Have you ever walked past a poster, or heard a radio ad, and thought “What on Earth are they talking about?”
If a tagline is confusing, or if your media buries its message then your target audience won’t take time to understand your message. They’ll just walk away. The average media consumer will only spare a couple of seconds to hear your message, so you have to make sure that it’s punchy, on-point, and speaks to your intended audience.
Clarity, salience and precision in your messaging are paramount, but don’t lose sight of the target audience in your pursuit of a simple, punchy tagline. Acknowledge that your readers have their own cultural milieu, and recognize that they can more quickly and easily receive messaging that “speaks their language”. Balancing those aspects when you write ad copy is an art.
Consider the following poster, which appeared on busses, trolleys and transit shelters in the Portland area over the last few months:
When I saw this ad at the bus stop near my house, at first I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
Then, I laughed.
And I went on with my day.
It’s a memorable, punchy tagline, but it’s ridiculous. It completely lacks authenticity; curiously familiar yet completely alien at the same time. Mashable sarcastically called the campaign “very relatable“. The Oregonian newspaper asked “Why do they read as if they were written by a creepy 45-year-old high school counselor who wants to be 16 again?”
The lesson from all this is: don’t lose sight of your audience. Whether you use the formal structure of a survey, or a focus group, or even asking people on the street: get plenty of feedback before you go live with your campaign. You don’t have to agree with all the feedback, but if your test audience responds with overwhelming confusion then you’ll still have time to course-correct. Because once it’s at the printer, it’ll be too late to revise.
As for Trimet, they’ve been quietly replacing their “Distraction” posters with a new “Stay Alert, Stay Alive” campaign that still has a punchy tagline, but isn’t trying too hard to fit in. We hope. Decide for yourself: