Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Late last night, I saw a public service announcement for an adult literacy and basic skills initiative here in DC. The ad shows a man standing and reading an ad posted in a metro car. He begins to speak in a loud voice, getting the attention of the other passengers nearby:

"Read this out loud because there's a chance someone close to you can't. A lot of people in DC have trouble with reading, writing, or math. Some need help with skills for work or to get a GED. Now there are programs designed to help people get the skills they need or their GED. These programs are free or low cost and are near bus or Metro stops."

Okay, that's excellent. And I think the "read this out loud" part is really brilliant. But then, in the ad, the man then reads this out loud:

"Call 1-866-READ-OUT."

Wait. Wait just one second. If you are illiterate, how the hell are you supposed to know how to spell "READ-OUT"??????? That's the end of the ad. It would have been very powerful except for the whole "let's mess with the people we want to help" element. WTF?

Now, to give due credit, I located a copy of the actual Metro poster here. And that poster does feature an actual phone number. But, seriously, folks - those same illiterate people are likely watching TV. In fact, the message is going to get across better in a direct TV presentation than as a stranger ranting on the Metro. (People like to ignore and tune out strangers who talk to themselves on the Metro.) Why not make the TV message as (theoretically) effective as the posters? Why not have the man read the digits for the phone number? It's not as if someone is going to turn to the person next to them on the sofa and say, "Excuse me. I can't read. Can you tell me how to spell the words that man said is the phone number for the literacy and skills hotline??" Oy vey.

Forgive me while I bang my head against a wall.

So shines a poorly executed good deed in a weary world.

No comments: