Communications: Hungering for a good message?

snacks vs meals
by Carrie Wieteska, Account Manager

An interesting thread came up on Twitter this week in which the author posted about the idea of “snacks vs meals” – that is, simple and viscerally satisfying ideas versus longer form, complex stories. The example she gave was a timely one of Republican versus Democrat messages in the recent US election.

But this isn’t a new idea. Researchers have known for years that the collective global attention span is shrinking. There’s so much content available that, even when something does manage to grab our attention, it can’t hold it for long.

It’s a lesson those of us who work in communications know all too well. Newsworthiness in many ways depends on your ability to react quickly. If you’re not interested in any of the trending topics on Twitter, wait ten minutes and hit refresh: you’ll get something new in no time.

Stand out for the right reasons

In a world of constantly competing stories, we need to stand out. Quick short slogans aren’t enough – and, in fact, can lead to misunderstandings. We need to closely consider how the story is understood, too.

A great example in the Twitter thread is “Defund the police” – on the surface, it’s an easily digested snack that seems simple enough. But it’s actually a more complex idea that can’t be distilled into a three-word slogan. Doing so has led to more communication issues, with some people thinking it means to take money away from the police and leave communities without any support. In reality, it is a request to reallocate some money from police departments to social workers, youth centres, and other avenues to provide the type of community support that police officers don’t have the training for, and let police officers focus on enforcing the law… but that’s not nearly as catchy.

On the other hand, think about “Lock her up” from the 2008 US election. Whether or not you agree with the message, it’s simple, catchy, and you know exactly what President Donald Trump meant.

Striking a balance between snack and meal, President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign slogan was “a presidency for all people.” It’s an easily understood message of unity, but also requires some additional context and knowledge of the divisive feelings that have run through American over the past four years to really drive the point home.

What can we learn?

The Twitter thread equates snacks with being unhealthy, that is; they’re not so good for you and they don’t keep you full for long. But with some tweaks, healthy meals can become healthy snacks with more longevity. How can you do that?

  • Convenience
    Just as many of us quickly grab a bag of crisps from the pantry, communications must be delivered in the simplest way possible and in the medium your audience prefers

  • Taste
    You want your food to leave a good taste in your mouth. Equally, your communications need to strike the right tone of voice, to leave people feeling informed without being patronising or condescending by stating the obvious.

  • Appeal
    Snack food is moreish, with a great mouthfeel. You can’t stop after just one crisp! Similarly, communications should never be a bland presentation of facts, but an interesting story that encourages engagement and keeps you coming back for more.

  • Understand cravings and desires
    If I want something salty, a piece of chocolate doesn’t do the job, no matter how good it may be. Tailor your message and story to your audience and make sure you’re giving them what they want to hear; there’s nothing exciting about repeating the same message over and over again.

In some cases, a meal is required. Sometimes a snack isn’t sufficient to feed your appetite; some messages require a longer-form message. But it’s always worth asking if and how your story can be distilled into a snack. Given the short attention spans people have today, we need to first grab attention, then – if the message warrants it – keep it long enough to expand on our message.

To find out how we can help you tailor your messages to your audience, contact us today.