For one week last month, several cable channels ran a television commercial promoting America’s truck drivers and the American Trucking Associations. The commercial was produced and funded by Internet job-matching service Monster (formerly Monster.com) as payback for the company’s controversial Super Bowl ad. You may recall the Monster ad, which featured a driverless truck careening out-of-control, while trucking radio legend Bill Mack intoned: “Somewhere a trucking company needs a driver. Somewhere a driver needs a job.”
Pretty clever, I thought. So did many of you: Nearly 50 percent of respondents to an eTrucker.com poll found the Monster ad funny. The ATA – along with several other trucking industry organizations – did not. They went ballistic, saying the ad projected a negative image of hard-working American truck drivers.
In case you missed this part – as apparently many in the industry did – there was no driver in the ad. That was the point: Without a good driver, a truck is a dangerous thing. What better way to drive home the importance of America’s professional drivers?
Despite the ad’s overall positive message – not to mention the fact that its goal was to recruit needed drivers – it enraged many in trucking. Why? Because trucking has a chip on its shoulder. We have a bad image. We know it. And boy, are we prickly about it. So we berate a company that spent a bundle to run a trucking ad during the premier Super Bowl time slot.
The trucking industry is not alone in its rush to take offense. Every day one group or another decries some company’s ad campaign as agist, sexist or racist. (Would the Monster ad be truckist?) Taking offense has become the new national pastime. An ad runs. One group or another claims discrimination or stereotyping. The advertiser publicly apologizes. The offended parties feel vindicated. Soon the only ads that run will be those that are so sanitized of anything interesting that they won’t even create a blip on Americans’ radar screens.
Which brings us to the pro-trucking ad that aired last month. It featured clean-cut truckers talking about the importance of their jobs. Will it have a positive – or any – impact on the general public’s view of trucking? Not likely. But at least it won’t offend anyone.
Psychologists say one sign of healthy individuals is the ability to laugh at themselves. Somewhere along the way, many in the trucking industry have lost that ability. Until we learn to differentiate truly harmful messages from those that are simply humorous, it will be difficult to maintain our credibility.