Mind Your Language

Many years ago I showed some draft copy to my creative director. I was very pleased with it and thought that it was great advertising copy. After he agreed that it was great advertising copy, he asked me to take out “all of the marketing.” It made the copy a thousand times better and gave me an important lesson that has stayed with me: write like a real person. Be persuasive, but speak in the language of the customer - because if you talk like a door-to-door salesman, you'll be about as welcome.

Today, I find myself in a business that makes it harder to stick to that rule. In the healthcare space we simply cannot say everything that we want to say and the lawyers make us speak like, well, lawyers. We worry over every word and phrase. We create our own lexicons and, ultimately, can end up talking to ourselves.

A while back our agency was working on an asthma product for children. We were trying to help our client market a nebulizer, but not getting much traction. Social listening and search revealed the answer: we were using the correct language, but moms were not; they called it an inhaler rather than a nebulizer. As soon as we embraced consumer language, the campaign started to become more successful.



A recent campaign in the flu vaccine category took a regular character we are used to seeing in Pharma spots and recast him as a real person. The campaign included a series of web videos and a TV commercial that each featured a doctor whose job it was to recite the safety information. But, as the campaign developed, the audience got so much more about him as a character: he was an entertaining host, a good neighbor, he had a falling out with his wife and he was both funny and serious. Just like regular people.

L'Oreal reportedly turned around its Elvive business by playing with convention in a similar way. Beauty products have been trying to prove they work with very serious science and method of action films for years. Halfway into the L'Oreal spots Jennifer Anniston would playfully announce, "Here comes the science part ... concentrate!" In one short phrase they let us in on the joke and brought us into the story. In turn, we brought them into our lives - "here comes the science bit ..." quickly made it popular culture.  It even appeared in “Jurassic Park.”

Bill Bernbach is often quoted about the art of advertising. The introduction to the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review uses his quote about advertising not being a science. However, that quote comes from a paragraph with many more wise words that are just as relevant today as they were 50 years ago: "There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And, unfortunately, they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this short or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier and more inviting reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. There are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art."

If we allow ourselves to put aside the marketing science, to lose the fake language and start to talking like real people, we will find that we tell better stories, make stronger connections and become more believable. Who knows, we may be invited to join the other conversation. You know, the one that everyone is currently having without us.

1 comment about "Mind Your Language".
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  1. Gylliayn ART from Gylliayn, April 12, 2013 at 2:01 p.m.

    Thank You for writing this- I try to practice this and is less pressure when I do :)

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