Delivering results that are just too good

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By Ben Carlson

I bumped into a frustrated fellow Monday night who wanted a help wanted ad he purchased pulled from this week’s paper.
Seems the ad, which ran last week for a minimum wage, temporary position, had generated so many phone calls that his phone was ringing almost non-stop.
“I can’t take it anymore,” he said. “Just today we’ve received 40 calls.”
I told the fellow I’d do what I can to oblige even though it was well past our normal advertising deadline.
I chalked that conversation up as yet another example of the unintended consequences of what we do here at The Anderson News.
I interact with people each week who are affected by what appears in this newspaper. There’s the usual anger about daddy or momma showing up in the court docket for a DUI or some such offense, and there’s the unbridled joy of seeing a loved one’s name or image in print.
Then there are those who, like the fellow above, become slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the reaction they’ve received from of what they’ve asked to be printed — both in news and advertising.
Here are a couple of examples.
Earlier this year, the police rounded up a bunch of suspected pill pushers and hauled them off to jail. Knowing the scourge on our community that illegal prescription pill use has become, I decided to plaster the photos of those caught across the top of the front page.
Content that I had performed a service to the community, my balloon was popped a couple days later by a caller who verbally blistered my butt.
“Do you know what you’ve done?” the angry caller said. “These people won’t stay in jail for long, and anyone who didn’t already know they pushed pills will certainly know it now.
“All you’ve done is drive more business to these people, and you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Mercifully, he slammed down the phone and spared me the indignity of having to respond on a rare occasion when I couldn’t think of a thing to say.
Did I really just make Anderson County’s pill problem worse? I didn’t think so, but the man had certainly raised a point that I had not once considered.
Want another? Remember the burgoo cook-off the paper organized this fall that served as a fundraiser for the sheriff’s Shop With a Cop program?
I blew our horn loud and long in the paper leading up to the cook-off, and equally as loudly afterward. I couldn’t have been happier that, thanks to some help from the union folks at Four Roses, we had raised about $1,000 for such a great program.
Just as my arm began to tire from patting myself on the back, along came the unintended consequences.
While on the phone with the sheriff, he mentioned that he had scheduled a meeting with the folks who help select children for Shop With a Cop because, frankly, all the publicity the program received had people calling in droves to get their children on the list.
I knew the selection process was already difficult enough, and I couldn’t help but feel that my tiny effort to help had increased the burden on those with the impossible job of picking and choosing which children would get Christmas gifts through the program — and which ones wouldn’t.
Then there’s the story of the now defunct Chinese buffet near Walmart that went absolutely bananas when its owners ran a full-page ad shortly after they opened.
Against my best advice, the ad offered a free buffet — no strings attached — for anyone using a coupon. We tried several times to explain to the owners that such an offer would likely overwhelm them, but they insisted.
About the only thing that draws a bigger crowd than free food is free beer, and sure enough the place was overrun. The owners soon stopped honoring the coupon, which inflamed the crowd to the point that the police had to be called.
Each of these examples — and I could go on for pages — validates my belief in the awesome power of what we do, even if that power delivers results that are a bit overwhelming.
Or come with unintended consequences.