My wife Annie and I went out to see a movie; this is back in about 2009. We went to watch Sherlock Holmes, that American version with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. We were really excited about it.

Kind of a crappy movie

Looking back, that movie was pretty stinky

We arrived at the Megaplex, got our popcorn, bought our soda and snacks. We made it into the theater and walked up to the top row because we like to sit clear in the back. We sat down and started enjoying the movie. About 10 minutes in, something inside of me started going seriously wrong. I realized I’d have to get out real quick and visit the men’s room. I’d only miss 3 or 4 minutes, and then Annie could fill me in on what I’d missed. I could then enjoy the rest of the movie without any internal complications.

I started to casually walk down the stairs making my way towards the exit. As I walked down I realized this wasn’t a normal situation- I’d better pick up the pace. I started hustling down the stairs, turned the corner, making it out towards the exit. Right as I closed the door behind me, something hit me- like a tsunami of intestinal panic. I knew I had to get to men’s room and I had to get there pronto. I started booking it through the hall. Practically knocking people over, popcorn flying, out of my way, as I tore down the hall towards the men’s room.

I didn’t make it.

Dejectedly, I waddled into the men’s room.  It was packed. Apparently one of the adjacent movies had gotten out because that place was wall-to-wall dudes. So I weaved through them coolly, casually. I made my way towards the stalls. I found an empty one and scurried in and locked it behind me. Eyes darting around, I looked through the cracks of the stall. What am I going to do? Annie is in the theater. I can’t reach her. She has the car keys. I’m stuck in here! I stopped, took some deep breaths, and assessed the damage.

And damage it was.

It was a disaster. It was like a war zone and my pants were an early casualty. I sat there and I started looking out the cracks in the stall to see what I can do.

I started noticing something. A pattern.

It turns out there’s a phenomenon in theater restrooms. It’s almost like this ocean wave that washes up and the bathroom fills with people and then it recedes and all the people vacate, all at the same time. A few minutes later, another movie gets out and a huge wave of people come crashing into the bathroom. After watching this for a few minutes, an idea started formulating in my mind and I thought, …wait a minute! And like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, this hope started to bud inside of me and I thought, there’s a way out of this.

Tom Cruise makes this look more fun

Tom Cruise makes this look a lot more fun

When the next wave of people receded and I saw that the bathroom was empty, I stripped down, scooped up my pants in my hands, and I went darting out into the cold and lonely restroom. My underwear, well, they weren’t going to make it- so I discarded them. I left them in the graveyard that was the bathroom garbage can. I went running over to the sink and with nothing but hand soap, I started scrubbing my pants frantically. Just imagine, a grown man, with stinky pants in hand, in front of a bathroom sink scrubbing his pants with nothing on but his long sleeve dress shirt and socks.

From the distance, I heard a wave of people approaching again so I picked up my soaking wet, still stinky and sudsy pants and I darted back into the stall. I waited in there with pants dripping on the bathroom floor and after a couple of minutes I got the nerve to scramble back out and continue washing my pants. I go through this process 4 or 5 times, maniacally scrubbing my pants and then running back into the stall and waiting for the people to leave and then running back out and scrubbing them. I kept going back and forth, back and forth. Exhausted, but with each cycle, I think, okay, I’m a little bit closer, I’m a little bit closer to respectability.

Finally, I finished washing them. My pants weren’t clean but they weren’t overtly offensive anymore. The problem was they were still soaking wet. So, I now repeated the process, but this time I ran out and to use the Dyson hand dryer, that reverse vacuum thing that blows hot air and I started drying my pants. More people came back in, so I scurried back into the stall and waited and then I’d go running back out to dry them again. After 3 or 4 times of this, I thought, I just may have fully redeemed myself and recovered from this terrible situation. Emotionally exhausted, I squeezed back into my still damp pants and I strolled out of the men’s room to make my way back to the theater.

Spoiler Alert: There's a bridge in the movie

Spoiler Alert: There’s an old bridge at the end

When I opened the door and walked in I could hear the movie still going on. It had been well over an hour but I was finally back! I started making it up the stairs, pants squeaking. I look behind me to see where the movie was and all I see is Robert Downey Jr. fighting some villain on this old crumpled down bridge and I think ah, I made it just in time for the climactic ending, and I wasn’t going to miss it! I walked all the way up and make it to the top back where Annie is sitting on the very highest row of the theater. She didn’t break eye contact with the screen. She didn’t look up at me. Trying to hold back a grin she slowly shook her head.

I casually squished down into my seat and looked over at her. Without flinching and still staring at the screen, she said flatly,

“Todd, you’re not wearing underwear, are you?”

Like Sherlock Holmes, she deduced the situation and pieced everything together. The frantic running out of the theater, the depths of debauchery that I have endured in the mens room, my humiliating return- she put together exactly what I’d been through.

I sat there trying to salvage one last scrap of dignity. I huffed,

“No. Of course I’m not wearing my underwear. But I’m going to sit here in my own filthy pants and watch the last 5 minutes of this movie.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

So, how did Annie know exactly what I’d been through? She didn’t ask me any questions, she didn’t follow me through the whole ordeal. So how she know? This is how she did it:


She took the knowledge she had of me, added data from new signals that she witnessed and correctly hypothesized my experience. Following this same 3 step process, we marketers come to understand what our customers have been through, where they’re at now and what they need in the moment. We’ll then better be able to incept a scene here or there that influences them to fill that need with our product or service.

In the next part of this series we’ll take a closer look at this process and the signals we have at our disposal to better understand our customers. Stay tuned for Part 5: A New Age of Digital Listening.

As for watching the first Sherlock Holmes, I’ve still never seen the rest of the movie and don’t plan to. I took it all a bit too personally and feel a little betrayed by the characters. Considering my emotionally fragile condition, I think I’ll just stick with the BBC version.