What a 5-Year-Old Can Teach You About Compelling Communications

Even a Kid Will Filter Out Irrelevant Messages

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At business school I was taught about the importance of reach and frequency to run a successful campaign. I was conditioned to believe that if we had an adequate media budget, and a good planning strategy and message, we could generate valuable awareness for our clients. Sadly, nothing that anyone ever taught me in a classroom prepared me for the fragmented media landscape that we are all now living on a daily basis.

For a real lesson on the importance of compelling communications I need look no farther than my 5-year-old son. On a daily basis I have to repeatedly hound him, over and over, to do some of the most routine tasks. I'll say "dinner's ready" half a dozen times as he continues playing with his toys, acting like he's completely oblivious to what I'm saying. I can then take the same kid, put him in his room, close the door, and then proceed to talk about what my plans are for his next birthday party on the other side of the house and he will literally hear every single word. It's like he's got this innate sixth sense that allows him to process the stimulus all around him, and then simply focus on what's actually important to him. He's only five and he's already got the TiVo concept down to an art form, only instead of ads on TV, he's filtering his parents!

I think this, in many respects, is representative of how the average consumer processes marketing messages nowadays. In a go-go-go society with literally thousands of messages around every corner, people have become desensitized to what we call clutter. There is so much noise, in fact, that we often don't hear anything at all anymore. Bad ads have this way of blending in with the scenery and becoming wallpaper.

I'm a creative director, yet I'm often guilty of tuning out messages as well. I don't usually have the patience to sit through five minutes of annoying, condescending, bad ads during my favorite program. Sure, there may be some good ones in there, but why subject myself to all the garbage when I can seek out the entertaining TV spots later on my favorite ad blogs or YouTube?

For these reasons, I believe every piece of communications we develop as a profession, whether it's a website or a TV commercial, should be something the audience seeks out rather than tunes out. How does one go about that , you may ask? For starters, try to create material that 's engaging, and -- when appropriate -- entertaining. And if laughing isn't appropriate, make people cry or scream. Just find a way to connect on an emotional level in a meaningful and relevant way.

Most of the best marketing campaigns in the world now gain notoriety by people enjoying it so much that they choose to pass it along to their friends. And the only way people can share a message is if they first choose to hear a message. Only then will you tap into the cultural phenomena in which we are now able to peer review anything and everything we come in contact with via our social-media channels.

Fundamentally, we need to realize that the line between marketing and entertainment is blurring; boring communications will turn people off faster than a bad horror flick. We're no longer just in the selling business -- we're in the "hits" business. And if your communication isn't something your target audience connects with and embraces, then you should probably be spending your money in better ways.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thomas Stringham is the founding president and creative director of integrated marketing agency, Hot Tomali, the 2010 Ad Age International Small Agency of the Year. @ThomasStringham @HotTomali.
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