Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Taglines: a punctuation parable.

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”--Oscar Wilde

Punctuation is important. Grandma, especially, thinks so.

I started out writing a post about Whirlpool’s brilliantly-punctuated new tagline: the beauty of the comma placement; the deliberate lack of period that gives the phrase a double meaning.

Three choices make this phrase wonderful. 
  1. The choice to make "every day" two words, rather than one, makes "every" an adjective that modifies "day," rather than "everyday" an adjective that modifies "care." It's deliberately not "everyday care."
  2. The choice to use a comma puts this phrase in the imperative mood, making "care" a commanding action verb. (Linguistics Girl has a great post explaining this.)
  3. The choice not to use a period, which goes a long way toward reversing the grammatical effect of the first two choices, giving the phrase two meanings at once. Without a period, the tagline isn't wholly a statement. It can do double duty, conveying both "everyday care" and "every day, care." If it had a period, the imperative mood would be much stronger, leaving the "everyday care" message in the dust.
The new campaign is about the everyday care that families give one another, and also implies the kind of care Whirlpool appliances give to our laundry and dishes. (Whirlpool's new Every Day Care Project web page and supporting assets do a wonderful job of conveying this sense.) The double meaning of the tagline is brilliant. It reminds me of another tagline's precise word and punctuation choices.

Grammar Girl has a great discussion of the grammatical implications of the use of "different," rather than "differently," in this famous Apple slogan. The use of "different" allows the phrase to mean both "think about different kinds of computers" and "think in a different way." 

A colon punctuating this phrase, "Think: different" would have emphasized the first meaning, "think about different computers." Without the period at the end, the slogan would lose some of the weight of the imperative mood; it wouldn't be as strong a command. As it is, the phrase conveys both meanings beautifully.

It was my intention to praise Whirlpool, and their agency, for this carefully-wrought phrase, perfectly punctuated to pack in double meaning.

But when I went on Whirlpool's web site to take a screen shot of the tagline, I found it used WITH A PERIOD.

Come on, Whirlpool. Make up your mind. Every day, care ... about punctuation. 

Let's Eat, Grandma image thanks to Modern Austen.

There are other ways to make taglines work harder. See How to Make Words Do More Work.

Monday, November 3, 2014

No Entry: How TV ads are like web sites

In modern web design and content strategy for the web, it’s important to remember that there is no longer any such thing as an entrance to the site, especially if you’re doing your  SEO well. Any page can be an entry to the site and must therefore provide a warm welcome to visitors (and location awareness, and brand identity, and and and).

The same rule applies to television ads. 

Creative agencies should think the same way about modern television advertisements, understanding that the viewer might enter the ad at any point. TV viewers get up to change the laundry, wash the dishes, or check on the kids; we return to the set mid-commercial. Ads lose some or all of their effect if they rely on viewers to watch from the beginning. 

At my house, we watch a lot of football, but even I (one of the rare breed who enjoy watching advertisements) use the commercial break as a chance to chat about that last play, or finish making guacamole, or get another beer. Often, my attention will be attracted to an ad partway through. This creates an opportunity for the ad to have an effect, but that opportunity is lost if the ad doesn’t pay off the partial view. If the ad relies on a setup that I missed, that’s a fail.

This Dodge ad tells the story of the Dodge brothers, John and Horace, but if you’re not paying attention at the beginning, or you’re not listening carefully to the voiceover, you’re not going to get it. And while the remaining material isn’t bad—revving engines and drag-racing imagery are still appealing, especially to a muscle car aficionado like me—letting the viewer lose out on that story is a big miss.

I do enjoy advertisements with a big reveal at the end, but are they really as effective as an ad that delivers its message no matter where the viewer picks up the thread? It depends on the placement, the saturation, and the content. 

Placement: In football games, for example, an ad that runs during a timeout is more likely to get beginning-to-end attention than an ad running at halftime, because viewers know the game will come back on again any second and are more likely to sit still for commercials.

Saturation: If the ad is running several times during a given program, using a build-up will work better. Viewers whose interest has been piqued will likely watch from the beginning the next time the ad airs.

Content: It comes down to this: Is it a great ad that appeals to its audience? (Guests shushed me during the Budweiser horse-and-puppy ad.) Then it will get watched. But considering the audience’s entry point is critical in making an ad effective for television viewers. 

Guacamole photo by stu_spivack (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.
Family watching TV photo by Paul Townsend from Bristol, UK [CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.