Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ads for States

Isn't it true that there are certain businesses that just shouldn't advertise? Especially on TV? When you see a lawyer standing in front of a wall of books saying "Have you been injured in a motorcycle or automobile accident?" - doesn't that ad accomplish the exact opposite of what it intends? The only thing it tells me is: do not, under any circumstances, use this lawyer. A lawyer who advertises on TV cannot logically be a good lawyer. I'm not saying he's not a lawyer who can't make money from rolling the dice on car-accident cases, but still - he isn't a good lawyer.

And so it is with states who pump out the ads on TV. Here's the rule of thumb. The more feverish the state's tourism office seems in its advertising, the more it boasts, the more they deluge you with their ad campaign, etc. the less you'd ever want to go there.

How many times have you ever seen an ad that says: "New York. Excitement awaits!"
How about never? "The District of Columbia. Come see our rich history." Nope. "Texas. Saddle up and ride!" Haven't seen it. These places don't need ads. These are states that are confident in their ability to draw a crowd. They don't need to strut on the street corner that is a Jeopardy! commercial break.

By contrast, no matter where I go in the US, I am carpet bombed with ads for North Carolina. All the freaking time. The beaches. The surf. The lush landscapes. The history! The peaceful bucolic countryside. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Every damn state has natural splendor. Even New Jersey and Delaware and Rhode Island and Kansas has its share of natural splendor. No matter where you are in the USA, you are probably no more than an hour's drive from as much natural splendor as ANYTHING North Carolina has to offer. What am I saying? I'm saying you can't make "Come see our natural splendor" the central focus of your state tourism ad campaign. A few states like Alaska can get away with it. But North Carolina is just barking up the wrong tree here.

With the NC ads I get this distinct whiff of the old orange juice ad problem. The orange juice ads would remind us how healthy orange juice is and then say something like "Doctors recommend drinking a glass of Tropicana orange juice every day." Well why does it have to be Tropicana, doctor? The same goes with North Carolina. "Like beaches? Like, uh, ferns? Like crickets at night? Like clement weather? Then come to North Carolina!" Well why? Why North Carolina? What temptations and delights can NC possibly have to distinguish it from whatever state you're already in? If what you want is a beach trip, aren't there a dozen states with better beaches? How about Civil War sites? Aren't there far better places to go? Lush countryside? Sleepy towns? What? Tell me! Why would I possibly set foot in this mediocre state?

I give North Carolina Kitty Hawk and that's it. I'm sure there's a good exhibit there, and then probably a decent crab shack next door. Fine. That's one interesting morning you can spend in NC. Other than that, there's no reason to visit. The info on the state quarter pretty much satisfies all my curiosity about NC.


And doctors too, of course. Any doctor that advertises on TV is a doctor to avoid. In fact, there's really only one method to find a good doctor. What you do is mention to a trusted friend that you've got this recurring sinus infection, and then the friend leans over and tells you in a conspiratorial tone: "I have this great Ear Nose & Throat guy. The best. Give him a call. Tell him you're a friend."

Then you call the guy, and you find out that a) He doesn't take your piddling insurance plan, b) he doesn't take cash patients, and c) there's a 6 month wait for an appointment. That's how you find a good doctor. You don't just scan your PPO book for the guy with the closest office, and you certainly don't trust a doctor who advertises on TV.


And hoo boy, you do not want to go anywhere near a institution of higher learning that sees fit to market itself to a mass audience. I suppose if you're completely unskilled and unemployed, and you see an ad for some vocational technical school, then that's okay. Something like DeVry. But if it's an actual 4-year college or university with aspirations to seriousness and respectability, then what the hell are they thinking? When was the last time you ever saw "Harvard. A fine education... at reasonable prices."

There are just some places and people: doctors, lawyers, universities and states - whose success depends on a perceived self-confidence. By advertising, you cheapen yourself. You expose yourself as struggling in the contest with your competition. You send out the warning beacon to stay far away.

Now go on and sue me, states! That's right, take your best shot! (These state tourism offices can be litigious. Just see what the state of Maine did to a blogger who dared criticize its ad campaign)

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