2 years ago
Regular readers of my blog that take any kind of notice, should by now be aware that I don’t do lunch...
Now I don’t mean that in a Gordon-Gekko-Lunch-Is-For-Wimps type of way. That’s just so 1980’s. No, what I mean is that I simply don’t go out for lunch anymore – at least not on working days that is.
This has got nothing to do with diet, and even less to do with saving time. It’s simply a matter of my own self preservation...
You see, the area around my office is a De-Culinarised Zone, a Gastronomic Dessert comparable only to the Sahara. It’s impossible to go out and eat anything which hasn’t either been microwaved in a bag, marinaded in lard overnight, or served up by a baggy arsed, dermatologically challenged youth in a purple baseball cap.
For instance, at our local pub (and I swear this to be true) the most expensive thing on the menu costs just £2... and that’s 50 pence more than the next most expensive item! And while I’m no expert on the economics of the catering industry, I strongly suspect this sort of pricing structure does impose a few restrictions on the quality of the majority of the ingredients.
Further up the road, is another pub which offers a free meal with every five pints of beer consumed. I’m maybe being overly suspicious here, but I can’t help thinking that the landlord has assessed the culinary discernment of the average person who’s already drunk 5 pints of strong ale, and prepares his meals accordingly. So for obvious reasons, I still haven’t tried that one.
All of this is my roundabout way of explaining why instead of spending every lunchtime dining on rich foods and fine wines... having my every whim attended to... I tend to spend my time here, at my desk - with a sandwich and a newspaper.
And the newspaper I read over my lunch isn’t one of the highbrow broadsheets, and it’s not one of the middle of the road tabloids either. No... when I’m eating my lunch you can bet your last cheese and pickle sarnie that the paper I’ll have in front of me will have a red top...
And it will probably be The Sun.
You see, I don’t care about all the Sun reader jokes, or the inferences made about the intelligence of its readers, because there are a couple of things I know about The Sun (apart from the fact that it takes the same time to read as it takes to eat a salad sandwich) which makes it ideal for lunchtime reading...
Firstly, it’s the most popular daily paper in the country. A large proportion of the population is being exposed to the messages it contains every day. Did you know for example, that it has more readers from the A/B occupational groups than The Times does?
No matter how you judge the cause and effect issue, it’s a barometer on what people are interested in most and what they’re talking about. It doesn’t really matter whether they’re interested because they’re reading about it, or the newspaper is writing about it because they’re interested. The end result is the same.
And secondly, it’s a daily demonstration of how ‘ordinary’ people are accustomed to (and comfortable with) receiving and reading information.
So why is this of any interest?
Well, if you’re marketing products and services like this blog to real people, it makes sense to get fully in tune with what they’re interested in, what messages they’re accustomed to receiving, and how they like them to be presented.
And you’re not going to learn any of that from the bloody Guardian!
I really can’t for the life of me, imagine any would-be entrepreneur of any type reading The Guardian. Everything from the presentation, to the left wing stance, to the sneering intellectually superior ethos of the thing is the total antithesis of self reliance and entrepreneurship. Just reading the depressing public sector job advertisements for Lesbian Outreach Workers and Refugee Settlement Officers is enough to snuff out any entrepreneurial spark in anyone.
No... I’m afraid if you want to go where the real money is... if you want to learn how to market products and services to real people (Guardian readers don’t buy anything which isn’t knitted or crawling in ‘good’ bacteria anyway) then you need to get your hands dirty with popular culture. You need to find out what the masses are doing, are exposed to and are thinking about, and there’s no finer place to do that than in The Sun.
So what exactly can you learn from the most popular paper in the country?
Well obviously, this is going to change over time... the trends and fashions of the moment... but there are some vitally important marketing lessons I gleaned from the general content and presentation of the paper, which don’t ever change...
The first lesson concerns the way the paper is presented. Everything is geared towards its ease of handling and easy reading. It’s a handy size... no old fashioned oversized clumsy pages which don’t fold easily, and there are no long, difficult-to-read tracts of text.
The front page usually carries a massive headline and attention grabbing photograph. There are probably a few paragraphs of copy - written in simple, easy to understand language, perhaps with a few teasers about what’s to be found inside. It all serves to ease readers into the paper... to persuade people browsing at newsstands that they have to buy it and discover the exciting stories within. There really is no point in making them think it might be heavy going or boring.
And when you get inside the paper, it’s exactly more of the same. The text becomes a little denser, but there are still plenty of headlines, sub headings, paragraph breaks, and photographs to break it up into easily managed chunks.
The whole presentation encourages its reading...
And that’s precisely the sort of effect you need to achieve if you’re to make your communications as effective as possible. If your potential readers can’t be bothered to read what you have to say because it looks too daunting - they can never act on it. If they switch off from what you’re saying because you’re long winded and boring, you’ve lost your sale. (Mmmm, maybe that’s why I still don’t have the readership I would like).
