During the recently completed U.S. Open, tennis fans had more than a few opportunities to see an American Express ad featuring John McEnroe. Appearing totally in character, he begins by shouting into a telephone, demanding why he (of all people) would be paying for tennis lessons, as shown on his American Express statement. The customer service representative on the other end of the call calmly explains that their dispute resolution service would look into the situation for him. McEnroe initially seems astounded that anyone would like such an amicable approach to handling a dispute. Transformed, he visits an umpire from days gone by to acknowledge that maybe a call McEnroe had disputed (presumably vehemently) was not in error after all.
What does the ad say about dispute resolution? At least two things, I would suggest.
First, most people are the polar opposites of John McEnroe: where he seemed to thrive on confrontation, most people exhibit completely different tendencies. People avoid, deny, and cave in to avoid confrontation. If forced to endure it, they certainly don’t thrive on it.
Second, context matters. When McEnroe was at his peak, his conduct on the court was unusual. He argued loudly, frequently, and intensely. That sort of behavior was not the traditional way in tennis. Some people found it very offensive.
What does the ad tell us about advertising? American Express would like to you to believe that their dispute resolution process is so good, that even someone who enjoys the fight can see the value in letting go of hostility. Imagine how happy the typical person would be.