Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advertising mistake causes beloved geeky child tradition

Humans are not perfect, and we sometimes made misteaks and provide material of low qualtiy. In some cases, the results are guaranteed to be bad, while in other cases, the results could potentially be bad, and could perhaps endanger the world.

Bob Batz Jr. related this Cold War era story of an advertisement with a tiny mistake:

One December morning in 1955, Col. Harry Shoup had just gotten into his office at the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., when the red phone rang. The red phone very seldom rang....

So when the phone rang, Shoup expected dire news.

What he got was a boy reading his Christmas list.

After the boy read the list, he addressed the following question to the Colonel:

"You're not really Santa, are you?"

OK, executive gurus who preach the value of being able to make a quick decision - based upon the information that you had at the time, how would YOU respond?

I don't think that Colonel Shoup received military training on THIS particular contingency, but based upon his years of training and his expertise, he responded that he was, in fact, Santa.

Then he asked to speak to the boy's mother, who told him that the secret red line phone number had been published in a Sears advertisement.

At some point during the creation of the ad, the phone number "ME 2-6681" (using the convention for publishing phone numbers at the time) was placed into the ad and identified as Santa Claus' special number. After the phone number, the following admonition was printed:

Kiddies Be Sure And Dial The Correct Number

There's only one problem - the published number ME 2-6681 was NOT the correct number, but was instead the number for the Continental Air Defense Command's red line.


After Shoup ended the call with the boy's mother, a girl called, and Shoup answered the call as he motioned his lieutenant colonel to join him. Since it wasn't a speaker phone, I'm sure that the lieutenant colonel was mystified as his superior officer started saying "Ho ho ho!" Then the lieutenant colonel received a direct order from his superior:

"You play Santa Claus for the next two hours."

The colonel then took quick and decisive action and changed the red line number to another phone number, proving that even the U.S. military has to yield to the powers of Santa Claus. So now the Continental Air Defense Command had to answer calls to Santa Claus in addition to its regular duties...which consisted of tracking unidentified aircraft over the North American continent.

You can see where this is headed, because the Continental Air Defense Command eventually became the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which for some inexplicable reason is abbreviated as NORAD.

And now, 55 years later, NORAD is using its advanced technologies to track Santa's movements around the world on December 24.

Tracking Santa starts with the NORAD radar system called the North Warning System. This powerful radar system consists of 47 installations strung across the northern border of North America. On December 24th, NORAD monitors the radar systems continuously for indications that Santa Claus has left the North Pole.

The moment that radar indicates Santa has lifted off, we use our second detection system. Satellites positioned in geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles from the Earth’s surface are equipped with infrared sensors, which enable them to detect heat. Amazingly, Rudolph’s bright red nose gives off an infrared signature, which allows our satellites to detect Rudolph and Santa.

The third tracking system is the Santa Cam network. We began using it in 1998, which is the year we put our Santa Tracking program on the internet. Santa Cams are ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many locations around the world. NORAD only uses these cameras once a year. The cameras capture images and videos of Santa and his reindeer as they make their journey around the world.

The fourth system is made up of fighter jets. Canadian NORAD fighter pilots flying the CF-18 intercept and welcome Santa to North America. In the United States, American NORAD fighter pilots in either the F-15 or the F-16 get the thrill of flying alongside Santa and his famous reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and, of course, Rudolph.

And unlike other military intelligence, NORAD does not cloak its Santa tracking in secrecy. You can track Santa on the NORAD website http://www.noradsanta.org/, on the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/noradsanta, on the Picasa page http://picasaweb.google.com/noradtrackssanta, or on the Twitter account @noradsanta.

And what about the company that inadvertently started it all? While Sears has been recognized for its contributions to the military, I was unable to find any mention of this story on Sears' website.

But I'm sure that Santa will be at the Sears locations in Colorado Springs...at least until he has to go to work.
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