2016-11-03 / Columns

‘It Might Seem Obvious, But…’

Think Outside, No Box Needed
By Jim Plouffe

There is a car company advertising on television for you to purchase their car using the song, “You Don’t Own Me.” The ad shows different situations where one person is being unreasonable or taking advantage of another person, and then it shows the actor who was being taken advantage of in a car singing the chorus, “You Don’t Own Me.”

There is another commercial I’ve seen to promote a stock brokerage firm, with Benedict Arnold, the famous American revolutionary war traitor, on a computer talking about how he is a trader (like a stock trader). Traitor/trader is an obvious play on words meant to show creativity and to be funny and entertaining.

My favorite commercial on television these days is the one by an insurance company that shows two different and opposite situations, yet uses the exact same words to describe what is going on. In the first scenario, a girl in her late teens is coming out of the house, and her father is standing next to a brand new car, and she says excitedly in disbelief, “Is this my car?” and then squeals with excitement. The next scene shows an individual walking up to where he parked his car in the city, and his car has been completely stripped of its tires, bumpers, and everything else that is removable, as he says with the same tone, “Is this my car?” only his words of disbelief are the unhappy kind, and he squeals with disappointment and frustration. The entire commercial goes back and forth between the two situations using the same words in the same tone, with one scenario being eager happiness, and the other being frustrated anger. It makes me smile every time I watch it or hear it playing because it is so creative.

Frank Lutz is a political pollster, and he makes his living telling politicians how they should communicate their message to the voters and the world. He is also the author of “Words Matter.” Have you ever given much thought about the words you use to communicate with? I would advise everyone to read his book. It is full of wisdom about words.

What seems perfectly obvious to us may seem like the complete opposite to someone listening to us. I used to be sarcastic when talking about different problems and challenges we faced in my organization, until I realized that some of the people couldn’t tell the difference between when I was being sarcastic and when I was being serious. My sarcasm was not obvious to them, like it was to me. That is what makes communication so hard. What is obvious to us is not always obvious to others.

Have you ever experienced someone who often uses the wrong words and expects you to understand them? I have, and it’s very frustrating.

For the life of me, I don’t understand how any car manufacturer would make the mistake of using the words, “You don’t own me,” which leaves a subconscious impression and message (“don’t own me”) in our brains, when they are trying to sell us (or me) a car. How could so many people overlook the obvious? The message should be implying just the opposite: You need to own me (the car). I’m guessing that someone got overly creative and forgot that the commercial should sell the car.

The same thing is true with the creativity of substituting the word “traitor” for “trader.” No one wants to be any kind of traitor, especially not a traitor to our country. I’m sure that the people who thought up this idea became so caught up in it that they failed to realize the obvious negative side of the message. There is little to be gained by driving home the message, “If you trade with us, you are a traitor.”

As for the insurance company, their ad is cute, funny, and entertaining, yet it doesn’t establish any difference between the company that I am currently buying insurance from, and them. They don’t give me one reason to change. The obvious reason for getting me to buy their product and for producing a commercial seems to have been lost in the entertainment and creative side of things.

The lesson is that the obvious isn’t always obvious; that the words we use are important and deserve extra thought about what they mean to others. The best message you can send to any prospect or customer is what is in it for them if they buy your product or service, over your competitors. Isn’t that obvious?

What are your thoughts? I would like to hear from you.

Contact: jim@ThinkOutside- NoBoxNeeded.com. Jim works with smart individuals in companies who want to fast forward their skills to build more business, make more money, and avoid costly mistakes.

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