Blank Bullets: The LCD Delusion

One of the most vexing questions faced by communicators in any discipline is how to decide what an audience can or cannot be assumed to know. To hear some marketers tell it, the only possible assumption is that most people know absolutely nothing about absolutely everything. Even, that is, about the very topics that define them as members of a target audience.

That leaves the nation’s beleaguered copywriters in a difficult position, though to be fair, it’s hard to conceive a situation in which the nation’s copywriters aren’t in a difficult position—as practitioners of a miserably underrated and undervalued profession.

In this instance, however, there’s a more specific measure of the problem at hand, in the tortuous dilemma posed by two conflicting anxieties harbored by our clients:

A. Am I saying enough?
B. Am I saying too much?

Both of which are governed by a larger anxiety:

I. Will They Get It?

Now, as any tour of duty at an ad agency will confirm, anxiety, not expertise, is the deciding factor 99% of the time. When it comes to messaging strategy and the copy that helps convey it, that anxiety pivots on:

• What information our target audience already has on a given topic
• What conclusions our target audience has drawn from that information

As I see it, a brand must have clear answers to these questions before any marketing plan or creative work can begin. In practice, however, this is the last thing the ever-growing number of “stakeholders” in a typical project can agree on.

Confused about confusion.
The result, no matter how much information the creative brief contains about audience demographics, is a general appeal to the so-called Lowest Common Denominator (LCD). Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that the LCD audience is defined by:

• People who “don’t get” the brand category
• People who “don’t get” advertising
• People who “don’t get” Internet navigation
• People who “don’t get” written communication
• People who “don’t get” visual imagery
• People who “don’t get” desktop computers, laptops, tablets or smart phones

In other words, those who envision their target audience as members of the LCD see it as a subspecies of humanity—people so underexposed to modern American life that the events of the last 15 years have had absolutely no impact on their lives.

The pervasiveness of this point of view is evidenced by the presence of LCD copy (and accompanying LCD visual components) on most Web pages. It’s copy rife with meaningless adjectives like “incredible” or copy stenciled on with conformist zeal and held up as the model for what works.

Is there, for example, a technology brand with the courage to walk away from predictable talk of innovation, a bank that can go for a week without touting its “great rates,” or a candy manufacturer who can resist the temptation to “make the holidays sweeter?”

Nested anxieties.
My question is, even if we believe the LCD audience actually exists, why would we endeavor to reach such people with advertising, much less digital advertising?

I mean, seriously, you want to create a banner campaign for people you believe don’t know how to turn on their computers and can’t follow a simple line of logic about a topic they’re already interested in? Like the large swath of undecided voters in the recent presidential election, that level of confusion would require a completely different communication strategy—most likely involving coloring books.

The irony, of course, is that this boilerplate copy actually stands in the way of making the sale. Consumers tire of typical matryoshka doll-messaging that can take up to 5 clicks to reach something substantive—like a clear description of what they’re actually buying.

On the face of it, such self-defeating behavior would seem incomprehensible, if it weren’t for a deeper anxiety at work behind the scenes: A brand’s realization that its product claims are flimsy, deceptive or blatantly untrue. In that context, candy-coating your promotional copy with meaningless clichés is an essential part of avoiding litigation—especially in an era when the sociopathic behavior of American corporations has been richly documented on the evening news.  


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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