J452 Blog

Plot Your Messages

There’s a reason that history is known from ancient storytelling that was passed down  generation to generation. Throughout the entire book, the Heath brothers mentioned different quips or nursery rhymes that were told from Aristotle or Aesop that have made their way through time and are still relevant and told to people around the world. This is all proof that the final word, stories, in the acronym SUCCESs are undoubtedly the stickiest messages made.

Of course there a hundreds of ways to tell stories, so the Heath brothers broke down some of the most common ways to tell them to ensure they are sticky. The first one is to take the challenge plot. The challenge plot is pretty self explanatory: you have a protagonist that overcomes a challenge. An example of this would be the story of celebrity Marie Osmond and her connection to Nutrisystem, a diet plan that helped her lose weight. In Nutrisystem’s commercials that feature Marie Osmond, such as this one here, Osmond tells the story of the day she realized she was 50 pounds overweight. After she decided to join Nutrisystem, Osmond lost the 50 pounds. In this scenario, Osmond was the underdog who succeeded. She’s been a sponsor for Nutrisystem since 2013 and is still remembered for those commercials today because of the sticky messaging of the challenge plot.

Another plot that tends to be extra sticky is the connection plot. In this storyline, the protagonist and another character from a different background form a connection. Since I wrote about Airbnb the other week, my mind tends to go to their company when I think of this concept. Airbnb didn’t only build a campaign around the concept of building these connection, they built their entire company platform around the idea of making connections when you travel across the globe by staying in other people’s bed and breakfasts.

The final storyline the brothers spoke about is the creative plot. This story involves a protagonist that forms a mental breakthrough or an innovative idea. To me, the company Tesla comes to mind. Owner Elon Musk has a long history of innovative ideas, such as autopilot vehicles. His ideas and the work of Tesla are especially sticky because his ideas are inventive and implemented.

The best part about using stories to create sticky messages is that good stories usually rely and work off of the other concepts from the SUCCESs formula. Stories tend to be concrete, are usually emotional and often contain unexpected elements.

Whenever you are stuck on how to build your messages and make them memorable, follow the SUCCESs formula and you’ll soon find some success of your own.

Take Off Your Analytical Hat

Last week I talked about the importance of being credible in order to make a message sticky. Well, it’s time to switch gears and take off your analytical hat because this week we are focusing on emotional as our ‘E’ of SUCCESs.

The Heath brothers stressed in this chapter that being emotional doesn’t necessarily mean making people cry; it’s more about making people care. Making people care about the situation is what makes them act on it. If this was not the case, none of us would have to watch the dreaded Sarah Mclachlan commercials again. The truth is, that dreadful and cringeworthy animal cruelty commercial raised $30 million in the first two years from the 2007 debut. Why? It made people care, and it made sticky messages. After nine years, I still can’t get that commercial and song out of my head.

One of the most fascinating things I learned from the book so far has come through in this chapter touching on the topic of emotions. To take things in another direction from Mclachlan’s emotional appeal, you can also get a hold of someone’s emotions by peeking their self-interest (or as I like to call it, stroking their ego.) We all know the infamous phrase, “Don’t mess with Texas,” but have many people thought about where this phrase originated? Surprisingly, it’s not with country music. This incredibly sticky message started with a campaign from the Texas Department of Transportation in order to reduce littering along the highway. By targeting men and their macho egos, “don’t mess with Texas” has become the statewide slogan.

Of course, I cannot talk about emotional PR this week without bringing up the Cubs World Series win after a 108 year draught. Many different brands used this history-making win as a chance to use the emotional appeal, but no brand did it better than Budweiser who used Harry Caray, the late Cubs announcer, as the inspiration for their Cubs commercial.

Harry Caray was the famous announcer for the Cubs for 16 years who had also been a spokesperson for Budweiser. Caray was known as the Cubs fan, Bud man. Budweiser released both of these videos immediately following the World Series win. By using Harry Caray as the face of their commercials for an already emotional win, they were able to personalize it for everyone who knew Caray and his love of the game and the Cubs.

Where’s The Beef?

One of the most important aspects of a campaign, in my opinion, is the second ‘C’ in SUCCESs: credible. Think about it for a minute. If we didn’t think something was credible, would we give a second thought to it? Absolutely not. The Heath brothers pointed out this same concept in Made to Stick.

The brothers also pointed out that there are several ways to build and show your credibility  and make sticky messages in a PR campaign. One of most obvious ways is by using statistics. Of course, statistics standing alone does not make a sticky message because no one can rattle off statistics from commercials. The relationship of the numbers is actually most important. By making the numbers and statistics lead a campaign and the opinions, it’s more effective than searching for statistics that match what you are seeking.

Another way to show credibility is by using an anti-authority. The brothers explained this difficult concept by using the example of a smoker being the spokesperson of an anti-smoking campaign. Anti-authorities have credibility because they have gone through the situation themselves. Any advertisement that is using the “not an actor” angle is showing the audience their “credible card.”

