Just tell me what you do…

Cottingley FairiesI’m walking past mile upon mile of tradeshow booths in a zombie-like trance trying to understand what I’m seeing.  Sadly this is not a drug induced nightmare, but a reality brought on by a killer combination of jetlag, too many faces, too much caffeine, too many Margaritas the night before, a nagging pain in my right foot and the overwhelming impression of otherworldliness that is Las Vegas.

This week I am attending NAB.  This is the biggest annual tradeshow for the television industry, attracting 110,000 attendees and 1,600 exhibitors (though numbers are down this year).  It is an enormous tradeshow spread over nearly 1million square feet of exhibition space, so large that you have to allow 20 minutes between appointments if they are at opposite ends of the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Centre. 

It costs a lot of money to attend NAB and getting a return on that investment requires you to attract new customers to your exhibit.  Sadly both established companies and new start-ups often fail to communicate clearly what they do, or even what area they are involved in, in the second or two that it takes me to walk past their booths.

Standing in one spot I can see host of ambiguous messages (I challenge you to figure out what they do):

  •          “Global Customer Deployments for all Three Screens”
  •          “The Past, Present and Future of Media”

(I’m thinking of a hallucination somewhere between Edward Munch and Salvadore Dali)

  •           “Your Dreams, Our Reality”
  •          “Identify, Manage, Monetize”
  •          “OTT Head End”

(I’m guessing those guys were something to do with Nevada’s famous Chicken Ranch)

  •           “Imagine in Logic”

(OK, my imagination probably does have some logic, but it is a little opaque by now).

Oh, for goodness sake guys, it is not that difficult; I also spotted a few clearer messages:

  •          “Create Compelling Live Video”
  •          “Advanced Image Processing”
  •          “…automated quality control and transcoding software”

I’m not claiming to be a clever know-it-all, because I’ve made the same mistake too.  Bringing a revolutionary new tool to market that made it much easier to mix live action footage with computer graphics generated imagery, I’d hit on the tag line; “the virtual interchangeable with the real”.  I’d run a little teaser campaign with this line below a copy of the Cottingley Fairies.  We’d set up our first stand at a tradeshow and put up lots of explanatory graphics and customer quotes.  Our brand was clear and predominant.

On the opening morning my PR guy, Richard, stepped back from our stand and surveyed it thoughtfully.  “Where does it say what you do” he asked.

Damn. I thought I was being so clever.  Sadly it is an affliction shared by far too many marketers.


In 1917, two girls from Cottingley made this photograph of themselves with “fairies” by cutting illustrations from a book. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed they were genuine till his death in 1930. The girls did not confess their hoax until 1983.  The image is the property of the Brotherton Library, The University of Leeds, UK.

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3 Responses to Just tell me what you do…

  1. Martin Poole says:

    I agree absoloutley about telling the public what you do and doing it ‘at a glance’. I spend an embarrassed NAB when someone else designed the stand and it said nowhere what we did. The worst thing is wasting time explaining what you do to someone who then says they are not interested! Good signage is a good filter as well.
    The cause is that we are so into what we do every day that we arrogantly assume the ‘public’ knows who we are and what we do and that everyones first language is English. Being enigmatic is cool too. Try moving to a country where they don’t speak English and assuming that you have communicated clearly – it will keep you on you toes.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Martin.
      As I was in the US; try moving to a country that does speak English and assuming that you have communicated clearly – we forget at our peril that we are “separated by a common language”.

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