OK, so I was wrong. It wasn’t the first time, and certainly won’t be the last.

I groused on Wednesday about a “P&G Brand Saver” coupon book that included an ad saying “Look for Head & Shoulders coupons in this book.” I needed shampoo, so I looked through the booklet three or four times, and couldn’t find one. I waited a while and looked again: still no dice.

Finally I concluded that there was no ad, and the P&G marketing people were playing a cruel game — but I had a bad feeling that maybe it was there and for some reason, I just couldn’t find it. So I looked again, but still saw no coupon.

Then I emailed the consumer relations folks at Proctor & Gamble and told them what I thought about their apparent ruse. A day or so later, someone there wrote back and suggested that I look on page 3, behind the Nyquil ad. It actually turned out to be page 6, but on the flip side of the Nyquil ad there is a big picture of a football player with a flowing, movie star-style mane — not a picture that I would linger over.

To the side of the picture, in a very slightly lighter shade, there’s a coupon that looks very much like part of the ad except for the bar code. In the larger ad, the Head & Shoulders logo is dwarfed by the headline “GET LEGENDARY HAIR.” As noted above, luxurious locks on a football player did not catch my attention. On the coupon itself, the product picture is also quite small. 

So, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t find it, but I still contend it was poorly designed if the goal was to draw attention to the coupon. And, to be technical about it, there’s only one coupon, when the ad says “Look for coupons …”

It reminded me of reading a biblical commentary by a scholar who is brilliant, but writes so obtusely that the reader has to dig and sweat in hopes of puzzling out what insightful observation the author is making.

Or, it’s a bit reminiscent of a passive aggressive person who hides a criticism within a compliment, and you never know exactly what they mean.

Effective communication is important, wouldn’t you say? And that means being up front about things, doing one’s best to eliminate obstacles to understanding. So, I hit “Reply” so I could respond and apologize for misrepresenting the booklet, even though I did think the coupon was hard to find.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when the return e-mail address didn’t work. That’s customer relations for you!

I’d already bought generic shampoo (which was considerably cheaper than the name brand, even with the coupon), but at least the debacle caused me to think more carefully about communicating clearly.

Maybe you will, too?


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