Opinion

In this divided attention economy, words that stick in everyone’s heads have never been more of a brand asset

In good news for brand communication, says Mamamia group director Rob Farmer, ideas expressed in memorable language have immunity.

Maybe it’s because I grew up on Beanz Meanz Heinz on toast, surrounded by people saying It’s Good To Talk, with Blur singing Vorsprung durch Technik on my father’s Hello Tosh Gotta Toshiba, that I’ve always looked up to the copywriter’s unusual talent.

Uncommon reduction that captures the public’s imagination, and earns a place in the vernacular – the public’s medium that doesn’t do paid.

I don’t see this power of language in brand communication wavering – the opposite. I think we’ve never been in a time where ‘coming to mind’ has been so well served by a few expertly-chosen words.

Three reasons:

1. The difference

iOS and Android keep improving pictures, but not words. Professional image makers’ difference has been diluted by the deluge. Copywriters, on the other hand, stand out in the sea of emoji. And their grasp of where the art meets the science remains rare: like the human bias to judge a statement to be more truthful, if it’s rewritten to be easier to process (‘fluency bias’).

Remember “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”?

Recent Australian export “Tonight I’ll Be Eating” was different from the word go. Put the expensive cameos to one side, and there’s a craft in the copy that most budgets can afford. A universal need state (that we mostly leave it late to decide) is associated with UberEats, by a line that’s unusual in having no ending. The invitation for consumers and executions to fill in the blank builds a second association, that UberEats’ endless choice offers something for every taste and mood.

John Hegarty, creative founder of BBH, would often say the most effective brand work leaves a gap for the audience to fill in, to draw them in. He had walked his talk in a big way when BBH dropped Vorsprung durch Technik on Thatcher’s Britain in 1982, helping to alter the image of Audi forever.

Top writing stands out on any screen today like it always has.

2. The repeatability

A more divided attention economy makes it harder for communication to be remembered.

“The pandemic has accelerated the migration to digital media and entertainment. The global industry is experiencing a major shift… The new generation of consumers have been brought up to view advertisements as an annoyance, to be skipped or avoided, and who are increasingly demanding personally-curated, individualised and on-demand experiences.” (PwC 2020-2024 Outlook)

Deloitte’s 2020 media study found the same shift in the mix towards streamed video, social media, podcasts and gaming, particularly amongst the under 40.

With single moments of Super Attention increasingly scarce, repeatability becomes brand communication’s necessary ingredient for fame, rather than nice-to-have, because it soaks up attention across platforms and across time.

A few memorable words are surely the simplest form that highly repeatable meaning can take. It’s easier to travel far and wide if you’re travelling light.

And it’s repeatable by the audience X repeatable by the marketing team, wrapping in the same brand codes as they go.

Politics has got particularly strong at it. Stop The Boats. Brexit. The Brexit bus. Take Back Control. Defeat Crooked Hillary. With Basket Of Deplorables she unfortunately fell on her pen.

Cambridge Analytica executed perhaps the most perfectly evil ‘brand response’ campaigns the world has ever seen: with unchecked computer targeting to persuadables at the sales activation level, integrated with highly catchy common language over the top.

3. The economics

Words are cheap, relatively speaking. And the better they are the cheaper they are to scale. If you’re lucky you might even get a two-in-one: intended associations conveyed at the same time as the code of your name. ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ probably took this as far as it can go, all the way to mainstream comedy on an ad-free channel.

If this hasn’t been persuasive, maybe a copywriter’s pithier advice will be.

When it’s hard to be heard, the ancient poet Rumi suggested: “Raise your words, not your voice.”

Rob Farmer is group director, marketing and partner solutions of Mamamia.

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