A Scorecard for Stinky Messages

If you live in the New Orleans area, you've likely seen on this logo on the sides of garbage trucks, dumpsters, and port-o-potties around the city.

"Our business stinks, but it's picking up!" This tagline's clever double meaning made me laugh when I first saw it.

I like it.

But from a marketing perspective, how much should liking a message matter? Within an organization, some people may like one message best, while others prefer a different one. If there's a conflict, whose opinion should win?

And even if a message is well liked by everyone, the ultimate question should be, "Is the message effective?" Likeability and effectiveness overlap, but they're not the same.

Effective marketing messages share common traits, including being:

  • Unexpected
  • Short
  • Emotional
  • Significant
  • Core

Let’s look at how the disposal company's tagline fares according to the criteria:

  • UnexpectedUnexpected encompasses surprise and cleverness. Here the tagline does well. Score: 5/5.
  • Short – At seven words and nine syllables, it's kind of long for a tagline. Score: 2/5.
  • Emotional – The message doesn't aim for the most visceral emotions like fear, hope or love, but amusement is emotional. Score: 3.5/5.
  • SignificantSignificant entails whether the message relates to something the audience cares about. The message (at least the top-level meaning) is about the state of "our business," which really just concerns the owners. Score: 1/5.
  • Core – The underlying message is "We pick up trash (anything that smells)." It’s descriptive of the business but very general. Still, the tagline's humor establishes a core aspect of the brand. Score: 2.5/5.

Total score: 14/25.

My assessments are admittedly subjective, and others could assign different values. The overall point remains. When uncertain about how to assess marketing messages, it's best to take "liking" out of the equation. Replace that idea with "effectiveness," and aim for a high score.