB’s for a brand.
Thank you for making it through the epic Friday monologue.
I’d love to know what your thoughts are on RTB’s and if you’ve ever fallen in love with a product without an iota of knowledge about the brand.
If you fancy a coffee and chat to talk all things mosquito bites (not really) or anything else drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
ps: if you want some of the magic Mosquito repellant — here you go, my gift to you