And it’s not just because it doesn’t show any actual, y’know, women.
The thing about writing billboards is that they’re a huge pain, because you can’t use a lot of words on them. The idea is that someone is going to be driving along at speed and still be able to process the message — generally, no more than about ten words. (I’ve actually seen billboards with QR codes on them, which are okay-ish for areas with dead-stop traffic but a potential crunchy nightmare on fast-moving highways.)
We celebrate remarkable women on the Riva Spatz Women’s Wall of Honour. Join us.
The Riva Spatz Women’s Wall of Honour is a wall at Mount Saint Vincent University that pays tribute to remarkable women, and the intended message of the billboard is, “You should donate to the Women’s Wall of Honour, much like we did.”
1. It’s plug-ugly. I mean, hello to some art direction.
2. Teeny, teeny type. Is it really so important that I know that Dude #2 is Danny Graham of McInnes Copper I should risk a car accident to figure it out?
3. The URL is ridiculous. It’s too long for a billboard, and it has “wallof” in the middle, and I don’t know what a “wallof” is. “Womenswall.ca” remains available, y’all, in case you’re up for a redirect.
4. There’s no indication that the three besuited white dudes on the billboard are the “we” in the headline. With the university logo in the corner, it could easily be an institutional “we” from the university. And that makes the inclusion of three besuited white dudes seemingly random. (These three individuals are decisively male.)
5. There are no women on it. It’s a “women’s wall” ad with three dudes and not a single woman anywhere.
See, it’s a common saying in advertising that “you aren’t selling the shovel, you’re selling the hole.” It means that whether they understand it or not, consumers are enticed not by the features of the product (“Now 20 percent more shovely!”) but by the benefit they receive from it (“My, that’s a nice hole. Thank you, shovel!”)
When you see a billboard like this, what benefit is it offering? There are three dudes there, and they’re wearing suits, and they all seem pretty happy. Maybe the message is, “Donate to the Wall, and you’ll be happy and besuited like us!” Which I suppose is a thing, if you aspire to be a happy dude in a suit. Join us. Donate, and you’ll be in our club, smiling and wearing a suit and hanging out with other dudes. Maybe you can be like the dude in the middle, with the yellow tie and his jacket unbuttoned. He’s obviously the wildman of the group.
The university says the billboard is only one part of an entire campaign featuring donors, and that other executions include men and women. But even when you get to the site mentioned on the billboard, your first image is of those same three guys, followed by a picture of three women a few inches later. The navigation about the wall is all the way below the fold. And the copy is the same — join us in celebrating remarkable women. Join us. Because this is, of course, all about us.
You want to do a donor-featured execution? Besuited white dude with his arm around his mom. I donated because my mom is the shit, and if your mom is the shit, you should donate, too. Because the wall is honoring women who are the shit. Donor plus promising female college student — You should donate to support young women like this one, because she’s awesome. In honor of awesome women. Female donor and woman she’s honoring, because at the risk of making wild swings, I’m guessing at least one woman has donated and at least one more could be enticed to donate if the ad was compelling (and the URL readable).
Breakdown: If you want people to donate because they can be like these generous, happy white dudes in suits, you’re right on the money. (Except for the copy. You’re going to cause a pileup.) If you want people to donate because remarkable women are remarkable, you’re not even close. Sure, money is money either way. But Smiling Besuited Dude #2 hugging his remarkable daughter says, Isn’t she great? Don’t you have a woman in your life who’s great? Don’t you want to hono(u)r her? And his remarkable, grimacing daughter says, Jesus, Dad, button your jacket. This isn’t a tractor pull. And, thusly compelled, you make your donation to the wallof, and everybody wins.
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