Saturday, June 02, 2007

making meaning vs. making sense

Here's a terrific graphic from Dave Grey at Xplane - posted on his blog Communication Nation.

'The accumulation of shared meaning' is an interesting thought and similar to some of the concepts I have been sharing with students. When we create advertising messages they will only resonate if we can find ways of animating product messages by sharing a sense of meaning. I did an exercise the other day where my students had to pitch their favourite movie or book in two sentences. Out of 28 people not one chose a book (but that's another story). How would they persuade someone to watch the movie of their choice? Some of their ideas were interesting, other odd and a couple just downright disturbing.
The key is not to describe the synopsis. It is to find the shared meaning. What is the shared meaning of Chocolat (aside from a pleasant couple of hours with Juliette Binoche or Johnny Depp - depending on your preferences - one of the class suggested the truly classic 'Johnny Depp and chocolate - need we say more'). I'd hypothesis that the story resonates with people who feel like outsiders, whose talents are misunderstood. The primal desire to be accepted and fit in - with a soupcon of redemption and loss thrown in for good measure. It talks to universal human themes - like all great literate artifacts (books, film, and yes...advertising).

Once upon a time, there was a quiet little village in the French countryside, whose people believed in Tranquilité - Tranquility. If you lived in this village, you understood what was expected of you. You knew your place in the scheme of things. And if you happened to forget...

Perhaps that is why advertising that attempts to persuade by reason so often falls flat. A rational argument invites an equal and opposite response. Making choices that force us to evaluate the functional benefits or advantages of a product only creates anxiety and upsets our equilibrium. Brands play to our innate indecisiveness.
Better to stay with the known than to leap into the void (well in some cases).

Isn't it funny how the best stories begin 'Once upon a time..."

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