On to Ontology and Taxing Tax Taxonomy
On my way in to the office today I heard a radio advertisement for tax preparation software. I’ve been hearing this ad everywhere, all across the radio dial, and it’s pretty memorable. For a couple of reasons, but primarily because its subject matter seems to have so little to do with tax preparation software. We hear a woman’s voice coming from what sounds like the interior of a moving automobile, and she’s talking about the way that GPS has totally solved her stubborn husband’s (cue his grunting noises here) navigational deficiencies and refusal to ask for directions. She invokes the acronym GPS seven or eight times over the thirty seconds that the ad runs, talks about turn-by-turn directions, and doesn’t make the pivot from GPS in your car to GPS for your taxes until well beyond the mid-way point. When she finally does make the pivot, she just goes ahead and says “this tax software is like GPS for your taxes” and the ad is done.
It strikes me that this ad is a great example of the malleability of ontology. In my entry in the “Explain IA” contest last week I shared an idea that I’ve been working on for a few years now, a pet theory of information architecture which posits ontology, taxonomy and choreography as its primary concerns. I like to think about the ways that information architects shape ontology and taxonomy as being meaningfully similar to how architects shape place and space. The tax software marketers who’re mixing these metaphors and breaking the standard retail ontologies and labeling systems of consumer electronics and desktop software are doing information architecture.
Are they doing it wrong? If you did a survey in the Grand Rapids, Michigan radio market and measured consumer awareness of the GPS ad for tax software, it’s probably an impressive number. And the craftiness of these marketers’ manipulation of ontology and taxonomy in the ad would have a lot to do with its success on the radio I’d reckon. What these marketers seem to have missed though while designing the information architecture for this campaign is choreography. The ad closes with a voiceover read-thru of the tax software provider’s web address, but when it comes to extending these novel ontologies and taxonomies from the radio campaign to the web, there’s some key bits of choreography that’re missing. I did a Google search for “taxes GPS” a few minutes ago, and here’s the results page. Same story over at Bing. Even if you give them a softball query and include the keyword “software” the connectivity between the radio ad and internet content just isnt there.
Nevertheless, I say hooray for the marketers who write copy for radio and the way they’ve done the IA for TurboTax on the radio. This crisp and effective ad grabbed my attention because it made the complex clear. It took something I understand as being easy and a game-changer and then applied it as a frame to something I understand as being hard and in need of game change. And they provide what I think is a helpful illustration of my pet theory of IA.