Are Your Words and Pictures Confusing, Irritating or Just Outdated?

dental turn-off tooth Be careful what you say. The words and images that you use might be working against you, or at least producing unexpected (and undesirable) “message meaning.”

It’s elementary mar-com 101, but you might be amazed at how often some folks neglect the receiver-side of the communications loop. Sometimes it’s an innocent oversight, or unexpected consequence, but here are three reminders for all of us to be careful on the sender-side.

Example 1: Individuals age 50 and older don’t like the label “senior.”

Better than half (51%) of survey respondents told that, while they were comfortable with the term “Baby Boomer,” they were disapproving of the term “senior.” Other descriptive references were considered outdated, offensive or have a negative connotation.

Almost everyone (94% of respondents) found “nursing home” to be negative. And “44.2 percent agreed that the terms ‘senior living’ and ‘retirement community’ are outdated. However ‘retirement community’ only had a 13 percent negative association versus ‘retirement home,’ which had a 48 percent negative association.” See: Seniors Picky Over What They Are Called.

Example 2: Exchanging “clear” for “clever” may equal “confusing.”

Recently, the Internet service YouSendIt announced a name change to Hightail, leaving some of their users surprised and baffled. The former name—YouSendIt—clearly communicated their digital file delivery service. The company evidently intends to expand its future services, and a new name is probably appropriate. But for many users, the abrupt name and branding change was a shift from clear to confusing.

There was no transition, little explanation, and worse, Hightail users were offered no rationale as to why or how the new name makes sense. Being silent about the rationale left their user audience confused and wondering.

Example 3: Dentist’s “Smiling Cartoon Tooth” Inspires Ridicule, Not Confidence.

Search via Google for “happy tooth” images and you’ll find a few hundred cartoons and variations—happy, strong, tooth fairy, clip art, sad—on the top page alone. For years we’ve been advising dentists not to use extracted teeth (happy, extracted or otherwise) as a point of identification. It’s outdated and neither imaginative nor unique, but in this instance, the public doesn’t see the toothy image in a positive way. Instead the satirical news source, The Onion, took off on the dental cliché with this tongue-in-cheek (pun intended) article: Logo Of Smiling Cartoon Tooth Holding Brush Inspires Nothing But Confidence In Local Oral Surgeon.

For dentists, please get rid of the happy extracted teeth. And for all of us, consider how words and images (including teeth) may be perceived by the public and might backfire. An unintended interpretation can be confusing or alienate the target audience.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer & Creative Director at Healthcare Success
Over the years Stewart has personally marketed and consulted for over 1,457 healthcare clients, ranging from private practices to multi-billion dollar corporations. Additionally, he has marketed a variety of America’s leading companies, including Citicorp, J. Walter Thompson, Grubb & Ellis, Bally Total Fitness, Wells Fargo and Chase Manhattan. Stewart co-founded our company, and today acts as Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director. He is also a frequent author and speaker on the topic of healthcare marketing. His personal accomplishments are supported by a loving wife and two beautiful daughters.



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