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Adjusting Your Ads in Times of War

How to proceed with your advertising goals when the world is in turmoil

Q: I'd like to show my support for our men and women serving overseas. How do I go about doing this in my ads?

A: Step one: Think of everything you'd like to say to these men and women who are now serving our country, far from the warmth of their homes. Step two: Write all these things down 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, many people will misinterpret this very column. Some will conclude that I must be pro-war, while others will feel that my advice is decidedly 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 times 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" and so on.)
  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.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

Roy Williams is the founder and president of international ad agency Wizard of Ads. Roy is also the author of numerous books on improving your advertising efforts, including The Wizard of Ads and Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads.

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