Coming Clean With Clarity


As a media person, one of my favorite scenes in The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) is when the amnesiac Kermit accidentally wanders into Mad Avenue Advertising, a frog-centric firm that has been trying to come up with a glam campaign and a catchy slogan to sell a product called Ocean Breeze Soap.

Introducing himself as “Phil,” Kermit listens to the lame ideas pitched by Bill, Gil and Jill but candidly rejects each of them before offering one of his own. “Why don’t you just say ‘Ocean Breeze Soap will get you clean’?” he suggests. By the reactions of awe and amazement from his fellow amphibians, it’s clear that the concept of just stating the obvious has never occurred to them. Now hopping with the excitement that their jobs in the ad game are no longer on the line, they welcome this visionary newcomer to the agency and all go off to a power lunch to celebrate.

I’m reminded of this scene every time I do feature interviews with people who are trying to promote their latest books, pitch their new products or encourage more customer traffic to their businesses. What I’ve often observed is a collective mindset that media opportunities are an excuse to engage in ambiguity, euphemisms, manipulative tactics to deflect criticism, and sometimes even a distortion of facts to put oneself in a more favorable light. Whether these approaches are intentional or just reflect a lack of understanding that “clever” isn’t synonymous with “clarity,” the result is the same: a thinning of trust that subsequently makes every claim seem suspect.

Consider your reaction, for instance, if every time you asked a salesperson about how an appliance worked, you received the answer, “Oh, that’s all covered in the owner’s manual.”  Yes, I’m sure it is, but why is this person in such a hustling hurry to make the sale that s/he can’t take the time to give me a straightforward answer about whether the appliance is easy to operate? The same goes for people who mysteriously shroud their replies in such heavy cloaks of industry jargon and doublespeak that customers feel too intimidated to confess they really don’t have a clue what was just said.

Authors, perhaps, are the worst offenders in this arena. I recently had occasion to do a feature interview with a writer about her book on Hollywood deal-making. As impressive as her credentials and experiences were, she answered almost every question with the curt reply, “It’s all in my book.” Instead of using this media moment as a chance to entice prospective readers – and potentially win trust – with selected tidbits and anecdotes to showcase her personality, she focused exclusively on pushing for the sale without providing any substance which might have justified that purchase.

Takeaway lesson: At the end of the day, simply tell us what we want to know in a way that allows us to make an informed choice.

Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

The Evolution of Crowd Funding – by Dr. Letitia Wright

How to Bring Your Brand To Life Through Video – by Tristan Pelligrino

The Myth About Being “Liked” (on Facebook) – by Penny C. Sansevieri

 Happy Holidays from everyone at Media Magnetism!

(And may 2013 bring lots of opportunities to shine in the spotlight)

Santa Watch