Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Association Management - Truthiness and Lies, Lies, Lies

You told me you loved me
so I don't understand
why promises are snapped in two
and words are made to bend
lies lies lies yeah
lies lies lies yeah
lies lies lies yeah.....Thompson Twins

The Short of It
  • Is advertising insulting?
  • Most of the time - yes.
  • Corporate interests have been after us for years
  • We were raised on "Kool-Aid Man"
  • And "Silly Rabbit - Trix are....!"
  • (Admit it, I didn't even need to finish that sentence)
The Long of It

"We could move from being the people that generate the lies about things to the people who generate the truth about things." Alex Bogusky from interview at the Fearless Cottage.

Well, why not?

I suppose this is a continuation of the rant I went on last week with the funny yet failed branding initiative started by a local community here called "City Life. Reinvented." However, I don't think I am alone when I say advertising, marketing and branding has to change.

Just once I would like to see advertisements that don't treat me like an idiot. Here are some sample suggestions:

Cigarettes - "Yes, our product will kill you but how long do you want to live anyway? What we guarantee you in the meantime is fifteen minutes of sanity every four hours and something to do besides talk when you're done making out."

Fast food joints - "Yes, our food is clogging every vein in your body but just try to tell us our french fries aren't to DIE for - you CAN'T - BWAAHHAHHAHAHA!!!"

Reality shows - "Yes, our premises are insipid, with humor at an eighth grade level and will lower your IQ by approximately 10 points per hour of watching. But "Real Housewives of ANYTHING" will leave you gasping in horror and grateful for your pathetic middle class lives."

Hotels - "No, our walls are not completely soundproof. You might not get a blissfully quiet night of blessedly peaceful, completely uninterrupted sleep so-you-will-feel-completely-refreshed-and-ready-for-that-important-meeting-in-the-morning. However, if you call to complain about your noisy neighbors, we promise to not ignore you and promptly send in the goons."

Or maybe an admission in a conference registration brochure that says, "Our association focuses on community but we don't always get it right. So, if you see a clique at the reception - call us on it." Or a note from your legislative committee that says, "You know, we've decided to drop our opposition to this bill because even though it will cost our members some money, it's the right thing to do."

Whoa.  Now THAT would be new.

Associations have an obligation to develop a culture of truth in their organizations. This is not easy. The complicated nature of truth makes any communication effort difficult. And truthiness is an ever-present enemy (thank you Stephen Colbert in the most classic clip EVER). (Jamie Notter is one of my colleagues and he focuses a lot on these topics in his stellar blog.)

Here are five questions to ask when you find yourself in charge of a new marketing campaign in your nonprofit association.

Do I really think this? Ask yourself if you buy your own marketing copy. If you think it's great copy, but you don't truly believe what you've written about that program or service - adjust accordingly.

Can we really deliver? If you say "Our conference will be inspiring and attendees will leave refreshed with tools they can use on Monday morning..." can you make that happen?  Some of you can, and kudos.  But some of you might need to rethink that one for a minute.

Can we say something different? Maybe it's time to stop clipping words out of magazine ads you like and choose other more organic terms that are more realistic. Switching up your go-to list of popular-everyone-else-likes-these-adjectives will open your mind to new possibilities.

What are we NOT saying? If there is any little voice nagging at you that you are deliberately leaving something important out maybe that is an omission that needs to be corrected.

What are the benefits of leveling with members? Loyalty? Confidence? A sense that you aren't slicing, dicing or mincing the truth?  Trust in what your organization stands for without a set of Ginsu knives being involved?

Even with the best of intentions, you will still mess up. You could totally, 100% believe in the brand promise you make and still fail to deliver. In that case, all is not lost. When you fall short - admit it.  Talk about the experience and what you learned from it.

I hate to position myself like I'm some sort of expert on this topic.  I'm really not.  And no, I'm not immune to advertising. We have all been programmed by very sophisticated psychological techniques for years and eventually every one of us steps on the lever to get the pellet. (I bought a Ford Escort once for crying out loud!)

But those of us who write copy for a living to promote our association's activities can make a conscious decision to be as forthright as we can be. If we change our little corner of the world, maybe others will follow.

Lies lies lies, yeah!
white ones and red ones
and some you can't disguise
twisted truth and half the news
can't hide it in your eyes

If you can't see the classic (if somewhat creepy) Thompson Twins video below - click here.


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