I like to read. I believe my literary tastes are diverse enough, I’ve read non-fiction military stories by Tom Clancy, satirical denouncements of capitalism by John Ralston Saul, and Tom Sawyer. My current book, the heavily Right-wing literature that is Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, will take quite some time, but it will be well worth it.
At the same time it strikes me as to why more people aren’t reading. I observe people grab a copy of the free newspaper every morning, but simply glance through the pages. I smirk condescendingly every time I observe this, since it’s obvious they’re only looking at the pictures. Who wants to read all those words and perhaps expand their minds?
If you took a step back, however, there is a simple lesson to be learned – chunks of text are repulsive. People want to be spoon-fed the hottest news, a concise summary, just the essentials. Details don’t really matter. It is also for this reason that people are shocked to find that their insurance policies are less comprehensive than expected, or that a “killer discount” actually had 6 terms and conditions to go along with it.
I blame social media and the plague of the “listicle” for this phenomenon. If you didn’t already know, a listicle typically reads like “23 things you didn’t know you are inhaling everyday”. Granted, these are trivia-filled, but nonetheless absolutely mind-numbing articles, engulfing you in small – sometimes useful – facts that you may never remember.
Yet, these articles draw millions of clicks, tweets, and shares every single day. Why? It doesn’t require contextual knowledge. Listicles work because they communicate a point succinctly and often, with pictures. Add to that the “Oh I never knew that!” moment that people get as they read the list, and you have a flawless formula for creating repeat visitors, and attracting new site readers.
The same rule should apply in marketing or any communications strategies. Key messages should be short and sweet, or deliver a promise, such as the “Oh” moment that listicles provide. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter; we have no more than two seconds to hook, or in PR, to make a successful pitch.
Even as shorter attention spans have helped communications professionals to streamline their messages and key points, the challenge of getting an individual’s attention remains just as hard as ever. In return for those precious few seconds of their lives when they look up, the message has to be clear, and offer something in return. Curiosity and interest is human nature and will remain a constant even in the face of evolving technology. We should capitalize on this trait, and ensure that important messages are not hidden beneath a wall of redundancies or un-relatable jargon. Unfortunately, this is the exact purpose of legal text and sneaky fine print. Here’s hoping that I will never be conned by a misleading and dodgy sales advertisement.