The Lost Art of Posing The Question


The other day I was enjoying the sunshine before the next cold front moved in when a couple smiled and engaged me on the street.

"We're trying to get to the Trump Tower. Well, a number of responses immediately popped into my head. But none of them had anything to do with providing directions to the destination. Why? Because they hadn't posed that question. Had they simply asked me how to get to...that place...I would have delivered the goods right away.

I know, the question was implicit, I suppose. I'm not a complete dimwit. But it got me to thinking about my own industry-scape. In advertising, we're increasingly tasked with delivering back-end data, analytics, response metrics, daily ROI trends, and what have you. Clients want to know the effectiveness of their investment, ultimately as it relates to sales. Can you blame them?

Well, given this state of affairs, why then are so many of us so resistant to asking The Question? You know the one. It starts with "How many" and ends with "would you like?" Or along those lines. Something very clear and unmistakable. The traditional sales close. It's been around since the dawn of people having something that other people want. Which, btw, is also when they invented advertising. Then why are we loath to come right out and say it? We avoid it. Like it's rude. Or (worse?) uncool.

I'm not talking about a high-pressure pitch, though those still work. I'm not even talking about an actual question. I'm talking about simply proposing - in no uncertain terms, mind you - that Dear Consumer take action. Visit the website. Buy. Sign up. Get more information. In other words, the challenge is not to get them to feel something, but to get them to do something.

I'm not proposing we ditch brand advertising. Not at all. Some of my best friends are brands. Critical part of the messaging architecture. But there is a case to be made for, somewhere along the line, selling stuff. There. I said it.

Look. If you want a date, you have to ask for the date. If you want a credit for poor service, you ask for it. If you want the guy on the bus to stop drooling on you, well... actually, you'd better be careful there. But you get the picture. You don't have to be rude, but you do have to be clear.

Let's not kid ourselves. People don't think advertising is entertainment. We're way past that. Everybody knows there's something being sold. So let's do consumers everywhere a favor. Don't apologize. Don't equivocate. Ask for the order. Ask for the sale. Ask for a response. It's not unseemly. It's what we're being paid to do.

Is it not?