Service of Miscommunication

March 10th, 2011

Categories: Advertising, Communications, Customer Service, Miscommunication, Mixed Messages, Quality Control, Words


We communicate through actions and words and yet I don’t think that some comprehend their impact or the impressions they make when they are misleading, inaccurate or unclear.

A beggar on the sidewalk with a sign on a cardboard box asking for money was puffing a cigarette. He may have picked a butt off the sidewalk or perhaps someone gave him the cigarette. When I give a gift to a friend or relative it comes with no strings, yet I thought: He might have money to buy food if he didn’t smoke. You can argue that $9 or whatever a pack of cigarettes costs won’t buy much, so what the heck, but still. Perception was doing the talking and my wallet stayed shut.

radiowavesThe Saturday before this year’s Oscars an international news source played the same radio segment at least twice: I heard that it sure was going to be cold at the Oscars because a very rare thing happened: It snowed in San Francisco. And here I thought that Hollywood was in LA. Would I cancel a picnic in New York City if I heard an unsavory Boston weather report? Wonder if the person who wrote and/or read this has a map.

There’s an ad on a morning radio show where the owner of the business, an articulate fellow with a pleasant voice, tells you why you should bring your car to his shop for checkups and repairs. I’ve heard it a few times. He gives his phone number-I don’t recognize the area code. But he doesn’t state what town he’s in. I can’t understand why the station’s ad staff doesn’t advise him and let him record his message again. I’ve never heard of his business so doubt it’s a chain.

gastankOn March 4, here was the breaking news report that popped in my email box from a major network: “Dow Tumbles Over 150 Points Amid Rising Oil a day after the markets posted its best one-day rise in three months in the wake of a robust report on jobless claims and falling oil prices.” Hmmm. So what’s going on? Are fuel prices rising or falling? I can tell you what I think is happening if my local gas stations are any proof. And how did that s get into the word market?

The New York Post and LA Times were two of zillions to report this news: “Charlie Sheen to pitch products on Twitter, sets Guinness world record.” In the first place, I can’t imagine recommending to a client that he/she have Charlie Sheen go near their product. But it shows you what I know. According to the LA Times, “Just a day after starting up a Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, Sheen had amassed more than 910,000 followers [sic] the micro-blogging site, landing his user account among the fastest-growing the website has ever had.” I think his followers enjoy watching train wrecks and are not necessarily the folks who will buy Naked Juice smoothie [one of the products he’s promoting with one of his mistresses].

What examples of miscommunication–inadvertent or deliberate–have you observed lately?


12 Responses to “Service of Miscommunication”

  1. Deirdre Said:

    I’m always conscious of the website version of the radio ad that doesn’t identify location. When I was doing research for colleges for my daughter, I found school after school that never mentioned what city, state or even country it was in. Amazing. I did some research for a client not long ago, and found a good article, but this online version of the newsletter never mentioned what city, state or country *it* was in. When I Googled the rather common name of the publication, I found one in Kentucky, one in Canada and one in Australia. People are so inside their own heads, they can’t imagine a world in which no one knows who they are, I guess.

    Thanks as always for your thought-provoking post.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right about people being inside their heads and too close to a subject or organization. {And now a word from our sponsor: Yet another reason to hire you, a crack web guru, or an agency such as mine, for crucial objective perspectives and counsel.]

    Back to the point: I err to the other extreme in some circumstances. When I send reminders about an event, whether to media, members of an association or a friend, I repeat all pertinent information, but I’ve been criticized for doing so: “You’ve already told them that!”

    My reason for being redundant: Why should I assume that folks have committed the date, time, address to memory and even more important, I think it’s my job to make it easy on them, help them save time, so they don’t have to sort around to find earlier communications. I want them to attend, not to toss in the towel out of frustration, right?

  3. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    Miscommunication is not my problem; misinterpretation is. I am amazed by the number of people who either don’t read carefully, whether it’s a printed message or an email flashed on a screen. They’re used to scanning, rather than digging into material, thus either miss a lot or fail to comprehend what’s being asked of them.

    Lately, I’ve taken to including a bulleted summary on material I submit, assuming that the recipient probably has a short attention span and won’t bother to read top to bottom.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Speaking of scanning, I’m irked when I ask two or three questions in an email related to one document, say a press release, and I get one answer: “Yes.”

