Tuesday, November 21, 2017 | Today's Vending Industry News
The Rules Of The Road

Posted On: 9/8/2017

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In the light of all the current discussion about the responsibility of publishers for the content they present, this seems like a good time to explain the longstanding VT approach. All publishers have the right to refuse editorial and advertising that they deem inappropriate. From time to time I have had to exercise that right, even though I risked losing advertising revenue or being accused of censorship.

The refusal of a publisher to accept an advertisement (or to publish a submission) that seems likely to offend for no good reason is not "censorship." Censorship always has been understood as government prohibition of publishing something, enforced by penalty of law. No private publisher has that power.

What a publisher does have is responsibility for maintaining standards of civil discourse. Publishers will understand that responsibility in terms of the audience they reach; for a trade magazine, this readership will be members of a particular industry. An industry survives and prospers to the extent that it's relevant to its customers and provides value to them. An industry creates organizations that disseminate useful information to its members and strive to give outsiders an informed understanding of what those members do. These organizations include trade publications and trade associations. Ideally, all of these work together in mutual support.

As I've said before, an industry has to reconcile the natural desire of its members to compete vigorously with one another, on the one hand, and on the other, to recognize external threats and work together for the common good. The vending industry has done a better-than-average job in this regard; in large part because it has recognized the importance of the old salesman's motto, "don't knock the competition."

Vending and coffee service operators know that, when approaching a prospective account, it is a thoroughly bad idea to denounce the prospect's current service provider as a ramshackle, slipshod organization. To do so seldom helps in gaining new business; after all, the prospect chose that service provider, and probably will resent the implied suggestion that it was a stupid choice. Perhaps worse, accusing a fellow operator of incompetence affects outsiders' image of the industry as a whole.

This also is true of manufacturers and suppliers, although the violation of civility and the likely unfavorable outcome are different. At the most basic level, any or all of those industry segments may be confronted at any time by a law or regulation enacted by people who have no understanding of the industry, and no concern with its members or their customers. These threats must be met by working together, sometimes for extended periods of time. Bitter personal hostility makes this a whole lot harder to do.

Can you remember ever seeing an advertising campaign that accused the products offered by the advertiser's competitors of being junk? I studied advertising and journalism at the University of Maryland (circa 1988) and after long reflection, I couldn't come up with one. Sure, Avis implied that its great competitor was larger and thus in danger of becoming complacent, so Avis had to be more attentive, responsive and flexible. The campaign was widely acclaimed; you will observe that Avis never said that Hertz's customer service was slovenly, or that they didn't maintain their cars.

You always can talk about the features of your product without abusing the rival's offering. For example,

"Pepsi-Cola hits the spot:
Twelve full ounces -- that's a lot!
Twice as much for a nickel, too;
Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you!"

The competition was never even mentioned, but everyone knew who it was. The actual claim was verifiable.

I keep this imperative in mind when reviewing advertisements submitted to VT, along with "propriety" in its wider sense. Some readers will be offended by certain presentations, and there is no reason to offend them. This tends to be a moving target; I can recall when running an ad depicting a scantily clad young woman leaning on a prize crane with the caption, "This baby screams 'Grab me!'" could prompt angry letters about trashing public morals and fostering indecency. This is much less likely to happen nowadays.

But taking care with competitive claims is not conditioned by the changing tenor of the overall culture. Fundamentally, all of us depend on the prosperity of the industry in which we're engaged. We may compete strongly with one another, but we must not endanger the reputation of the business we're in, and we must be ready to unite against legislative and regulatory threats.

Declining to publish something that I believe to be destructive isn't "censorship" in any sense of the word. And I'd rather lose an ad than risk damaging the industry in which I grew up, and which I do my best to serve.