I could have sworn that Native Americans were here first
Unintended racism is still racism
(a call to sensitivity)
In January, I blogged about a billboard campaign in Utah proclaiming that explorer Jim Bridger discovered the Great Salt Lake. I just received the above-pictured announcement from Reagan Outdoor Advertising, who ran the billboards as a test, bragging that “75% of Utah recall seeing the boards.”
I don’t dispute that billboards work for certain objectives. That said, I have three reactions to this specific promotion:
1. “75% of Utah” is just broad enough to make me skeptical. It implies adults, teens, tweens and toddlers. I bet they surveyed only English-speaking adults. If I’m right, then the 75% claim is an instance of statistics abuse.
2. “Recall seeing” is a far cry from “bought as a direct result.” Everyone in my high school recalled seeing the class nerd, but no one went to prom with him.
3. As I noted in January, the Native Americans who had lived near and around the Great Salt Lake for generations might be surprised to learn that Bridger was its discoverer. This is a classic example of Eurocentric and, therefore, racist history at its best. No, I’m not accusing Reagan of racism, only of failure-to-engage-brain, also known as insensitivity. Whoever penned the headline was merely parroting the Eurocentric view expressed in most public school textbooks. What I am suggesting is that the way U.S. history is taught in our school system is in serious need of an overhaul.
Meanwhile, let’s all do our best to remember that white history isn’t all there is to history.
“But” Is Not a Bad Word
We wrote an ad that read something like this: “Your widget does this, that and the other. But when…” The client for whom we created the ad objected to the use of but. “It’s so negative,” he whined.
People buy products that fill needs or wants. When you need or want something, you have a problem in the form of not having the thing that you need or want. A smart marketer offers a solution to the problem in exchange for your money.
For a marketer to convince you that a product solves your problem, it’s necessary to point out the problem. Doing so is arguably negative. But not in a bad way, because talking about the problem sets you up to talk about the solution.
A handy way to point out a problem is with but. For instance: “You love that new car smell. But in a few weeks…” That word but also provides an apt transition from problem to solution: “But thanks to a revolutionary new process, you no longer need to put up with…”
Call both such uses of but negative if you like. But they work. That is why throughout successful direct response marketing you consistently find sentences and clauses that open with but.
This client is a devoté of Positive Mental Attitude (PMA for short) seminars, and has been fed a steady diet of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP for short) nonsense. For instance, he believes that answering “thank you” with “my pleasure” instead of “no problem” makes everyone healthier, happier and more successful. But empirical testing shows that, for the most part, NLP is utter flimflam. But I knew better than to try convincing my client of that. People defend their PMA and NLP stuff with religious-like zeal.
So, I found a way to render the ad but-less. Yes, it weakened the ad. But hey, it was ultimately his company, his product, and his ad.
By the way, not counting examples, I opened five sentences in this post with “but.” I bet you glided right through them. But (and that’s six) I also bet you didn’t suffer the slightest negative karma.