You’ve probably seen the commercials: Nuclear meltdowns, pro sports athletic training, rodeo clowns, daredevil motorcycle riders — all sorts of people are smarter and more prepared for life because of their choice of hotel.
“Are you new to the team?” asks the nuclear engineer of the stranger who saves a frazzled control room from reactor meltdown.
“Actually, I’m with the tour group, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”
Holiday Inn Express has a brand promise: “Stay Smart.” Well, I had the opposite experience. Why? Blame it on their poorly named “Simply Smart” bathroom products.
It’s early in the morning — very early — and I’m looking for the hotel shampoo and conditioner. Not too difficult. Just look for the bottle marked “Shampoo” and the one marked “Conditioner”, right?
But I find no such thing. My choices include “Refresh”, “Scrub”, “Wash”, “Soften”, and “Tame”. I reckon that “Tame” is the conditioner, but as to which one was the shampoo, it’s a toss up, so I bring all the bottles into the shower with me. I then compound the situation by not brining my glasses, so now I can hardly read the labels.
Where was the helpful cut-out in the bathroom explaining what each “simple” bottle was? It wasn’t until later that I noticed tiny print on the back of the bottles explaining what each thing really was.
So, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but did I feel like I could fix a multi-million dollar athlete’s sprained ankle or prevent a nuclear meltdown? Not exactly. I had shampoo on my legs, hair conditioner on my face, and mouthwash in my hair. I didn’t feel capable of pouring a cup of coffee. (Though I must say, their hot breakfast bar really is impressive.)
In hindsight, once I knew what each container was, it made a little more sense. (Though how you get Spot & Stain remover from “Rub”, I still don’t know) but surely I’m not their only guest who was confused.
Nothing against Holiday Inn Express. I stay there often and the staff is usually lovely. But this bath product labeling thing really threw me.
So, what’s the lesson here (other than mouthwash should never be used as shampoo and vice versa)?
Beware of cute and clever labels. I see this on websites as well. There’s no glory in being clever if you end up confusing your visitors.
I also see this in advertising messages. I read about an effort in Australia to pull over drunk drivers. The original message was “Don’t blow your license.” Testing showed this message had near 100% understanding. But the ad agency wanted to change it to “Don’t blow it.” Clever, yes, but only 5% of the people had a clear understanding of their message. Some people even thought they were promoting civil disobedience by saying “Don’t take the breathalyser test.”
Back to websites. I know sometimes you want to show your visitors how creative you are. But do you really look at your site from their point of view? I am often befuddled by advertising agency sites. Leo Burnette has an interesting category called “We’re Idea Centric.” The sub categories are “Start Clean,” “Stay Restless,” and “Amplify.” I honestly don’t know what any of those mean or what I would see if I clicked on them.
I’m sure you’ve run into this yourself. I’d love to hear your examples of websites that had labels or navigational elements that were “clever” but not easily understood.
Well, off to getting the furniture polish out of my hair (another story for a later date).
About the Author: Holly Buchanan is a Persuasion Architect at FutureNow and co-author of The Soccer Mom Myth: Today’s Female Consumer: Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys. If you’d like to meet Holly and judge her in person, join her on June 2nd for FutureNow’s Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar in Manhattan. Not only will you learn techniques for attracting customers online, you’ll get a chance to schmooze over hors d’oeurves and cocktails at our “Happy Hour with the Experts” reception, which we hope you’ll find to be appropriately named even though it will last for more than an hour.