Monday, April 20, 2015

7 Truths

A friend of mine’s job is to make sure a mega-bank’s marketing is ethical, especially any advertising about products.

Although probably subject to regulations, it is a voice of conscience that many in my former field of community destination marketing could use when tempted to place ads for no other measurable reason than to make a stakeholder happy.

This sort of ethical compliance might also come in handy whenever a few are tempted to use ad mediums, such as billboards, that desecrate roadsides and degrade the brands and appeal of towns and states, including their own.

The latter would probably even volunteer to be strapped to the bumper as willing hostages for lawmakers trying to push a bill through in North Carolina that would legalize thousands of illegal billboards, permit their conversion to digital even where residents are overwhelmingly opposed, as well as drive up the cost of road construction.

Pushing aside that public opinion polls show North Carolinians are opposed, regardless of party, gender or geography, a sponsor pointed out that billboards “are no different than radio, TV or newspapers.”

Uh, there is at least one crucial difference.  Radio, TV and newspapers produce content in return.  Billboards destroy content when they blight their surroundings and destruct scenic character.

The legislation’s sponsor went on to use tourism as a justification because “its visibility to the traveling public must be preserved and fostered.”

Okay, let’s forget for a moment that for decades in survey after survey, scenic character and climate have been the two overarching draws for tourism here.  Billboards, eh, not so much.

Any tourism concern still using billboards in North Carolina should take heed from marketing guru Seth Godin who wrote that “Marketers need to spend less time making promises and more time keeping them.”

I’ve had some experience here and there marketing tourism including two decades in North Carolina so let’s look at whether billboards are important to tourism:

  • It is true that 1-in-10 Americans prefer to see ads on billboards, however, 90% don’t.
  • It is true that 3% of small businesses advertise on billboards, 1-in-10 when medium size businesses are included, however, 90% don’t.
  • It is true that .2% (two-tenths of one percent) of adults find billboards the most influential ad medium for purchase decisions, however, 99% don’t.
  • It is also true that nearly two-thirds of Americans now use smartphones, 67% of which use them for turn by turn navigation while driving, and 75% while traveling.
  • It is also true that beyond smartphones, 40% have other portable GPS devices and 17% have it built into their vehicles, and this is ramping up in North America to another 13 million vehicles annually.
  • It is also true that on the road, 62% use mobile devices to find restaurants, 46% to find attractions, 42% to book and research accommodations.
  • It is also true, according to Michelin, that as a backup the remaining 39% rely on old fashioned maps, guides and Internet print outs to find their way around.  Billboards fall in the 5% who use none of the above or “other.”

You do the math and decide whether it makes sense to surrender North Carolina’s brand to an obsolete advertising technology which represents a tiny number of jobs and almost no tax revenue.

Then, it might be a good idea to let your elected representative know how you feel.

Of course, tourism isn’t the only consideration.

On the other side of the ledger, not only is scenic character the reason visitors including more than 80% of newcomers and relocating visitors find North Carolina appealing but making trees and vegetation a priority yields air and water purification, carbon sequestration and of course, private property values and quality of place.

Of course, billboard companies, nearly all of them headquartered out-of-state, have obviously filled the ears of lawmakers otherwise.  Too bad they aren’t subject to greater ethical compliance regulations, too.

As for my former profession in community destination marketing or visitor-centric economic and cultural development, it is a good sign that 200 have earned accreditation which includes having a code of ethics.

But it reminds me of when employers found it wasn’t enough on applicants to ask if job applicants had a car, so they added a follow-up question, “Does it run?”

Destination Marketing Association International dropped a long standing requirement that members and their staff members sign a code of ethics about a decade ago now because some “good ‘ole boys” couldn’t see how to enforce it, especially when other “good ‘ole boys” were in violation.

Of course, the answer was easy.  Throw the bums out!

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