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Above All, Do No Harm
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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"Primum non nocere."

The above phrase is Latin, meaning "first, do no harm." The phrase is most popular in the world of physicians, for they take the Hippocratic Oath, which also has a phrase that is very similar. Physicians abide by the oath when they must consider when an intervention might do more harm than good. Recently, the phrase has found a home in the world of justice, where people and pundits believe the Supreme Court and other judges have not been taking into consideration the consequences of their rulings and interpretations.

So how can this apply to advertising? More easily than you think.

Advertising is supposed to be the way we inform or persuade consumers about a particular product or service. The message we create must be simple, concise, and targeted. Doing no harm is therefore making sure that our message does not deviate from its original intention.

Advertising provides a way to create awareness about the product, service, or brand that we represent. Advertising also is able to announce a call to action to those targeted consumers. Doing no harm, then, would make sure that the product, service, or brand is in the position to receive attention and to answer the calls in a prompt, satisfying manner.

Most importantly, advertising should not place the brand in a negative position. JC Penney saw this firsthand. JC Penney's market research was right, to a point. It discovered that its shoppers prefer getting certain name brands at discounted prices. So JC Penney rebranded in such a way that there would be no seasonal sales, but an everyday low-price boutique.

The thing was, JC Penney shoppers loved the perception of sales. They loved the fact that they could go to JC Penney and get a dress that was previously marked at $75 for $30; no matter if JC Penney planned to sell the dress at $30 anyway.

As we all know, JC Penney returned to the smoke and mirrors of sales promotions. They did harm, and they are slowing trying to come back from it. 

Advertising is a wonderful tool. But we must make sure that we use it right.


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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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