I am stupid and so are you

thestupidsOr let’s just say, there are times I wish you would treat me like I’m stupid. And uncool. I’m betting you feel the same way too. No, I’m not talking about the meta-cognition thing of trying to get things done. I mean to treat me and everybody else as stupids when the occasion cannot possibly justify the effort to muster formidable IQ and prowess. Case in point: your marketing messages. There is little that annoys me more than to read marketing messages that do not provide pertinent information. Here are three examples (fabricated but typical), my comments appear in brackets:

[Email blast] XXX is the insider’s event for press, buyers and stylists to review the finest, undiscovered designer collections. Each Wednesday at 5 PM, XXX located at Over the River and through the Woods hosts the latest designers to take the industry by storm, putting XXX on the map for fresh, up and coming designer talent. [don’t expect you to believe it but this is a fair summary]

[Advertisement] Please do your holiday shopping at XXX Not for profit Coop to support Little Timmy in war torn starving nations! And tell your friends too! If we don’t get get $$$, the planet will implode when we go out of business! Spend money here! Often! [content was reworded three times, really]

[Packaging, box bottom, 24 to 30 pt font]
Earth-plus #3
Patent # xxxxxx
Made from 100% Recycled Paperboard
Endorsed by [comic sans font!]
[large logo] Green Restaurant Association
[large recycle logo]

The problems with these messages is that they create cognitive clutter with no compensatory gain. I am annoyed if I am required to think to process these messages and still walk away with my questions unanswered. Marketing is only effective if you do the heavy lifting, that’s your job. Expecting readers to do it is what is stupid -or if insane if you expect them to read your mind.

Email: Where is this place? I don’t care what neighborhood it’s in, I’d settle for city and state. And if I got there, what’s in it for me? Is it just to look or can I buy stuff? Yes? No? What if you are a designer, how would you get in on this? None of you should allow anyone to market on your behalf especially if you are paying for it unless you approve it. This was money down the drain. So it was out of my area, maybe I’m planning a trip there. Besides, I know lots of people that might be interested in getting in on this -if we knew where it was.

Local Advertisement we saw at the co-op: Ditto. No address, cross streets, phone, hours of operation or url. Just a plea for people to spend money there. Having just moved back to town, we didn’t know where it was, I forgot my iphone, nobody has phone books anymore and amid competing demands of holiday shopping, we forgot to ask a passing stranger if they knew where it might be -and all on the day we went expressly into town to shop for gifts! While we were hip enough to be in the right place at the right time to see their ad, we obviously weren’t cool enough to be their customer since we didn’t already know where it was.

Packaging, box bottom: You’ve convinced me, you are a great earth healer as is the restaurant I patronize because they chose to use your carry out packaging. Let me clue you in to something. One reason I go there is because they use stuff like this so I don’t have to think about it. I pay a premium for that. What you have not told me in spite of all your copious verbiage, is whether I can put your package in my recycle bin. I can’t presume I can because the inside is coated; it looks like plastic but maybe it’s wax? “Please recycle” can be a social exhortation; it doesn’t tell me if I can recycle this specific paper product. I shouldn’t have to think about this.

Ask yourself, what are the goals of your marketing strategy? Is it to get people to buy stuff or is it a thinly veiled attempt to measure the IQ of potential customers? If your goal is to assess tenacity, ingenuity, knowledge of current events and geography, become a teacher not a manufacturer. If you want to sell stuff, don’t make me think. Think KISS (keep it simple, stupid).

Some messages cross the line in failing to provide basic information because it leaves the underlying message that your goal is to impress recipients with how hip you are, that if the recipient were as hip as you, they’d know too. Only thing is, excluding basic information also implies you only want customers as hip as you [you are the coolest because of all the sophisticated people you know and where you hang] but if no one is as hip as you because you are the coolest … well… it’s no mystery why you have no customers. This circuitously reminds me of why I hated MySpace so much. You could only see product if you were “friends” with the vendor. Facebook has moved in similar ways. If you have a business focused page on Facebook and you require someone to be your friend to see it, good luck. You’ll need it.

Keep this dead center of your marketing implementation if you’ve been missing the mark:
I am the customer, the center of the universe. My favorite word is my own name. I care less about about whether you are cool than whether I am. I shouldn’t have to take an IQ test or a geography quiz to buy your stuff. In fact, I probably won’t buy your stuff if I am forced to have to think about how to do it -so who is the stupid now?

FYI: I later did remember to look up the co-op to find it. I went and spent a lot of money. I mentioned this marketing problem at check out and their response was to absolve themselves of responsibility because they were a not for profit and did I want to give a donation. It struck me as a scripted rote response and sort of reminded me of this. Defeated, I’ll continue to shop there because I don’t want the planet to implode and because I like the stuff Little Timmy makes… And the follow up email I sent them about this (and offering to help them with their ad copy) went unanswered.

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  1. Reader says:

    In a similar vein (Why are you wasting my time?) except more simplistic, a high-profile cable interviewer has been featured in ads saying:

    I got into this because I love talking to people. (He’s an INTERVIEWER!)

    A local TV anchor has been featured in ads that say:

    I love the story behind the story. (Which way to the Department of Clichés?)

  2. Reader says:

    A very worthy film foundation sent me an email telling me that a Big Bank wanted to give it lots of money.

    How nice.

    The catch: I had to become the bank’s facebook “friend.” I actually did go on facebook because I wanted to support the organization, but there were some glitches, and ultimately, I did not understand why the Big Bank could not give the little foundation the check without my false display of friendship, as well as giving it the potential to invade my privacy.

    I logged out and wrote the foundation to complain. More people should do that.

  3. Kathy Jo says:

    Wow, I have to say this gives me hope, some people are making bigger mistakes than me. I can not believe that even when you tried to help they still didn’t respond, well I guess some people have to learn the hardest way possible. I am surprised you still try seeing how many people don’t listen.

  4. LizPf says:

    Kathleen, it’s not us who need to be treated as if we were stupid, it’s that the writers are stupid. I learned in elementary school that when you are writing an information piece, you need to tell: Who, What, When, Where, and maybe, Why.

    I’m on an e-list for parents of kids with Aspergers and NLD. Last week, someone sent an e-mail, telling us about a new summer camp he founded, “just outside Springfield”. [Town name changed to protect the guilty.] No other place location, no website, no useful data at all. I called the guy out, publicly but nicely. I had several people tell me “everyone knows Springfield is near in ” — I didn’t! And the camp does have a website. And it costs $1,000 a week. [Not unusually high for a special needs camp, but still beyond the budgets of many.] Sigh.

  5. Donna says:

    Businesses run ads in our regional monthly newspaper and list only a street address, no city or phone (did I say regional). Many of our businesses have limited hours so it would be nice to know they are closed on M, T, and W. Tourists and people new to the area pick up this free newspaper at local merchants so it really is a dynamic advertising source. Listing a zip code would be useful for those using a smart phone or i phone.

  6. Great points! It seems that in the advent of “free”marketing (ie facebook posts, twitter feeds, email marketing etc) instead of leveraging the exciting possibility of reaching the masses extremely inexpensively to get a message or a brand across, business owners are actually hurting themselves with underwhelming calls to action or lack of the foundational who what where messaging that should be critical in any marketing message. In my opinion, this kind of harmful marketing leads to a lot of noise and ‘cognitive clutter’ and adds to the fact that free isn’t cheap enough to get people’s attention these days. The message still needs to reach the customer, have credibility, be brand positive, and a single and simple call to action.

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