If you happen to find yourself in New York City, it's worth hailing a cab simply to experience the latest safety message from David Yassky, Chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
The 20-second spot is designed to encourage passengers to fasten their safety belt and begins with Yassky making a bold claim: "Some of the safest drivers in the world are behind New York City taxis," he says. "But accidents still can happen."
Some of the safest drivers in the world are behind New York City taxis? And...you've lost me.
If you've ridden in a NYC taxi even once, you know how grossly inauthentic this message feels. New York City cab drivers may be some of the fastest and most aggressive on the road, but you'd be hard pressed to find a reasonable group of people who truly believe that cabbies are "among the safest drivers in the world." And sadly, for that reason, Yassky's message will go mainly unheard.
Authentic marketing matters more today than it ever has before.
In an oversaturated marketplace, consumers are exposed to so much messaging that they've evolved into savvier creatures. Among many skills, they've developed the keen ability to tune out and shut down almost instantly. And what's the best way to trigger that response? Try to sell them something that's inauthentic or, worse, that's perceived as inauthentic. That's right, perceived authenticity can matter just as much as the real stuff.
Because here's the truth: statistically, New York City cab drivers do in fact have fewer accidents than drivers in other major cities (NOTE: this still does not warrant the title "safest drivers in the world"). The majority of New Yorkers, however, perceive the opposite: they view cab drivers as dangerous and unruly.
In a NY1-Marist poll, nearly 80 percent of city residents said cab drivers are disrespectful and don't share the road well. In a local story about the poll titled "Cabbies are Hell on Wheels...," one resident said, "They're dangerous. When they see a passenger, they'll cut through anything. They don't care if they hit anything. It's crazy."
Yassky must know that this is the overwhelming belief of so many New Yorkers, so why would he lead with a claim that so perversely goes against general consumer sentiment? Because he's overly focused on what he wants his audience to believe instead of accepting what they actually believe.
In those 20 seconds, it's not Yassky's job to sell the safety record of New York City cab drivers; it's his job to sell the value of safety belts. So wouldn't it be more effective to say something like, "One of the things that makes New York City so great is our fast-paced culture. Unfortunately, that doesn't always translate well to the road. Do your part by buckling up and we'll do our part by getting you to your destination safely."
Now that message makes sense because it incorporates both the truth and the perceived truth -- thus earning the passenger's attention and, ultimately, encouraging him to wear his safety belt.
I don't mean to pick on the Taxi and Limousine Commission; plenty of organizations make this fatal mistake. It's easy to become so focused on what you want your consumer to believe that you forget to consider what they actually believe in the first place. But recognizing this distinction can be the difference between a successful campaign and an utter failure.
If you want your audience to listen, you must understand where your product fits in the context of his or her life, not the other way around. And even though this can be difficult and uncomfortable at times, it's the first step to establishing a genuine connection and creating a conversation that inspires real action. And after all, isn't that what it's all about.
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