Useless messages by marketers like me

Ramit Sethi · March 15th, 2007

I’m in Detroit giving a talk for PBwiki today.

I’m at the airport right now and I keep hearing this message repeated over and over:

“Attention passengers: The Transportation Security Administration has limited the the items able to be carried through the security screening process. Please check with your air carrier for further information.”

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On the 34th time this message was played, I actually listened to it. It struck me how absurd it was: This message is basically telling me, “You can’t do something. To find out what we’re not allowing you to do, go out of your way to ask your airline carrier for details.”

What can’t I carry? What is an air carrier, anyway? Who do I talk to? And why would I go out of my way to find out what I can’t do?

I’d rather take my chances at the security check.

I’m willing to bet you that over the last month, this message resulted in exactly 0 people inquiring about what they can’t take on board. What a waste.

I also bet that some misguided marketer wrote this announcement that as a way to cover his ass: “We told them to check with their airline carrier!” Technically true. But if you spend $10,000 to implement something and it results in 0 responses, you’ve failed.

I got so tired of listening to the terrible marketing advice out there, that I created a massive Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing. In this FREE 8-part guide, you’ll learn which marketing strategies you should start with, and which you can safely ignore. Check it out here.

I could message people all day at PBwiki. Did you know you can create a new page! What about a sidebar? How about exploring our Premium options? Sometimes I want to, and sometimes I experiment with it, but not very often. There’s something very special about leaving people alone unless it’s really important.

How many useless messages do you hear today? Ones that don’t give you actionable intelligence, but just create noise? This is why I read so few personal-finance magazines. I don’t need to know about the latest change in the Emigrant Direct rate or the 10 best stocks to buy. I’d rather seek out two good books than have 78 RSS feeds. In the best case, it’s just noise. In the worst, it’s bad information or information that just encourages me to debate minutiae, not really get anything done.

Here are some recent examples from CNN Money. Note the titles and timestamps.

Just because something is there doesn’t make it important. Often, it’s quite the opposite.

As I finish typing this, another message is now coming over the loudspeaker:

“Attention: Unauthorized limousine solicitation is prohibited in the airport. If you are approached by an unauthorized limousine representative, please report it immediately to an airport police officer.”

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  1. Can you file this post under “noise”?

    Haha, keep up the good work Ramit!

  2. I also hear that message about bringing stuff on the plane…when I am already past security. If I made it this far, you think I am going to through my stuff away now? Ridiculous.

  3. My Two Dollars - A place to discuss money..for the rest of us. » Thursday Morning Money - No Sleep Edition

    […] I Will Teach You To Be Rich has a message for marketers with useless messages. […]

  4. Last time I was in the airport I heard a similar message, but it actually mentioned (vaguely) that liquids would need a plastic bag. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but it was a touch better than Detroit apparently.

  5. Brendan

    All of the Monday articles were written by the same person, even. Jeez.

  6. I recently spent some time in Southern California and I heard that exact same stupid message (I’m from Detroit and my route included the DTW and LAX both ways). I didn’t realize how stupid it really was until you just mentioned it.

  7. DC’s Metro system runs tons of announcements like that. My favorite is the one that asks passengers to report anything “out of the ordinary” to Metro employees. They never explain what they mean by “out of the ordinary.” And sometimes the announcements are pure noise, because the recordings are so badly done that they are unintelligible!

  8. pamutron

    wow, that’s nothing. obviously you’ve never been to japan. everything that can make some sort of noise DOES make some noise. for example, taking an escalator? “caution, you are getting on the escalator, be careful. you are riding the escalator, take care! you’re reaching the end of the escalator, be careful!” i wish i were kidding.

  9. Blair Christopher

    Maybe there is too much information pollution in the world. I think we treat messages like this like we do the ads we here on the radio or see on tv. We either turn down the volume or “fast forward” through them with our Tivos. Every marketer is fighting for a space in your memory someway or another.

    If there was a way to graph how the information available has increased versus how much information we retain over time, I’d be interested to see that.

  10. Would the airline message really be from a marketer? It sounds like a mandate from legislation.

    The CNN articles…yeah…that’s pretty funny.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Just the other day I noticed subway ads in Boston warning people to report suspicious bags and pacakges. IN BOSTON.

    Have they already forgotten that the whole city was turned upsidedown a few weeks ago when some people overreacted to a “suspicious” “device”?

    Clearly, we’ve all already heard enough airport reminders to absorb that cruicial piece of wisdom.

    Who’s to blame for all of this? Lawyers, right?

  12. pamutron, I used to go to Japan a lot…i know the term…
    “End of the walk is ahead, please watch your step”.

    Somehow is it really marketing? I think its their disclaimer really! (We told you so!!)

  13. Victor Redmond

    This one makes sence “One’s first step in wisdom is to kuesstion everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.”