Sunday, February 7, 2010

Whose Hands Exactly?

Theme development, for an event or campaign or a corporate outlook, is one of the most enjoyable creative challenges a marketing team can be given -- and also the most challenging. The problem is that language has many nuances, and even the most well-meaning tagline can be misread, misinterpreted, or seen to have a deeper, more sinister meaning than intended. To this day whenever I hear Chevron's tagline, "People Do" ("Do people really turn down the refinery lights so turtle hatchlings can make it to the sea? People do."), I still think first of human waste, as in "people doo." As in, look, there's people doo all over this beach. I know my age bracket and liberal leanings make me tend to suspect that an oil company is more likely to treat the environment like crap than it is to be a saviour of the planet, so perhaps this is an example where few others would experience this same reaction. Instead their reaction would be, "Thank god Chevron is there for those cute little baby turtles."

I've starting seeing television spots promoting the 2010 California Census. The tagline is meant to be reassuring, purring "IT'S IN OUR HANDS" ("our hands" is bolded; let's not forget whose hands we're talking about after all) while showing a multi-cultural graphic mix of differently shaded, interlocked hands (a trite visual gimmick, over-used for the last thirty years by banks, insurance companies, and internal human resource entities to illustrate diversity). Who is this effort really aimed at? I'd wager the target audience is undocumented Mexican workers, caught in the paradoxical position of needing to be counted so that health care services and school districts can better meet their needs but fearful that exposure will trigger deportation. The campaign illustrates the conceit of big government, that by supposedly claiming responsibility for the decisions the census results will trigger, people will clamor to be included. But instead of being soothing -- you've got nothing to worry about, just cooperate and we'll take care of the rest -- I hear those words and register a vague Orwellian threat. Do people learn to fear government? People do.

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