The hype, hyperbole, and overly protective cautionary warnings (yes, that's purposely redundant) in our culture are over the top. If you're marketing your business, nonprofit, event, service, product, or program in a way that competes with these messages, I shudder to think about what we're going to be reading and seeing in the media in 10 and 20 years.
Grand Canyon. Three years ago, we went to the Grand Canyon on vacation, a place where we'd never hiked. If you've been there and you hike, you know you have two hiking options: an easy-breezy walk around the rim, partly on a paved sidewalk (hardly hiking) or straight down into the mouth of the Canyon (hiking with an extra helping of thigh-master on the way down and cardio on the way up). Typical for our hiking expeditions, we spent time learning about the options and how to prepare before we left.
The official information included grave warnings about hiking and water intake, complete with stories of an experienced marathon runner who DIED because she only brought one bottle of water on her hike. The dire warnings penetrated and so we took a very conservative (read: safe) approach to our hike. We packed enough water and food to last us for 3 days (yup, there's some hyperbole) and decided only to hike down to the first level, not knowing what to expect. Our hike lasted about an hour, and we looked at each other and said, "That was it?" We could easily have hiked farther (and did), and we barely dented the provisions. We took the Park Service's warnings to heart and later realized the messages are intended for the sedentary, were written by the lawyers, or the communications team is overly protective.
Hurricane Irene. While there was suffering and great loss for many people as a result of Hurricane Irene, loss that I do not minimize, most of us experienced a heavy rainstorm. The media hype was out of control. CNN and the Weather Channel, for whom every weather condition is a catastrophe in waiting, covered the storm non-stop, amplifying every wind gust and rain drop, as if the East Coast was somehow going to land in Kansas.
I'm no meterologist, but I have recorded in my brain the pattern that when a hurricane hits land, one of two things can happen: it immediately becomes less powerful, or it turns and goes out to sea. Irene hit land in North Carolina and instantly became a Category 1. As it traveled north, with 50-60 mph gusts, that's no hurricane. It was a tropical storm. Yet governors and mayors went into hyperalert declaring states of emergencies, evacuating, and taking major precautions.
My building's property manager sent emails with hurricane instructions, accompanied by Red Cross instructions. Friends around the country called me. And my city newspaper's headline type sizes for four days were the same sizes they used when Pearl Harbor was bombed. In fact on the day of the storm, the front page was not news, but rather predictions: what could happen. Have we lost common sense? Are we so out of touch with nature that we don't know what to do about it? Or are we still so freaked out by Hurricane Katrina and the failures of the man-made levies and by 9/11 that our new state of emergency readiness is panic and pull out of the stops?
Simple checks. Today I'm paying bills, and I just cracked open a new box of checks that I just ordered from Intuit, a third-party check manufacturer tied in with products like Quicken and Quickbooks. Imagine me, aghast, to see a blue banner across the top of my ordinarily clean and simply designed checks with the following message
WARNING [sic]: DO NOT CASH THIS INTUIT® CheckLock(TM) SECURE CHECK IF ANY FEATURES LISTED ON BACK INDICATE TAMPERING OR COPYING.
OMG! Is The Weather Channel advising check printers now? And when did I agree to have Intuit sponsor my checks?
Of course I called customer service. Short of refunding my money, there's nothing to be done except pass along my (and many other customers') objections to this ridiculous banner, poor design, and extreme cautionary language, mandated by the U.S. government, that basically puts potential fraudulent acts with my checks in the hands of my bank, who will surely find another way to charge me some new $2 fee.
People, what is wrong with us? Do authorities think regular citizens have become such idiots that we need this sort of parenting? Has our litigiousness run amok? Does no one remember Aesop's famous fable about the boy who cried wolf? Are we all so tone deaf that marketers and communicators have to scream at us?
I feel like Howard Beale in Network: I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!
Let's all tone down the language. Stop pouring it on so thick. Lawyers, relax. Government officials, you need not get involved in every little thing. We're grown-ups; we can figure things out. Newscasters, go on a retreat with the video of yourselves over the weekend; anything you can do differently? Maybe incorporate some other programming into the day so we don't have to watch 24/7 hurricane potentialities?
Marketers – both nonprofit and for-profit – how can you not contribute to this insanity?