    I may need to know: “What’s your booth number at the show? Please confirm the toll free number.” The “yes” is destined for miscommunication–possibly of a wrong toll free number and, if I must meet a deadline, and I can’t reach the client on the phone, I’m stuck with incomplete info.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    There’s way too much to deal with here, so will stick to one: Charlie Sheen. It’s naive to assume bad behavior is going to send him into the corner with a dunce cap. Anyone remember the Kennedy assassination in ’63? Thousands rose to help the Russian widow of Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged killer. So why shouldn’t hundreds of thousands follow Sheen on Twitter and/or try out products he endorses? At least he doesn’t go around killing people, and he’s not married to a suspected murderer. Perhaps he endorses good stuff, so why miss out? If people really have it in for Sheen, they should ignore him, not enhance his visibility by righteous statements. Never heard of the man before he tore up the Plaza. I’d say he’s a master communicator. He’s certainly got the attention of those of us who use sitcoms as sleeping pills, even if he had to get fired to pull this off!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If you believe that any publicity is good publicity, which I don’t, then you are comfortable associating your–or your client’s–products with a person like Sheen who seems to make increasingly less sense as he spins out of control. I would no more try a product that a person like this recommends than take a class on business ethics from Bernie Madoff. And yet I’m sure thousands would line up to do so if they could.

    The point of the post is miscommunication—not condemning Sheen. I feel that his image is unsavory and the drugged craziness he portrays would rub off poorly on a product that might otherwise be legit.

    I can’t address the reasons that people supported Mrs. Oswald although I don’t think she was implicated in her husband’s horrendous crime.

  7. Horace Peabody. Said:

    I’m one of those who are inattentive when people give out numbers and instructions. Part of this is dyslexia, but a greater part is that I believe we communicate and consume altogether too much in a world being depleted of its resources at a distressingly accelerating pace.

    However, that does not excuse inattentiveness and sloppy message sending.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If your car just broke down, you might want to know the location, name and address of the fellow who advertised his car repair business on the radio. Trouble is, you wouldn’t know where he was and whether he’d be the appropriate person to call because he forgot to tell you where his business is!

    Few are going to buy a pair of red shoes they don’t want, especially in this economy, but if you manufacture red shoes, you want those who are looking for them to know that you exist, which justifies the [accurate] promotion of red shoes. I’m sure there must be something that tempts you, even if you feel that we consume far too much–which some do and some wish they could but can’t even feed their children. Marketers will want to know what it is you like–eating out, listening to music, going to theatre–and the good ones will get to you–I bet!

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s not a matter of what I believe, but the truth of the matter is that bad publicity is better than no publicity. As a theoretical marketer, I would think that success comes by selling the product, not by judging the various personalities promoting it. If selling to teenyboppers, does one spurn the attentions of Brittany Spears, assuming that millions of little idiots hang on to her every word, and open their purses accordingly? Blow off Spears, or whoever has their attention at the moment, and the competitor dives in, and my product would go begging. The competitor eats royally and I starve. Marketing is clearly not my strong suit, but if forced to sell, and don’t cotton to the idea of losing, I would hire Spears.

    From what I have observed, the marketing world plays hard ball and failure to learn the game can be both painful and costly.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I have been fortunate to work with brands that would run away from such people so that I haven’t had to deal. Marketers I’ve represented do not believe in the bad publicity is better than none. [There are people who pay to keep their names out of the press, but that’s off topic.]

    There are plenty of companies with wholesome images that would like to keep them squeaky clean. That’s why some dropped Tiger Woods as spokesperson when his personal life took a negative turn. In addition, most marketers would pay not to associate with difficult, out of control spokespeople and those that do are paid a hefty sum in compensation. It’s no fun.

    One of the dangers of hiring a celebrity is if his/her reputation goes south, it rubs off on the corporation and they lose business. Dior management couldn’t get rid of its top designer, John Galliano, fast enough when filth flew out of his mouth recently and was captured on tape. One of the columnists noted that it took Dior’s chairman, Bernard Arnault, some 48 seconds to decide to give him the chop, a time equal to the length of the incriminating video.

  11. Lucrezia Said:

    As much as I don’t care for the Spears or Gallianos, I like the squeaky clean stuff even less: Boring as hell. Controversy is fun — and it sells!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    The challenge to creative marketers is to produce products that work, that people need and that don’t require off the wall types to sell them. Umpteen 20-somethings continue to love Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astair has helped sell products relatively recently–a vacuum cleaner, I think. Perhaps only dead people are safe partners in that they can’t do anything that will generate negative press. But there are zillions of products that sell well that don’t have the budgets required to partner with celebrities. Helping market them is fun for me.

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