by Dan Balow
Everyone has a pet peeve. People who drive too fast, or too slow, or fingernails scratching on a blackboard. My pet peeve is a strange one. I have a visceral reaction to the fast-talking legal-speak at the end of radio or TV commercials. I have to change stations…immediately.
You’ve all heard them…commercials that are 50% written by the legal department of the advertiser. The last 100 words are compressed into 10 seconds so you can’t say we didn’t tell you that the drug could kill you or the sale on flat screen TV’s is only for people named Arnold and only good on Tuesdays. The irony is that ads for lawyers and legal services don’t seem to require it! (But I digress)
So why do I have this reaction?
Being an untrained freelance psychologist, my deep self-analysis concludes that the advertisement is simply wasting my time and attention. There was no possible way I could ever understand anything they are saying, but they had to say it. They just wasted my time on purpose for no reason.
It isn’t only about advertising.
Granted, I am probably just going deaf as a result of listening to ZZ Top and Deep Purple in headphones in the 70’s, but I spend a good deal of my time saying, “Pardon me?” to store clerks, drive-through windows, telephone customer service people or many others I come in contact with throughout the day. So much of communication has become a “drill” as someone is required to adhere to a script and they voice the words without thinking about what they saying. If I hadn’t heard the pre-flight speech from flight attendants hundreds of times, I would have virtually no idea what they are saying. They are just happy to get through mouthing some words into a microphone. Effective communication occurs when the receiver understands.
Come to think of it, maybe I am just going deaf. Never mind.
In one of my first college communications classes, the professor used a quote from hotelier Conrad Hilton (famous great-grandfather of the infamous Paris Hilton).
When appearing on the Johnny Carson show one evening (probably in the 1960’s), Carson asked Hilton if he had a message to the American people, since there were tens of millions watching The Tonight Show each evening.
Hilton looked at the camera and in all seriousness said, “Please put the shower curtain inside the tub.”
The professor used this as an example to young Christian communicators to take advantage of opportunities. To make things count for something important.
One of my favorite old movies is Meet John Doe with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyk, released in 1941, right before America entered World War Two. Director Frank Capra crafted a story about a savvy newspaper writer (Stanwyck) using a down-and-out hobo (Cooper) to make up stories for the purpose of increasing circulation.
The scheme got away from everyone when John Doe (Cooper) delivered a simple message of caring for one another that actually resonated with millions of people and created positive change across the country. He appeared on radio and in print and started a movement. There was also a classic clash between good and evil, truth and lies and even a romance angle.
That movie would make for good discussion for media people about message, truth, clarity, simplicity and heart.
I know that readers of this blog are the proverbial choir, but once in a while it’s a good idea to be reminded that what you are doing is not trivial.