When Marketing and Common Sense Clash

A Plumbing Emergency?

Note: To protect the company since this is not an attack, this is an artistic use of a Matchbox car.

I was out taking a walk through my neighborhood, one that has a lot of older residents, and I saw an ambulance parked in front of one of the houses. My first thought was fear. It wasn’t a neighbor I knew, but still, I didn’t want harm to come to anyone. Then I saw the logo on the ambulance. It was a gimmick, and a good one.

My mind crossed its eyes between the “neat marketing ploy” and “how cruel is that?” reactions.

The gimmick is that a plumbing company refurbished an old ambulance, leaving the color scheme and lights in place, then chose a name that speaks to treating plumbing emergencies much like an ambulance responds to medical ones. It’s catchy, memorable, and quick to the point without requiring people to read a lot of text and figure out what their offering. In a commercial, or an advertisement, it would work well.

Transfer that same effective gimmick into real life, and you have someone coming home from the market to the sight of an ambulance parked outside their friend’s house. The first reaction is not going to be…oh look, it’s a cute gimmick. No, it’s the heart stopping fear that your friend has fallen, been attacked, or even died, especially with the lights not flashing.

Again, in an advertisement it’s a fun connection. There’s no chance of misunderstanding when it’s on the TV or a printed ad. But when does the company take a step back and say “We should at least paint the truck in such a way that it’s clearly not a real ambulance.”

This has happened a couple of times lately, though that is clearly the most blatant of events.

Another two were article headlines, one proclaiming a newly discovered particle signals the end of the universe (you have to read the article to learn the predicted end is ten billion years in the future or more), and the other talking of unsettling uses for the Google Glass head-mounted android computer which drew readers expecting cautionary tales and instead showed ways in which, if the wearer had been using a cellphone or normal camera, would have been dangerous.

That style of advertising, whether for a product or content, has been popular for a very long time. The idea is to do whatever is necessary to catch a person’s attention, and then endeavor to keep it.

I have nothing against this advertising ploy per se, and have applauded some very effective uses that amused and entertained me, but if the gimmick does not match the result, it’s nothing more than a lie. Is that really the first impression those headline writers wanted to give? The comments on the Google Glass article expressed feelings of being tricked, not delighted.

And in the case of the plumbing company, it’s not so much a lie as a problem of context.

Ultimately, this comes down to the consumer’s experience. A lie leaves the consumer feeling misused, while a gimmick that doesn’t hold up in the context leaves a sour taste in the consumer’s mouth, or worse, an aversion strong enough to share. People who feel taken advantage of scream much louder than those who feel rewarded. It’s human nature to savor good moods in quiet (in most cases) and share bad moods widely, whether through being grumpy or attempting to gather sympathy.

So, do you have any pressing examples of this kind of clash between common sense and a marketing program? What are your thoughts on the shock value advertising as a way of gaining listeners? Have you seen this type of advertising that worked? And if you’re currently sharing a product (book, class, created item, or what have you), what’s your approach to spreading the word?

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9 Responses to When Marketing and Common Sense Clash

  1. Erin says:

    Here, there’s a company that re-did ambulances as first aid for computers, or something like that. It’s disconcerting, and my gut reaction was, “I’m not going to use that company.” Also, if they still have the lights, they may have to prove to DMV that the lights aren’t attached, as most places have laws about who is allowed to have forward-facing red, blue, or flashing lights.

  2. Deirdrebeth says:

    My first reaction to a lot of those is “I’m not the target audience for that” and that reaction happens a lot.

    Sadly because they’re not targeted toward me I can’t actually come up with any specific examples off the top of my head. I can remember one where buying/using this product reverted your speech to that of a 12 year old wanna-be thug. I think they were going for “youth and enthusiasm,” but failed miserably.

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