Just saw a new ad from the National Association of Realtors for realtor.com that was fascinating in light of my current reading of Everything is Miscellaneous and past reading of Don’t Make Me Think. In the ad, realtor.com is pictured as a gigantic warehouse-type store, with colonial style houses in this section, mortgage lenders down that aisle over there, and helpful salespeople pointing the way.
And I just finished reading the section in “Everything is Miscellaneous” where David Weinberger discusses how much better Amazon’s system of multiple classifications is than Staples’s physical store requirement of a single place per item. In fact, if I go to realtor.com and say I’d like to find a house using advanced search, I’m presented with a form that lets me choose one or multiple criteria. The actual system is more like Amazon’s (well, in having multiple options at least), in spite of the ad’s suggestion that Staples is the right model.
So why does the Realtors’ ad promote the wrong model of their website? Possibilities:
1. They’re counting on their audience to know it’s a metaphor and take away only the friendly, helpful, organized attitude of the ad.
2. The ad’s audience might not be particularly comfortable with the web, so the Realtors think relating the site to something the audience is familiar with might help them.
3. The experience of the site does look like the warehouse – after you enter the information you want, you get neat classified shelves of colonial style houses if that’s what you asked for – but the warehouse can be differently organized for everyone.
4. The ad agency simply didn’t understand this was the wrong model.
My guess would be some combination of 2 and 4, with 3 hopefully becoming more clear to a site visitor after they’ve clicked around for a while. 3 is the promise of Weinberger’s book (I hit the point on my evening commute today where repetition of his core idea began annoying me – 175 pages to go!).
But there’s an additional problem with the ad. Where’s the helpful salesperson? In “Don’t Make Me Think”, Steve Krug talks about making each choice obvious. If I’m lost in Staples and want to know where the three-ring binders are, I ask a salesperson – and in the Realtors’ ad, someone does ask for directions. If I’m lost on realtor.com and want to know where the mortgage lenders are, there’s actually no Help section. I’d better know they’re in Home Finance – or be lucky enough that clicking randomly gets me to the right place. That’s a failure of content and navigation, and could destroy the ad’s good impression.