Can You Promote Something To Death?

Article from Michael Crooks from Crooks Advertisng Alliance in the USA.

The question wasn’t volatile. But it ignited a discussion that absolutely exploded with insight. A member of an on-line discussion group asked, “What promotional products would be good to carry an anti-gang message for middle and high school kids?”

Are you kidding me? ……… NONE!

I believe I put it best when I wrote, “ … might as well hand out bulls-eyes imprinted with “Gangs Suck” for children to wear on their back.” By and large, kids who live in gangland face a tough, up hill battle. I mean, when was the last time you woke up in the morning and gave any thought to the fact that bullets fly faster than you can run … or duck? Yeah, shaking the bees’ nest by putting an anti-gang message on something and giving it to children to carry around or wear — is a bad, bad idea

The good news is that the discussion brought to light a couple of insights we as marketers should keep in mind in order to keep the government, advocacy and activist groups out of our business.
1) When we take advantage of marketing opportunities, we must also recognize our tremendous responsibility. While we may have responsibility to shareholders, bottom line and market share, we must also remember that we have a responsibility to our industry and to the publics that are affected by our marketing efforts.

2 )Place emphasis on message not product. In the example above the question, “What product do we put an anti-gang message on?” is product focused. However, had the question been, “What do we want to accomplish?”, the mind set could have placed the focus on promoting good as opposed to gang-bashing. Read on and I’ll share my idea for accomplishing that.

A few months ago, I was faced with a similar situation when asked by a client to write an anti-gang radio commercial to run during high school sports broadcasts on the local radio station. I asked, “What do you want to accomplish?” The answer was to get the community to realize how important it is to support local junior and high school athletics. As I prepared to write, I asked myself an intriguing question: “What’s the difference between a team and a gang?” I wrote in part:

“What’s the difference between a high school sports team … and a gang? With high school sports, a community feeds on the achievements of organized youth. With a gang, organized youth … feed on a community.

High school sports instill values in our youth that benefit the participants … and the community that supports the programs.”

When you think about it, teams and gangs are both organized, disciplined, wear colors, stick together, are goal oriented and party. Aside perhaps, from illegal drugs, the only real difference between a team and a gang is the effect on society. Think about it and you may come to realize that football, basketball, wrestling, glee club, chess club and all that … are merely more socially acceptable forms of gangs. Again, the difference, is the affect on society. The similarity? Belonging.

People, by and large, yearn to BELONG. That’s why people join groups, teams and gangs. They want to feel as though they are part of something. There are marketers who have done an excellent job of capitalizing on this yearning. Harley Davidson, through the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) may be the best example of all. Now defunct automotive brand Saturn had it right in the beginning. Few can forget the big Spring Hill, TN homecoming … but they failed to sustain it.

Back to the discussion. In an effort to not paint bulls eyes on the backs of non-gang children, many of us agreed that before worrying about which products would be appropriate, that it would be best to first change the focus of the thinking. Instead of thinking anti-gang we felt that the focus should be more along the lines of pro education, pro safety, pro future, pro self esteem or something else that doesn’t threaten the gangs.

One line of thinking would be, “Want to keep kids from joining gangs? Give them something else to join.” Now you’ve got the seed of an idea that could make for a campaign that could involve parents, band and athletic boosters, the school, school clubs, businesses, scouting, 4-H, social and civic organizations … the entire community.

For marketers, the question would be, “Want to keep consumers from buying from your competitors? Give them a reason to buy from you.” Give them something to which they can belong.

Finally, as a public service, I want to re-emphasize the responsibility we shoulder as marketers. To that end I share with you a thought I cannot shake since I first read, ““What promotional products would be good to carry an anti-gang message for middle and high school kids?”

That neat, fun, do-dad with the wrong message on it could get someone killed.

Contact Michael Crooks visit