Kayaks cutting through the foam of a raging mountain river, men riding horseback against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and a cowboy in the fray of a calf-roping contest: they’re images that should make Albertans proud and the rest of us green with envy. They’re also some of the compelling scenes assembled in a recent television commercial for Travel Alberta, the province’s tourism agency. Indeed, the ad would make you book a trip to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump right now, if not for the bizarre inclusion of one split-second clip.
Out of the blue comes video from a show jumping event — possibly to remind viewers that on top of chuckwagon racing and bull riding, Alberta offers something for the country club set. But given how the segment plays, it’s more likely the province is appealing to the Cops, Jackass and World’s Most Shocking Videos crowd. A horse and rider leap over a water jump but land short of the turf; the horse does a face-plant into the ground and sends its rider flying. (This less than three years after nine horses plunged off a bridge to their deaths during preparations for the Calgary Stampede.) The commercial cuts to another segment before we can determine the horse and rider’s fate, but the ad’s unintended message is clear: Alberta is a place of adventure, excitement — and pain.
Why was this incongruous image included? You could blame the advertising agency that created it. But I’d blame the bosses at Travel Alberta. If they’d seen the ad and liked it, well, maybe frat boys are their target tourists. But I suspect they were reluctant to object or never even saw it — which is a lesson for every entrepreneur.
Good advertising is a nebulous, ephemeral thing. When it comes to ads, one person’s like is another’s dislike; what makes one customer buy diminishes the product’s appeal to someone else; and this year’s hot ad trend is next year’s has-been. To some business owners, those might be reasons to let hipper-than-thou agency types decide what marketing and advertising creative to unleash on the marketplace. And besides, a lot of marketing pros will tell you that many entrepreneurs are so opinionated and hands-on that it takes them no time to massage an innovative, striking and potentially effective creative work into a dull grey blob, which is not what you hire expensive help to achieve.
Certainly, a business owner should let the experts do what they’ve been paid to do. But no entrepreneur should stand for ads, brochures and other communications that don’t reflect their values and vision of the company, or that violate their better judgment. You might be just a one-member focus group, but as an entrepreneur you’re the keeper of your company’s flame — which makes you the most important focus group of all. Only you know when a marketing effort is aligned with the image you want for your company and its products. So, when you see something that makes you uncomfortable, challenge it with good questions. If you don’t hear the right answers, then explain your views and demand changes.
And if you still find the prospect of debating your marketing team intimidating, then consider this: not even the experts can guarantee the success of a campaign. But if you mind your own marketing, you’re at least assured of peace of mind.