Email makes it easy to complain. Too easy. I find people will literally complain about anything they see online. Recently, True ran a few paid ads for an inkjet refill company. In the last week I got several complaints about those ads. Because the ink was bad? No, people seem to like the product. It was the wording in the ads that caused the complaints:
I want to comment on the implied bigotry in the ad. “Your Christian source for ink/toner” implies that being Christian is somehow superior, and it follows that non-Christians are inferior. They’re entitled to think that, of course. Most people believe that their beliefs are superior to those of others. But that has nothing to do with their product or their service. To include it in their ad says that they think we should do business with them because of their religion, and that smacks of bigotry. I will make it a point to avoid this company and any others that advertise this way. –Isaac in AOLville
Isaac isn’t a lone nut. James, who also didn’t say where he’s located, jumps in with: “I have enjoyed your service, but I am unwilling to support the [inkjet] ad and will unsubscribe. I am not willing to encourage the promotion of the Christian faith. Even if I were, I would find the ad offensive because of its undoubtedly incorrect implication that other ink suppliers are not Christian. Not only is this attempt to take business away from other Christians in this manner not a Christian act, but this public flaunting of faith, especially for commercial purposes, is opposed to the teachings of Jesus as I understand them.” And these two weren’t the only ones.
Let me see if I’ve got this right: If an advertiser says they’re “the source for high-quality widgets,” what they’re really saying is that everyone else that sells widgets is trying to pawn off low-quality widgets? Or if they say they’re a “family-owned” company they’re really right-wing polygamists trying preach that people who don’t have children are evil? Get a grip, people! Repeat after me: They’re ads. The companies pay for their space.
Every now and then, readers object to certain ads. As a matter of policy, I already reject all advertisements for “adult” (porn) sites/services, alcohol and tobacco products, gambling, and any service or product which is illegal in the United States. This does impact True quite a bit; I obviously need to sell ads in order to make it possible to give away free entertainment to a such a huge worldwide audience, but I feel I must draw the line somewhere. Beyond that, I give advertisers a pretty free rein. It is, in other words, up to advertisers to decide how they want to be perceived through their ads. If you don’t like the way an advertiser comes across, here’s my recommendation: don’t buy the product or service advertised! If you do like the ad, or think you might want or need the product or service, then click through to get more details. This isn’t rocket science, folks.
And some people wonder why I shrug off the incessant whining criticism of ads that have a bit of controversy to them? Dotcoms are falling like flies at my feet, yet I’m able to keep my ad slots mostly full lately — the dotcoms that are left need to remind people that not all of the companies that sell online are dead. (Some of us are actually thriving, in fact.) Bottom line, anyone who really thinks I’m going to turn down a paid ad because the company’s owner is proud of his faith just reminds me of one thing: the world is never, ever going to run out of stupid people for me to write about!
No matter what, there is always someone out there who wants to be offended. Last week I ran a couple of reader letters complaining that a paid ad identified itself as a “Christian source” of its product. I lamented that it was too easy to complain by email and concluded that, in the current dotcom meltdown environment, “anyone who really thinks I’m going to turn down a paid ad because the company’s owner is proud of his faith just reminds me of one thing: the world is never, EVER going to run out of stupid people for me to write about!”
You would not believe how many people emailed to complain that I “called them stupid.”
Why is it that when I talk about my readers being “the cream of the crop,” “terrific,” “intelligent,” etc. these people assume I’m not talking about them, but if I say “if you meet this terribly narrow condition [which they don’t], you must be stupid” they assume I must be talking about them personally? Perhaps people are getting convinced that they need to be “victims.” Perhaps they’re …well… stupid. I don’t know.
Luckily, most of my readers “got it.” (The more intelligent ones, I suppose!) Some of the better letters include Dan in Kansas: “I wonder if the people who complain about your ads go through Time, Newsweek, Martha Stewart Living, Sports Illustrated, or Reader’s Digest with the same vigilance? If I dropped subscriptions to magazines that carried ads that I found distasteful, I’d just be reading the backs of cereal boxes. (Only the right cereal boxes of course.)”
That’s what I meant when I said email makes it too easy to complain. Why not hit “reply” and complain to the messenger rather than take ALL THAT TIME to click through to the site, find the advertiser’s contact address, and complain to them? Because it’s not worth their time. So why should it be worth my time to read their whining? Terri in Alaska: “Excuse me, but isn’t every ad designed to make you think that something about the product or service is superior to others in the same field?”
Dave in Pennsylvania: “I have to admit that I agree almost completely with [the people who complained]. When I see ads like that, I tend to just skip to the next section. In my case, I’m actually interested in ink/toner products. And I won’t check out that site. Not because I’m not Christian, or don’t support them. But because I don’t see the relevance. What does Christianity have to do with ink?” Nothing. Don’t worry, I did get the point of the complainers. My point was that people who don’t like an ad have several choices: 1) Roll their eyes and skip the ad, like you did — and like most people do when they don’t like an advertiser’s approach, whether it’s in True, on TV, or in print. 2) Complain to the advertiser — especially if they feel strongly about the issue. Or, what I was ranting about, 3) Complain to the publication.
As I noted, it is up to advertisers to decide how they want to be perceived through their ads. If you don’t like the way an advertiser comes across, don’t click through! If you do like the ad, then do check them out. Isn’t that what you do in real life? Why shouldn’t I let advertisers let their attitudes and policies shine through so you can make your own decision as to whether you want to do business with them? Several asked if I would accept an ad that identifies themselves as, say, “your source for kosher foods”? Of course! “Your atheist book source”? Yep.
Something else about this that drives me crazy: When I took on the Archdiocese of Vancouver for smiling at the murder of an abortion doctor, some readers called me “anti-Christian.” When I wrote about feng shui, several called me “anti-Christian” — and one proclaimed I was going to hell. (And when I responded to that with my Get Out of Hell Free cards, I was told that I was “making fun of Christians”.) When I defended some Muslims against blatant Christian bigotry, I was (you guessed it!) derided as “anti-Christian.” And when I defend a company who wants to identify themselves as Christian, I’m attacked yet again.
Clue: I think people should, within reason, say the things they want to say, and if those things are stupid and open them up to ridicule, they should be ridiculed. That’s pretty much what True does every week. I don’t personally think such “affiliation” tags are productive in advertising, but the advertiser didn’t ask me about it. However, if you think an advertiser deserves ridicule for identifying themselves as “Christian” (or “atheist” or “kosher”) fine! Go at them! At them, not me — I didn’t write the ad.
Last, a few like Jerry in California wondered, “How come you didn’t point out to the people complaining about ads that the Premium version of True doesn’t have ads? Seems to me you missed a fantastic opportunity to cash in on those complainers!” I of course did think of that, but I was talking about policies, not trying to “cash in”. Sometimes things need to be said without having an underlying marketing message, and this was one of those times. Details about the Premium upgrades is included in every issue anyway, so I didn’t really see the point in flogging upgrades in this space at this time. Too, as Vicki in Illinois pointed out, had I done so people would have complained — “since the word ‘Premium’ implies that this subscription is superior to all other subscriptions.” Well, Vicki, that is true…! 🙂