Make Sure Your Silly Marketing Actually Makes Sense

by Jaclyn Y. Garver
NCMPR Administrative Services Coordinator
Fort Wayne, IN

I got a postcard in the mail last month. No, it wasn’t from a friend in a tropical and far-flung locale, wishing I was there, but an advertising postcard.

You know the type – you’ve likely written approximately 300 of the type.

It was from a local dentist’s office promoting invisible aligners. The image on the front showed two 20-something women in aviator sunglasses blowing glitter at the camera. The big, cursive, hot pink call to action?

Treat yo self.

As I type out a description of this postcard, I have to pause for a moment to have an honest-to-goodness, actual LOL moment.

“Treat yo self,” often referred to as #treatyoself on social media, became popular thanks to a 2011 episode of “Parks and Rec.” It’s taken new meaning apart from the sitcom, meant to mean, “Hey, splurge a little because, baby, you’re worth it,” another tagline with a life apart from its origins (L’Oreal birthed it in 1971).

In the midst of working on this piece, I got an email with a subject line that said simply, “Oops, we did it again.” I didn’t recognize the “from” name, so I clicked on it. This email is from my alma mater. It’s a heads up for me to watch my email inbox so I can get involved with some kind of vague fundraising opportunity. Since I’m a good little alumna, I know it’s talking about Giving Tuesday. If I was not a good little alumna, I would be sincerely annoyed with that email. What does it have to do with Britney Spears? What did you, oops, do again? Why did you place an email that tells me precisely nothing in my inbox?

Sure, pop culture influences people in their day-to-day lives. But these very same people – ranging from the high school juniors and seniors we want to get in our dual-credit classes to the high schoolers’ grandparents who need to update their certification credentials – have a nose for sincerity. Yes, we want our marketing materials to be edgy and relevant and, most importantly, received and heard by our audiences. But if you take a statistical average of our audiences, you get a white, working, 28-year-old woman (thank you, You know what she knows? She knows if you’re pandering to her. She knows if you’re genuine. She knows if something makes sense or is just … ridiculous.

That’s not to say there’s no place for a silly or irreverent postcard or email campaign, but there’s a fine line between “This is funny” and “This is trying way too hard.” Because what on earth does a Britney Spears lyric have to do with a university’s fundraising campaign? What does a desire for straight teeth have to do with treating yo self, which seems more in line with splurging on a doughnut than opting for a procedure that costs about the same as a semester at a community college? If you’re going to send a trendy message to your students and prospects, make triply sure it aligns with your image and your audience’s goals.

Jaclyn Y. Garver is the administrative services coordinator at NCMPR and the former communications coordinator at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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