"My fault -- All my fault!
If only I had stopped him when I could have. But I didn't --
And now --
Uncle Ben -- is dead..."
This is not meant to be one more snarky, egocentric post that’s more interested in ragging on someone’s work than providing useful insights. My intent is to educate, not attack.
That said, let’s get to it…
I was chilling on my couch one evening, mindlessly watching TV when a commercial came on that I found a bit shocking. That, itself, is not noteworthy, right? Shocking commercials abound. However, this shocked me in a different way than usual.
The screen was white with the exception of an empty wine glass held at an angle. Classical music played while wine started pouring from a bottle into the waiting chalice in smooth slow-motion, creating that sort of elegant splash you see only in commercials – and that you certainly wouldn’t be brave enough to attempt at home. It was a very sexy ad…as ads for wine go.
I thought to myself, “Y’know, that gives me a craving for a glass of wine – and I don’t even LIKE wine."
It’s what came next that I found shocking.
“If this is your problem, we can help.”
These words appeared on my TV screen, followed by the logo and name of a local addiction treatment center. Did this really just happen? Did a center for the treatment of addiction to alcohol really create a commercial that uses the same methodology that a wine manufacturer or reseller would use to make someone want to buy themselves a bottle of wine?!?
They may well have just said:
“If this is your problem . . . we’re sorry – but hey, a sweet glass of wine should make everything better!”
Anyone engaging in communications has potentially great power to persuade and influence their audience. But, as Peter Parker learned in the very first Spider-Man story, "With great power there must also come -- great responsibility!”
In our Discovery process with clients we ask: “Is there anything that should be avoided when talking to your audience?”
For a treatment center, I’d be so bold as to say that we should avoid advertising in such a way as to make the people we’re trying to help overcome their addiction crave the very thing they are addicted to. Because, at the end of the day, what you’re really communicating is that you have a profound lack of understanding as to the overpowering nature of the problem your audience is dealing with.
And the call for responsibility goes out beyond those working in healthcare. There are others with far less power to do good and influence people, that still communicate in dangerous ways.
My favorite has to be the geniuses who put QR Codes on billboards that line perpetually busy streets (though folks who put QR codes on their cars are equally irresponsible).
Let me get this straight. You want me to try to focus my smartphone on your sign, some 50 feet in the air and off to the side of the road, all while I’m trying to navigate traffic at 45 miles an hour? I assume this is so that I can be magically transported to your website to view while driving – is that right?
Let me ask this as lovingly as possible:
“Are you insane?!?”
In a world where people are killed by distracted drivers at an alarming rate, you really want me to engage with your website NOW?!?
Both here and with the treatment center, I’m sure there is no nefarious intent on the part of the advertisers. There is however a significant lack of wisdom and a failure to really think through these advertising decisions – the unintended consequences of which could be harmful to the very audience they’re trying to reach and build trust with.
Understanding your audience, and knowing not just what you should be telling them, but, perhaps more importantly, what you be steering clear of, is part of using your communications super-powers for good and not evil.
And any superhero worth his spandex would tell you the same thing!