As I was riding to the airport this past weekend in the back of a New York City cab, I was struck by a video that was playing on the in-seat TV. The video showed a barge (or some other type of boat, I don’t claim a wealth of nautical knowledge) unloading subway cars into the ocean. The volume was turned down, so I was unable to hear the audio. I naturally assumed that the video was a breaking story about some unsavory character that had been caught red-handed improperly disposing of city trash. However, when the video wrapped up, a go-green logo popped up. It turns out that this “ocean dumping” was actually being marketed as environmentally-friendly reef building.
I had a couple reactions. First, I was amazed that somehow, someone had convinced us that dumping trash in the ocean was not only okay, but was something to be applauded. (Disclaimer: I’m not passing judgment on the merits of trash dumping generally, or subway car dumping specifically.) Second, I reflected on the importance of a complete message. Had I not caught the closing graphic, I would have entirely missed the actual message being conveyed. Or worse, I could have gotten the wrong message. Instead of this or this, I saw this. It made me realize that evaluating potential misinterpretations of your message is almost as important as communicating the message in the first place.