I already wrote several posts on the subject of how often obviously smart and educated people completely misunderstand our noble profession.
This fact was reflected for example in an e-mail which I received about a year ago from a patent lawyer who was looking for the best possible candidate for a complicated patent that he needed to have translated. The requirements contained in the e-mail did not guarantee at all that a well qualified candidate would be found for the job at hand. In fact, they more or less guaranteed that a candidate who would meet all of the requirements listed by a potential client, if one could be found, would most likely not be a very good translator as I am trying to explain in this post, which was incidentally also translated into Russian. (As you can see, I am very proud of the fact that my silly posts have been translated into at least half a dozen languages so far).
It should not be surprising that our clients often do not know what does a translator make. I am an expert at picking a good translator because translating and organizing and managing translations is what I have been doing for the last three decades, but I don’t know how to pick for example a plumber, or a car mechanic, or a dentist either.
I do know that the worst possible method to pick just about any professional is to pick one based on an advertising, especially when it is also offering a discount. I found out this the hard way when I needed a crown replaced when I lived in San Francisco 30 years ago.
As I was walking to work down Sutter Street near Union Square one day 30 years ago, I picked up a flier from some kid who was giving out to people fliers offering a discount of some kind for dental services. So I went inside the tall building from the thirties on Sutter Street, which was full of all kinds of small and large businesses offering professional services, and found the dentist’s office. The building look exactly like the building from the film Maltese Falcon in which Humphrey Bogart was playing the cynical private eye Sam Spade. It might have been the same building.
The dentist was a very nice, affable guy, I still remember that his first was Tom and the name of the perky blonde dental assistant who was helping him with my crown replacement, which was not such a complicated job, was Heidi … actually, now I remember, it was definitely, Gretchen, not Heidi. She had no accent, maybe her parents were German.
The problem was, Tom was a horrible dentist. When the crown fell out the first time, I figured I would give him the benefit of doubt and I let him replace it again. After all, I did not know any other dentists. When it fell out the second time, I started asking around for dentist recommendations and that is how I found a really good Chinese dentist based on a recommendation from somebody named Donna, a friend of a friend. The crown is still there – thank you so much, Donna!
Although giving out fliers to people passing or driving by was common practice in the pre-Internet days 30 years ago, these days this kind of advertising seems to be used mostly by large tax preparation services, pizza joints and fast food restaurants.
These days, marketing and advertising is in one form or another on just about every Internet site, in our e-mail (95% of our e-mail is spam), on commercial TV and radio stations, in our phone …. just about everywhere we look, somebody is trying to sell us something that we don’t need and don’t want, from soap and medications (legal but deadly drugs, so deadly that corporate lawyers decided that every drug commercial must include warning about side effects, horrific as they are, to cut down on litigation costs), to cars and presidents.
One day, entrepreneurial undertakers will figure out how to put glowing advertising slogans into cadavers about to be buried and how to sprinkle them in Benetton colors on the ashes of the dearly departed.
In America, marketing and advertising is slowly killing the soul of the country. About 15 years ago, under pressure from senior citizens, the US Congress in its wisdom designed a system for stopping unsolicited telephone calls by creating the Do Not Call Database where you could register your phone number to stop unwanted telephone calls. It worked for a few years – after I registered my number, the onslaught of unwanted phone calls was reduced to a trickle. But Internet rendered the Do Not Call Database largely irrelevant now because all the assorted peddlers, tricksters and fraudsters have to do now is to pick a new virtual telephone number on the Internet.
The phone is ringing incessantly again on some days, and since everybody has a call ID, most people prefer not to answer their phone unless a legitimate name of a real person or company is displayed on the call ID. The practices prevalent in the phone soliciting industry in our computerized age are so savagely ruthless that the industry seems to be intent on killing its own business model.
To maximize efficiency, automated dialing systems are used now to determine at what time a live person is most likely to answer a phone. Because there is nobody on the other end when a person answers a phone, only a long, ominous silence is heard. Especially old people who do not always understand how the digital universe works are often scared by this because it looks like stalking. It is stalking, but who gives a damn. Once you answer your phone at a certain time, the system will store the time in the database with your phone number because that is when marketing of soap, medications and presidents by real people, generally poor souls who can’t find a real job, will start.
This is a very efficient system, so efficient that the marketers rarely do get to talk to a live person. In fact, it is so efficient that based on the law of diminishing returns, the phone marketing industry should one day kill itself in this manner.
Some people think that there are many signs the end of this world coming, sooner rather than later, and that these signs are plain to see if you only keep your eyes open.
Some people think that legalization of marihuana is such a sign, some people think it’s gay marriage. I think that our civilization will in the end be killed by advertising. Advertising started by doing its best to kill off fixed phone lines first. I still have a fixed phone line for my business number, but I don’t answer it unless I recognize the name on the call ID as that of a legitimate person or company and I find myself using my cell phone instead whenever possible. From fixed phone lines, the advertising business moved to e-mail, which became a useless, hateful chore as most of us try to delete the e-mails as quickly as possible instead of reading them. The result is that sometime we inadvertently remove important messages.
If advertisers are allowed to move from wired phones and e-mail to cell phones and text messages, they may eventually succeed in eliminating also cell phones as an efficient means of communication in the same manner as they did wired phone lines and e-mail, and rather than legalized marihuana or gay marriage, that will be the end of our civilization, because civilization cannot survive in a society in which people can no longer communicate with each other.
So I don’t use any advertising anymore. I have my business website and I am listed in the ATA database of translators, which still works as I wrote in another post. I also strategically place key words into my silly blog posts because these may be picked up by Google and other search engines, hopefully leading potential customers to my business website.
But that’s it. I don’t want to pollute this world with any more advertising. I think it has more marketing and advertising that it can handle already.
I believe that the best form of advertising is still when you do good work, because if you can do that, your customers are likely to recommend your services to other people the way Donna recommended her Chinese dentist (whose name I unfortunately forgot, except that I remember that it was one of those phony-sounding English names that Chinese and Jewish immigrants of certain generation used to like to give to their American children).
And I always thank profusely, usually by e-mail, a customer who recommends my services to another customer, because I think that unlike just about any other type of advertising, this is the kind of advertising that this world in fact needs.