The second lesson concerns content...
The Sun contains articles, information and reports on the sort of stuff which Joe and Joanne Public want to read about most. This does change over time, but there are certain themes which come up again and again. Several of them are encapsulated in what is probably the most famous Sun headline of them all...
Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster!
Aside from being a great newspaper headline, this 5 word gem also contains all the elements of a great advertising headline. So what are the perennial areas of human interest contained within that headline?
The most obvious is ‘celebrity’. People are fascinated by celebrities... what they do, where they go, how they spend their money, what they like, who they’re seeing, what they do in private. Everything!
Now... if you can work ‘celebrity’ into your writing, then you’re going to have a head start. That could be...
- a celebrity endorsement.
- a story about a celebrity using your product/service.
- a story about a celebrity which you can link to your product/service in some way.
...or maybe even something else (I can’t do all the work for you!). The important point is that people are very celebrity-conscious, and you can use this to very great effect in all of your works.
The second word in the headline is ‘ate’. This is a powerful word because it describes an activity which every single reader is familiar with. What’s more, it’s an activity which has a whole raft of emotions tied up within it. Just the mere thought of eating different things can evoke a reaction so strong that it becomes physical. So make that thing a hamster, and you can be sure you’ll have some attention... and a significant reaction too!
Can you imagine anyone reading that headline and not being compelled to find out more?
Did he really eat a hamster? What were the circumstances? Why did he do it? Was it alive or dead? Was it raw or cooked? What happened afterwards?
If you’re sitting there thinking that you wouldn’t be the least bit interested in such trivialities, and can’t understand why anyone would be, then I’d like to commend you on your good sense and intellectual superiority... and then advise you to never go into any business which involves pushing products and services to real people, because you’ll starve!
You might not like what turns people on... but if you’re to market anything to its full potential it’s vitally important that you understand it.
There’s one more word in that Freddie Starr headline which I haven’t mentioned yet. It’s such a small word that you might think it’s unimportant. The truth is that it’s of central importance... and is in fact the key to the success of thousands of print and TV advertisements...
And that word is ‘my’...
Freddie Starr didn’t eat ‘a’ hamster - he ate ‘my’ hamster! The use of the word ‘my’ indicates that this hamster belonged to someone, and the story you’re about to hear... if you read on... is a real person’s story.
Can you see how much more interesting ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’ is, than ‘Freddie Starr ate a hamster’?
The difference is ‘human interest’...
People are simply fascinated by other people almost as much as they are by celebrities... who believe it or not, are also people, but you know what I mean! Study stories in tabloid newspapers like The Sun, and almost every one focuses on the people behind the stories being covered. In political coverage, the personalities often take precedence over the policies. If there’s a weather story, it’s demonstrated through pictures of attractive people scantily clad or well wrapped up, as the conditions dictate. If there’s a new product being launched, it’s presented from the viewpoint of ‘ordinary people’... preferably with photographs again.
People are just more interesting than events, policies or products.
If you really want to interest and involve people in your work, then you need to stop talking about your product or service so much, and start talking about the people using it.
Potential ‘customers’ are far more interested in hearing of how real people are using your product, than reading about what it does. They’d rather see a picture of someone using your ‘thingamajig’ than the ‘thingamajig’ on its own. They’d rather hear your simple honest story of how you discovered or developed your wotsit... the hours you worked, the sacrifices you made, the failures you had along the way... than read some slick brochure about how great it is.
They want to know about the human aspects of what you do. You see, people are interesting. Products aren’t!
The bottom line is this...
1. If you’re going to make a great deal of money (and in the absence of some hitherto undiscovered talent) you’re probably going to have to market either a product or service to ordinary people.
2. There’s no place for snobbery of priggishness in any kind of marketing. You need to communicate with people using the things that interest them, and in a way which they will accept. You have to make it easy for them.
3. Most of us are much more ‘base’ in our desires, interests and motivations than we would have other people believe. Your potential customers... yes yours... aren’t quite as sophisticated as you may think.
4. There’s a great deal to learn by examining how the popular media communicate with their audience... what they say and how they say it. The people being exposed to that media on a daily basis are the same people you’re trying to reach out to.
Your potential ‘customers’ may not read The Sun, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be responsive to the sort of populist content and presentational themes which that paper, and others like it, typify.
So, if your slick and sophisticated approach isn’t getting the results you want, now could be a good time to experiment with getting your hands dirty.
P.S. Just want to make clear that when I refer to ‘ordinary’ people, I include myself and just about everyone else I know, in that description. It’s not meant as an insult. Fact is, you don’t have to scratch far below the surface on any apparent sophisticate before you find the greed-driven, sex crazed, social climbing, star-struck self-centred animal lurking underneath.
Or maybe that’s just me!
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