Stay Out of the Content Doghouse

So many advertisements from the past seem cringeworthy now. They were undeniably sexist when they came out – today, it boggles the mind to consider that anyone thought they were acceptable. 

A popular trope in these ads is a husband giving his wife a “gift” of something wholly unromantic – a vacuum cleaner, or an oven , or even a toaster – and assuming it was something she longed for.

Narrator: “It wasn’t.” 

A decade ago, JCPenny turned the trope on its head with its Beware of the Doghouse video. In it, a man gets sentenced to the doghouse after gifting his wife a “dual bag vacuum cleaner.” Even this content is a little off: It perpetuates the trope of the clueless husband – and suggests the only way out of the doghouse is through the gift of jewelry. 

Most recently, fitness company Peloton found itself in the proverbial doghouse when its Christmas advertisement went viral for all the wrong reasons.

At one point or another, we’ve all given gifts to our friends, family, or loved ones that were just wrong. I’ve learned this in my 25+ years of marriage: If I have to preface a gift by saying, “Once you open this, I’ll explain it to you,” I should think twice before wrapping it up.

The same goes for our professional lives. A content strategy leader at a tech company recently told me about her challenges with setting new content standards. She and her team spent a good deal of money, time, and effort to develop new documented personas, associated customer journey maps, and editorial guidelines. They spent a month trying to roll out these new tools by doing lunch and learns with each of the different teams to explain how the tools could be used.

It didn’t go well.

None of the other groups – sales enablement, product marketing, or the social media team – had asked for these tools. More importantly, none of them knew what to do with them. In their view, the tools represented things that would make their jobs more complex. 

The content crew gave the other teams vacuum cleaners – and wound up in the doghouse.

I shared with the content leader an approach I developed for my marriage so many years ago. When we acquire any helpful but, perhaps, unexciting tool – a new vacuum cleaner, toaster, etc. – we go about it as a team. The concept we “sell” each other isn’t the benefit of the tools – it’s the joint vision of a cleaner house (or better bagels).

Whether or not content tools are gifts to the organizations, how and when you present them matters. Do those lunch-and-learns earlier – when you’re selling that vision of what the tools will bring to each part organization. Then, when the tools arrive, you’re simply training people to use something they’re already expecting. 

At home, I’m the designated manual reader and trainer for every new appliance. But we decide together which appliances we need. 

Just remember, if you have to explain your “gift” of content tools, you may be headed for the doghouse.

It’s your story. Tell it well.


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