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Monday, 19 January 2009

Strange things go on in the mind

Apropos of David Ogilvy, in 1985 he gave me a little booklet called "Type and Layout. Communicating - or just making pretty shapes" by Prof Colin Wheildon of New South Wales University.

It was the first (and only) example of research I had ever seen into what made for better communications based not on what people liked or didn't like, but on how well they understood things they read and how easy they found them to read.

Only relatively recently have other people - internet marketers - started to look into this subject intelligently but it has always fascinated me. I hate guessing; I prefer to know

Anyhow, one thing I have learned about communication is that people remember pictures more easily than words, and the latest editor of Prof. Wheildon's work wrote to me about this.

I was commenting about the fact that if I say "rabbit" it is not the word but the little furry animal that you see with your mind's eye.

Geoff Heard of Worsley Press, writing from the heat of East Timor, dashed off an interesting message:

Your mention of the word "rabbit" and the mental picture of the furry animal (which would be very quickly transformed to "dinner" here).

The mental picture over the word has to do with levels of processing in the brain and with familiarity.

In "Type & Layout" Colin Wheildon talked about how a red headline would stop people reading the body text. The bright colour would continually drag their eyes back to the headline.

The colour is dominant because it is a more basic level of processing. It is pre-literate. I've mentioned in the additional material I wrote for Type & Layout the psychological test that demonstrates this.

Write "green" in red letters then flash it on a screen. When that flash gets down to something under 1/30th second, viewers will swear they have seen the WORD "red".

They know they have seen type, but there isn't the time to read it, but the colour means they have redness on the brain.

Isn't that amazing, dear reader?

And on the subject of the pre-literate, here's an exquisitely crafted message I got today from someone selling a postal discount service. A work of art, untrammelled by petty considerations of grammar or punctuation and cleverly aimed at the burgeoning transsexual market.

Dear Sir or Maddam,
I appreciate that your very busy and wiil hopefully speak to you soon, please allow me to give you a description of our services as I do feel they could be of great benefit to your company and clients.

(Then there was gap of two of three lines, perhaps designed to whet my appetite for thrills to come, or maybe to make up for the lack of a gap after "Maddam", after which it continued)

Firstly we are not a downstream access provider, we are consultants who have access to the best rates available in the market place for all types of mail.

We started as international mail consultants this is extremely successful and we have saved our clients thousands buy using our knowledge and experience.

What mastery of the written word! These people have the kind of talent that until recently ended up running banks, and still runs the British government.

The people of Israel and Gaza must have wept tears of joy when Gordon Brown came to tell them what to do. Why can't he just stay there and sort things out, I wonder? We would all be ever so grateful. Three hundred years should just about do it.

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