My favorite concept the Heath brothers brought up was the example of “Where’s the Beef?” from the Wendy’s commercials in the 80s, which happens to be on a shirt my dad owns that I never understood until now. My dad owning this shirt actually shows just how sticky this messaging was. It’s been over 30 years and the message is still there, reluctantly hanging in his closet. That’s because the credentials were actually testable and came from the consumers. By asking “Where’s the beef?” Wendy’s was able shine light on the fact that their burgers were thicker than other fast food chains burgers.

Like Wendy’s commercials from nearly 40 years ago, some campaigns are particularly good with showing credibility and, therefore, making sticky messages. For instance, this campaign video to reelect the Travis County Commissioner shows the politician, Gerald, rattling off numbers and statistics throughout the entire video. He not only hits the nail on the head for being statistically credible, he also has internal credibility and extensive details about his knowledge from being in office already.

On top of that, the campaign shows concrete evidence in his descriptions of his job as the County Commissioner. It also really works the unexpected (and hilarious) angle of the his wife pleading to keep her husband in the office and busy.


The Next Best Thing

From reading the title of this blog entry, can you tell what this post will be about? You may have hundreds of guesses on what the post could be about, but how would you know if you wanted to read this or care about what I have to say? The easy answers are no and you wouldn’t. What your idea of ‘the next best thing’ is probably does not match my idea.

Much like the real world, the world of public relations has no room for vagueness. Hearing “the next best thing is coming to a store near you” certainly does not have you racing and pushing your friends out of the way to get it. However, hearing the iPhone 7 has a new camera feature with a f1.8 aperture, new sensor and six element lens that allows brighter and more detailed photos probably just perked your interest. That’s because, as the Heath brothers point out in the SUCCESs formula, the description is concrete.

In this week’s chapter of Made to Stick, the brothers focused on how to have concrete messaging, which is also inevitably sticky. They brought up the fact that when people are able to relate to a concrete message or image, rather than abstract words and ideas, people are more likely to remember and care about what you have to say. Airbnb did a fantastic job at making an abstract thought concrete with their campaign to release a new logo. By taking an abstract word and forming it into a brand new symbol, representing the joining of people, places, love and the letter ‘A’, Airbnb was able to solidify what their symbol stands for: belonging.

Not only did the symbol itself transform abstract ideas, Airbnb went as far as to name the symbol, Belo, in order to further solidify the meanings behind it. The last sentence of their video brought all the ideas together to one final, visual and concrete statement about the symbol: where ever you see it, you’ll know you belong.

The response to the new symbol was not overwhelmingly positive, as sometimes (often) PR campaigns can run into. However, Airbnb responded with a sarcastic infographic about the responses they had received, which hit the nail on the head for last week’s blog about unexpected messages.


The ‘Aha’ Moment

In the first post I revealed the first ‘S’ of SUCCESs stands for simple. Today I’m here to announce that the ‘U’ in the Heath brothers’ acronym stands for unexpected.

In public relations and marketing, one of the ways to create a successful and sticky message is by portraying it in an unexpected manner. However, one of the things the brothers warn about when making messages is becoming gimmicky. If your campaign has unexpected aspects but your message is not being relayed, it doesn’t stick with your audience. The image of the commercial or campaign may be remembered, but your message would be lost inside of it.

By utilizing the ‘aha’ moment people have, campaigns can implement this unexpected factor successfully. The gap theory is based on people’s tendency to have a knowledge gap, but are overly confident they already have the knowledge. What the writers of Made to Stick suggest is to first show the audience they have a knowledge gap.

One of the most unexpected pr campaigns this year was Pearson’s Project Literacy. The campaign showed viewers the gap theory in action. In order to inform their audiences about illiteracy in the world, they had to first show them they didn’t have the knowledge about how illiteracy is an underlying factor to a lot of the world’s problems.

Another strategy this campaign nailed was to simply break the common and well-known. By using the ABCs, one of the first and most common songs children are taught, Project Literacy was able to ‘break the norm.’ Instead of reciting the alphabet and using words such as apple or bear, Pearson made their message sticky by showing an unexpected twist of the terrible things illiteracy is connected to like aids and bloodshed.

The Pearson’s Project Literacy was a successful campaign in raising awareness for the everyday problems illiteracy fuels because it was unexpected, but also by using the simplicity of their message. After watching the video, anyone can see the problems they bring up are not simple concepts. They could have ran this campaign by diving in and making a series of videos showing how illiteracy is connected to life expectancy or poverty. By making the decision to simplify the message, it became sticky.

Short Sentences Drawn From Long Experiences

In the world of public relations, there are messages constantly being sent out to the public with the hopes they will stick. However, too often these messages just fly through one ear and out of the other, never to be thought of again.

This term I will be writing this blog for Strategic PR Communications for the University of Oregon. I’ll be focusing on the book Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath, who have figured out how to make these messages sticky by creating a formula. These brothers explain what lies beneath the SUCCESs of sticky messages. No, SUCCESs is not a typo, it’s the acronym the Heath brother came up with for their sticky message formula. Each week I will explain what one letter of their SUCCESs formula stands for, why it’s important to make sticky messages and how it has been successfully applied through public relation campaigns.

By having short sentences drawn from long experiences, Made to Stick proves it’s that simple (the first ‘S’ of the acronym).