You don’t say.

19Jul10

I have always been aware of what I call the “habits of an industry” – unspoken but sacred common ways that every company in an industry represents itself in communication. For example, luxury fashion ads are always graphic and close up; if there is any hair shown it’s being tossed gently by an off-camera fan. For years all car ads were shot on tops of mountains or driving at high speed through brooks and streams. Liquor ads are all pretty much alike (sorry, but it’s true). Same with fast food, sporting goods, laundry soap, toilets, insurance, hair color, and on and on. Yes, there are minor differences, but in the big and obvious ways, they are the same.

The reason for this is that they need to put themselves in the same “consideration set”. If a consumer is in the market for a new moisturizer or anti-aging cream, every product needs to look enough like the others to be a viable choice in that category. If you are selling an expensive moisturizer, you have to look enough like the other expensive moisturizers to be a reasonable alternative to them, even though it

compromises your ability to say how different you really are. If you’re selling hamburgers, you have to use the same cues as your competitors in order to be considered instead of them.

The silliest examples of this type of contrived and constricted communication are the accounting firms (hello Accenture) who plaster the walls of airports with silly metaphors (WTF does an elephant have to do with a dinosaur accounting firm) and borrowed interest (boy you were right about Tiger, it was 90% about what he did next).

In this contrived and constrained world of lookalike communication, there is nothing personal, nothing human, and nothing behind the curtain of banality with which anyone could or would want to have a relationship. It is institutional advertising at its worst, with painful cliches substituting for anything of consequence.

It doesn’t have to be like that. There is another way. Looking around,  we’ve been knocked out by what some pioneering companies have been doing – organizations that have found a way to simply talk to us, from their hearts. To start conversations, to help us get to know them, really, and to foster relationships. To let their insides out, without worrying about who else they look or sound like.

It is a breath of fresh air, and over the next few months we’ll be writing about some of the new communicators – people who are designing communication to inspire, to create energy, and to make friends. More to come.

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2 Responses to “You don’t say.”

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