De Niro, Taxi Driver and Marketing

Taxi1It’s one of the more iconic moments in film over the last three decades.  Robert De Niro plays taxi driver Travis Bickle, who in one chilling scene looks at himself in the mirror, a pistol up his sleeve, and says to an imaginary adversary, “Are you talkin’ to me?  You talkin’ to me?”

What’s this have to do with marketing?  Well, as consumers we’re actually all asking this question whether we think about it or not.  Because the only marketing that breaks through the clutter is that in which the message undeniably speaks directly to the reader/viewer/listener/user from his or her own perspective.  The reader/viewer/listener/user knows for certain, “You’re talkin’ to me!”

Here’s what I mean:

Recently, we saw an ad for mortgage company with a photo of a man dressed in a business suit leaning backwards like an acrobat.  The headline said “Can your mortgage broker do this?”  On the surface, you might say that’s a humorous, attention-getting ad.   But really, it’s just showing a visual pun without telling any compelling story about what flexibility means to the reader. It’s just saying so and nothing more.  Compare that to another mortgage company’s ad that showed one of those toy labyrinths where the steel ball might drop through one of a dozen holes in the maze at any turn, and the headline says “We know just how you feel about refinancing your house.”   The first ad speaks from the company’s point of view, the second speaks from the reader’s.  There’s no question that in the second ad, the reader knows “You’re talkin’ to me!”

If you want your audience to connect with your message, it has to be based on their real experiences and what’s in it for them, instead of all the features you have to offer.

It’s ridiculous that I have to say this but the memo has not reached the desk of many marketers, so here goes: “It’s not about what your company wants to say but rather about what the customer wants to hear.” (I feel better having said it.) Look, if you want to market based on your personal preferences without regard for what works best with your prospects, that’s your prerogative.  But I’d suggest that your company’s marketing not be so self-absorbed. Remember, you don’t buy from you, others buy from you and they don’t care about your business and your troubles nearly as much as you do. Most people are tuned into Radio Station W.I.I.F.M. —“What’s In It For Me!” If your marketing message is all about you, then your customers won’t notice what you’re saying.  Please begin to “tune” into your customers, find out what they really want and focus your message on them.

We recently conducted a webinar about exhibiting at a major trade show that one of our client’s exhibits at.  It’s tragic how many booths fail to attract traffic simply because they don’t design their exhibits from the audience’s perspective.  They’re loaded with too much feature-based content and lack a simple benefits-oriented message.  No one passing by would stop and say “You’re talking to me!”

A shift in perspective from speaking about yourself to speaking from the audience’s point of view can be remarkably effective.  Witness a beautiful commercial for a British online content company featuring a blind man whose original cardboard sign talks about himself,
“I’m blind.  Please help.”   But when a caring passer-by changes the words to be more audience-focused, something powerful happens.  As marketers, the symbolism of what you or your firm can offer the organization, is front and center.

No matter what you sell, manufacture or service, it’s critical that you change your marketing message’s perspective from talking at your audience to talking to them, causing them subconsciously to acknowledge, yes, “You’re talkin’ to me!”


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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