I was on the subway this morning when, between sips of life-giving coffee, I glanced up to see a poster for Enterprise's new car-sharing service. Whether or not it's a good idea for them to try to compete with Zipcar in New York City is an interesting conversation, but that's not what I was focused on. Something on the poster was nagging at me: "The New Standard In Car Sharing." It made me twitch, and I couldn't figure out why. And then it hit me, after all these years, why so many ads out there make me boil with anger:
If a person is inclined to look at the world through the lens of critical thinking, then pretty much all marketing is Kryptonite.
By critical thinking I mean reason, logic, objective proof, and the simple idea that if you make a statement, you have to back it up with evidence if you want to be taken seriously. Now obviously the advertising game has always been the land of Let's See What We Can Get Away With, and I knew that. But I finally understood for the first time why it bothered me, and others like me, to the point of visible irritation. How exactly is Enterprise "The New Standard" in car sharing? Is there a study to back that up? I mean, they're certainly new. And they do offer car-sharing. But that's really all that can be objectively said about the service. It could be crap. It could also be amazing-- but until they give me an actual reason to believe that they are the "Standard-Bearer," I'm going to laugh at their subway ad and probably not take them very seriously.
To be fair, some brands do back up their statements with numbers-- myriad luxury car commercials come to mind--although the numbers likely only tell part of the story. But even that is okay because my searching mind at least has something to grasp on to, to point to and say, Oh. Well at least Car & Driver really did name it the Best Luxury Sedan In Its Class.
I'm sure not everyone is like me. Some nice old lady from Greenpoint will probably look at that ad and think, "Oh! Enterprise offers car-sharing now, and according to this they must be the best." Even if it's subconscious, if the claim is never questioned, brands just get to proclaim whatever they want (as long as the wording is carefully crafted). And that should change. Because I know there are other people like me out there (I'm a Millennial and can use the Internet), and I'm fairly sure the reaction Enterprise was going for wasn't nausea.
*Asterisk added for accuracy/effect