Rock, Paper, Scissors

By Barry Nathanson

ON A BEAUTIFUL FALL DAY last weekend, I ventured into Central Park, as is part of my daily routine. As I sat by Bethesda Fountain taking in the foliage and hearing dozens of languages that I couldn’t decipher, I watched a group of kids playing that time honored game, “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” It brought me back to my youth, as well as the early years of parenting my own children, now grown. The joy and laughter kids take from the game has not changed in all these years. The symmetry of the three aspects, the equal measures of power and vulnerability, is clear and succinct.

I write this now because I have some issues with the game, however. Like, why isn’t rock more powerful than the other pieces? It might seem ironic for someone in the magazine business, but I’ve always felt that the aspect of paper defeating the rock by covering it made no sense. But to avoid therapy, I probed deeper into the recesses of my mind to find logic in it – especially since I had to also conjure up a topic for my column.

So let’s compare it to the beverage world, and play by my rules.

I’ve always felt that the rock is the most powerful, and should control the game, with the scissor having its moments of impact, while the paper is always at the whim of the other two. Again, my contention is that covering a rock means nothing. So in my rules, I’ve assigned the three aspects of our business; the retailer, distributor and marketer to each component. The proper breakout is that the retailers are the rock, distributors, the scissors, and marketers, the paper. I have watched beverage version of this game for 20 years now, and while there have been times that each side has had its moment in the sun, the logic is that this is the pecking order.

Retailers must have an understanding of their power and wield it wisely and fairly. They control the space, the pricing and the profitability. If they get too greedy or make the relationships too one-sided, everyone loses, especially the consumer. It is incumbent upon them to negotiate in good faith, take on new and unproven brands, and give them time to grow. But sometimes the rock hits too hard, and the other players ultimately drop out of the game. No one wins.

Distributors too often want to be the rock. They are beaten down, so they take it out on the paper. But even if they’ve been burned by the marketers in the past, they must still give fair terms to the brands, not some of the cutting ones that have been bandied about in the marketplace over the last few years. It’s got to be win-win. There’s enough room for both of you to play the game.

Paper serves at the whim of the other players. That’s the nature of the beast. It is still important to be innovators, creators and savvy marketers. Taste and efficacy still are the roads to success. If you have a truly unique concept, though, you’ll have the rock and scissors knocking at your door. So wait. Maybe paper does have power. Maybe it does beat rock. Maybe there is balance. Maybe I DO need therapy.

The reason Rock, Paper and Scissors has been around so long, is that all three aspects work in harmony. To truly be successful, you must work and play together. Why didn’t l learn this when my kids were little? Sheesh.