Sometimes You Really Shouldn’t Connect With Your Audience

Most of the time I exhort the audiences I speak to—students, clients, conference attendees–to identify, analyze and work hard to connect with their various audiences. It’s Marketing 101 and, generally, it makes good sense. But, I recently came across an example of when connecting with your audience might be at cross-purposes with an organization’s mission or brand.

I was at a bar/restaurant in a resort community on a lake. It was an establishment that seemed to be frequented by a high percentage of younger adults. When in the restroom I noticed a promotion for an area college that used an alcohol-related design and copy. There was an image of a colorful cocktail in a a tall glass with a lemon wedge and a “drink mix recipe”:

  • 1 part You
  • 1 part “name of college”
  • 2 part Courage
  • 91% proven

Clever. Attention-getting. But…

Initially, I liked it. My first impression was what a great way to connect with their target audience in an environment where the target audience was engaged in social activity and, yes, drinking.

But, then I recalled the media attention that this particular area had been getting lately for a high level of binge drinking among young adults. Should a college really be leveraging that culture of drinking to promote their school? Maybe not. Sometimes, depending on your organization’s purpose or mission, what may seem like a natural way to connect with an audience may not be a way that sends a strong—or appropriate—brand message.

There’s a balance to be struck when communicating on behalf of an organization. Yes, you must come up with ways to engage and connect with your audiences and, hopefully, compel them to some sort of action. But, in the process, you must also make sure that you’re being supportive of your brand and image and not unintentionally sending messages that may reflect negatively on your brand.

For schools seeking to attract students who may not even be of legal drinking age, alcohol-themed messages probably aren’t such a great idea in any setting.


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