When the public utterly
misses your meaning
NOW AND THEN in the wake of an utter communication fail, it’s not unusual for the alleged professional communicator to blame the public for “just not getting it.”
Er, um, no. It’s not the public’s fault.
I feel a case in point coming on.
Some years ago my home state of Utah unveiled a branding campaign. Well, they called it a branding campaign. It was a slogan.* Either way, nearly overnight it became the object of national ridicule.
The slogan? Brace yourself: “Utah! A pretty, great state.”
Wow! Just look at that comma! It changes the diminutive “pretty great” to the boastful “pretty and great.”
The Salt Lake Tribune’s legendary Pat Bagley honored the campaign with a cartoon. To see the whole thing, click here or on the image.
If you happened to miss that particular meaning-changing comma, don’t feel bad. Most people missed it. Hence the national ridicule.
Not surprisingly, the ad agency behind the slogan doubled down. “What’s wrong with everyone?” they lamented and, even now, continue lamenting. “Can’t they see there’s a comma?”
That’s getting it backward. The public has no obligation to ferret out your meaning. Sure, people may be illiterate, unobservant, or apathetic. But a professional communicator, a real one, anyway, anticipates that. Good advertising conveys a message that people paying not quite half-attention cannot miss, or at least cannot misconstrue. It must pass what I call the At-a-Glance Test.
If the public misses your point, don’t soliloquize about how dim the public is. Accept responsibility for not having put your meaning within easy reach.
*Having whined ad nauseam in this blog about mistaking slogans for brands, I’ll spare you this once. If you prefer not to be spared, click here.