Advertising and Copywriting

Made to Stick Essay

When lies and conspiracies are remembered better than facts and important messages, how’s an ad supposed to be remembered? The average person spends less than 3 seconds looking at an ad, so it becomes important to know how to make a message stick with the people. In Chip and Dan Heath’s New York Times Bestseller, “Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die: Made to Stick,” the two brothers studied different ads to figure out why some ideas could last years while others were forgotten entirely in less than 5 minutes. The brothers classified the ads that were effective and remembered as sticky, and they developed a method people could model their own ads and ideas after to give their messages a higher chance of sticking in the minds of their viewers for years to come.

made to stick pic
The essay was a reflection based on this book. Photo by Hannah Onder

What Makes Ideas Sticky?

The Heaths developed six core principles to follow to make a message memorable. The first principle is keep it simple. It’s like when your professor gives you a list of like five plus things to read. You’re probably only going to remember to read the last one or the one with the most memorable title. One important element to keeping it simple is making sure the message is short and compact. Though it can be difficult to keep things short when trying to establish a brand, make a sale, or teach a lesson, that’s why knowing the core concept of the message is important. When people know the core content, it’s easier to keep things compact and simple, which makes things more unforgettable. For example, McDonald’s “I’m lovin it” is short and to the point about what it wants people to feel about it and it’s food. Also, being clear on what something is about helps people to avoid decision paralysis.

The second principle is unexpectedness. People tend to tune things out if they think they know what will happen. It’s when something breaks the mold of what’s expected, that captures people’s attention. For example, when something shifts it’s tone from happy and calm to dark and suspenseful, it catches attention because people weren’t expecting that tone shift. It’s important to make sure the surprise connects to the core of the message though because otherwise it draws people’s attention away from the point.

The third principle is concreteness. While it was important to keep things short and simple if they’re too vague they lose their value, so it’s important to keep things concrete, understandable. The way to do that is to use words specific to what is trying to be said so that the referent doesn’t have too many different meanings. For example, when talking about a recycling campaign that should be stated rather than something vague like I want to help the planet. With recycling people know exactly what is being talked about, but not so much with helping the planet since there are countless ways to do that. People need to be careful not to box in their idea to where it’s not expandable, so a balance needs to be created.

The fourth principle is credibility. It’s important to establish credibility in messages, so people believe them. This can be done in several ways such as having an authority or antiauthority figure say or support the information, making comparisons on a scale that the audience will understand when using statistics, and making points testable to the audiences. For example, if a doctor says something about health care versus a neighbor, the doctor’s advice is what’s going to be followed. Though it’s important to consider who the audience is and what method would best make something credible to them. Some audiences are willing to trust the opinions of certain authority figures. Some would prefer a person who’s actually experienced it, and others may actually want to make the observation for themselves.

The fifth principle is emotion. People care about messages that appeal to their emotions, but the message has to appeal to the emotion that will persuade the targeted audience to do whatever action the ad is wanting them to do. For example, with the anti-littering ad geared toward Texas truckers, the ad appealed to their pride in Texas with the whole “don’t mess with Texas” by littering theme they had going. The ad wouldn’t have worked toward that demographic if it tried to use authority figures to invoke fear or cute animals and breathtaking nature to invoke sympathy. When trying to invoke action from people, it’s also important not to overwhelm them with a goal too big where their action would feel insignificant. For example, when trying to get donations for a cause, it is better to highlight an individual related to that cause that needs help versus overwhelming people with the full issue and the numbers. Chili’s does this with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They highlight one child at a time when collecting donations, and they’ve managed to give over $65 million to the cause over the years.

The sixth principle is story. When a good story connects to the message, it gets people to act because it provides them with the knowledge of how to act and the motivation to do it. Stories are an easy way to engage an audience because they’re looking to be entertained so it’s a great way to slip in messages to be learned from the situation as well as embody some of the other principles within it. For example, Subway found a guy that used their sandwiches to regain a healthy weight after being in danger of health complications. This story has the inspirational element as well as the directions of what to do. The story also brings in other important elements like the simplicity of just eat Subway, the surprise of using fast food to lose weight, the concrete detail of specifically eating Subway sandwiches to accomplish massive weight loss, the credibility of an actual person being able to tell his story with Subway as well as the Subway employee that knew him by name, and the emotion of man turning his life around with Subway being his saving grace. This storytelling element brings up the importance of being able to spot people who can help promote the brand. The story spotting is important because there are limits to a single person’s creativity, and people are naturally more drawn to others’ stories. So by using stories, it’s less work, and it resonates with people better.

How does stickiness impact sales and messaging?

The more sticky something is the more it impacts sales. Whether it’s good or bad depends on what is most sticky about the subject. If conspiracy and bad rumors are the first, most stickiest things people associate with the subject, then sales will be impacted negatively. For example, if there’s a scandal with a company going on like offshoring child labor to manufacture products, that could really hurt the company’s sales if that’s what people associate them with. However, if the subject has a sticky ad promoting it in a positive light, then sales will likely increase if that’s what people are immediately associating with the subject.

If messages are sticky they will be passed on and remembered like ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ However, the issue with messages is that they could be shortened and changed over time which can hurt. This is what happened with ‘nice guys always finish last’ since the original message was about a baseball team always losing because they were too nice. Over time the message lost its context and expanded to all nice guys instead of just nice baseball players. Messages can lose their context, which can be dangerous. While ads can be entirely forgotten, they can leave behind the feelings they connotated toward a subject.

Why are messages important to sales?

Messages are important to sales because they help to build the feeling people have toward a product through the ad, so if a good vibe is created for consumers, then sales will increase. The way to make the good ads is to do your research on the product and the audience, and then use the brothers’ six Made to Stick principles in order to get your well-researched ad to become memorable to the people and increase sales.

What can be done to make a product stickier?

The first step to getting something to be stickier is to have a clear concept of its core message is and then craft everything around that idea. It’s important to make sure that concept is simple and compact in order to make it easier to remember for both workers and consumers. Trying to overcomplicate a concept is usually the main issue. If that isn’t the issue, then it could be that the ad needs to make an unexpected move to mix it up and help grab attention to the subject. When people are thrown off, they tend to focus more intensely on something rather than only giving it half their attention. Though it can be harder to create a surprise that connects to the core message rather than taking the focus off of it. Using concrete, detailed words can help the subject have a clearer picture and stick in people’s minds easier, which helps to ensure that everyone is on the page. Concreteness allows people to understand more clearly what the product is. It’s also important to make sure people believe in the product by establishing credibility. This can be done with testimonials and endorsements from people the target audience finds credible. Stickiness can also be increased with invoking emotions. This is done best when the correct emotion to motivate a specific target audience to action is evoked, and when the emotion is not invoked overwhelmingly to the point where the individual’s caring will decrease. The use of spotting stories can be a great tool because it really engages the audience and saves some of the creativity needed to come up with an idea from scratch.

By knowing how to make things stick, your advertisements will have a higher chance of being remembered and acted upon by consumers, which is important in a time with ads appearing everywhere from all different mediums and sources.

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