The Monday Morning Memo: Advertising in Time of War

Monday-Morning-Memo-Logo1By Roy H. Williams

Q: I’d like to show my support of our men and women serving overseas and would appreciate suggestions on how to go about doing this in my ads.

A: Step One - think of everything that you’d like to say to our brothers and sisters who are currently in danger, far from the warmth and safety of their homes.

Step Two - write all these things on a sheet of paper.

Step Three - fold the paper and carry it in your pocket until the day these people return.

Step Four - give one of them the paper, face to face and eye to eye.

The simple truth is that the world of advertising isn’t a good place for statements about duty and honor and sacrifice. Give me a minute and I’ll explain why:

1. An ad is the wrong environment for your message. Ever notice how all newscasters have a similar delivery style? This semi-monotone delivery is an auditory cue that signals listeners to prepare themselves for a series of negative mental images. Advertising, on the other hand, is a message environment of excitement and desire. Consequently, the average person reading, listening to or viewing your ad will feel “ambushed” when you broadside them with your thoughts and feelings about the war.

2. Regardless of how careful you are, many will misunderstand your statements and feel that you are an insensitive warmonger. (As a matter of fact, I will lose a number of subscribers as a result of people misinterpreting this very memo. Some will conclude that I must be “pro-war” while others will feel that my advice is “unpatriotic.”)

3. Those who interpret your message correctly may still feel that you are being opportunistic, “wrapping yourself in the American flag” and “trying to capitalize on patriotic sentiments.” You just can’t win. And besides, the people you’re hoping to affirm can’t hear you. They’re on the other side of the world, remember?

If you choose to go ahead and use your advertising to make statements about the war:

1. You can be sure that few people, if any, will tell you that your comments were out of line. Most will just chalk it up to “free speech” and never say anything to you about it.

2. You can be equally sure that your public image will, in fact, be somewhat eroded.

3. A third certainty is that the relatively small number of people who truly appreciated your comments will make it a point to tell you how much they liked them, leaving you with the mistaken impression that your ads mentioning the war were generally well-received.

My Advice:

1. Do not suspend your advertising. The public hungers for a feeling of “normalcy” during time of war and your unaffected advertising will help them find it.

2. Remove any trigger words in your ads that might conjure images of violence. (Believe it or not, in calmer times we commonly use such phrases as “bombshell, high-impact, prices slashed, blown away, zeroed in,” etc.

3. In scheduling promotions and events, don’t speculate on what may or may not happen overseas. Move your business forward as though everything is perfectly normal. The world doesn’t quit spinning during times of war and the rent still comes due at the first of the month.

Hopefully, you will receive these comments in the spirit that they were written.

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