Tuesday, December 9, 2008

?-to-Face Communication

Let's Not Waste Opportunities to Make a Personal Connection
Every now and then I see an advertisement where a faceless or headless person is given the task of pitching a particular product. Some recent examples include AstraZeneca’s Symbicort (R) and HP’s personal computers.

My message to these and other companies that use this technique is to please reconsider. Do it for my benefit – I find this approach dehumanizing and off-putting. Do it for your own benefit – you’re missing the mark on building trust and empathy with your audience.

For a drug company that has done an excellent job in increasing its transparency, why communicate important medical information with a silhouette? For a PC manufacturer whose motto is “the computer is personal again,” why showcase the product with a decapitated presenter?

Perhaps the ads scored creative points with the client or tested well in a focus group. Maybe we, the viewers, are supposed to be engaged by trying to guess which celebrity is talking from a disembodied, off-camera head. Or, is it that they want us to “insert yourself here”?

I’ll admit that there are certain circumstances where this can work. Apple’s i-Pod comes to mind. But Apple has always been associated with design and creativity. There is a definite “cool” factor that’s communicated when they use those blacked-out dancing figures with the signature white ear buds bouncing and waving to popular tunes. Cachet is being built not questioned.

For the vast majority of communications using faceless or headless persons, though, how are we supposed to make a connection to the person, the product or the company? If, as Herman Melville said, “The eyes are the gateway to the soul,” then we’re being denied the opportunity to make some important judgments. How do we bond? How do we believe? How do we trust?

This isn’t just about advertisements. These are the reasons why the phone is better than email, why a video conference better than the phone, and why face-to-face communication is better than a video conference. Face-to-face allows us to observe all the nuances and evaluate the visual cues. With these additional inputs, we’re able to assemble a more accurate picture of the particular circumstance. The bottom line is that it’s the job of the communicator to provide the most appropriate pieces of information and ensure that they are received by the intended audience.


Robin Michelle said...

I completely agree with this. It is ridiculous to have a motto like HP does "the computer is personal again." How is decapitating the celebrities promoting the advertisement being personal? It is borderline hypocritical and makes me feel uncomfortable buying a product that the company doesn't even reveal the person who is speaking. It is important to know who you are dealing with and to feel comfortable with the product or service that you are purchasing.

Paul Oestreicher said...

Here's an interesting addendum. In an article published in The New York Times on April 7, 2009 (Radiologist Adds a Human Touch: Photos), Dr. Yehonatan Turner discovered that "when a digital photograph was attached to a patient's file, radiologists provided longer, more meticulous reports." In addition doctors "said they felt more connected to the patients, whom they seldom meet face to face."