Money talks, but is the audience listening?

Even though money makes the world go round, it’s not always appropriate to admit to this fact, or even talk about money, especially when it involves how much or how little you have of it. Because to imply you have a lot of money is a bit crass; to suggest you’re short of it is like asking for public sympathy.

So given the sensitive nature of money, how can a marketer raise the subject without upsetting people’s sensibilities and their (willingness to part with their) cents? Below are familiar instances of ads where people are comfortable, or have come to expect to see, read and hear about money.

  • When it’s talking about discounts and savings, people are actually happy for ads to splash the dollar sign left, right and centre (think grocery weekly specials catalogues).
  • When it’s a subsidy, a grant or a prize, well, go right ahead and add as many zeros to the dollar sign. It’s more the merrier (think game shows promoting the prospect of winning thousands or millions).

But when it’s shown and perceived as a form of sympathy or even pity, that’s when it becomes problematic in marketing.

During the last financial crisis, Creative Director Alvin Chia had the opportunity to witness the development of a doomed marketing campaign at a previous workplace which threw in the image of a $100 bill as the main visual, to promote the discount (or financial hand-out) of $100 the company was giving to small businesses if they purchased a particular product.

The reasons why the campaign bombed was because:

  1. The saving of $100 had too many terms and conditions accompanying it, so the offer didn’t feel sincere.
  2. A $100 saving to a business is really petty cash, it’s almost pittance. Even though small businesses were taking it tough during the financial crisis, their self-respect and pride have also toughened up to succumb to such a weak “helping hand”.
  3. As discussed above, there is a certain taboo to flaunting money. The image of the $100 bill in the campaign may have conjured up an image of a big and arrogant company throwing $100 bills into the faces of weak small businesses owners. And this is what we think really emptied out any hope of success and subsequent sales from the campaign.

For us at Ideas Dispenser, we try to avoid using the image of money in our work, because we believe there’s always a better way to refer to it than being that explicit. For a more tactful way, Creative Director Alvin Chia unearthed this direct mailer from his archives that shows a more light-hearted way to allude to money.

So when money talks in marketing, make sure the conversation makes sense to both the marketer and the audience. Otherwise, all that talk is just cheap.

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