A few years ago, self-described “language architect” and public opinion guru for the Republican Party, Frank Luntz, made a splash with his book WORDS THAT WORK: IT’S NOT WHAT YOU SAY, IT’S WHAT PEOPLE HEAR, which claimed to “raise the curtain on the craft of effective framing”. It was Luntz who turned the term “estate tax” into the more politically charged “death tax.” He also reframed “drilling for oil” into “exploring for energy.”
Here are his ten rules for successful communication.
Rule 1. Simplicity: Use Small Words. Don’t use words you have to look up, because most (people) won’t.
Rule 2: Brevity. Use short sentences. Good: Just do it! Bad: John Kerry “a bold progressive internationalism that stands in contrast to the belligerent and myopic bush administration”
Rule 3: Credibility is as Important as Philosophy: “Ultimate driving machine” “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Both catchy… both true?
Rule 4: Consistency matters. “It’s the real thing” 1943. “The breakfast of champions” and “M’m M’m Good” 1935. “Good to the last drop” 1915.
Rule 5: Novelty. Volkswagon (and now Mini’s) promoting small when everyone else is pushing big.
Rule 6: Sound and texture matter. “Snap, crackle pop” “intel inside” “quicker picker upper” “think different” … beauty before accuracy.
Rule 7: Speak Aspirationally. “A diamond is forever” “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I think Obama read this book.
Rule 8: Visualize. “melts in your mouth, not in your hand” The secret to visualization is the word “imagine” The work is done by the reader.
Rule 9: Ask a question “can you hear me now” “got milk” “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Passive becomes interactive
Rule 10: Provide Context and Explain Relevance: From “Have it your way” in 1973 to “No late fees ever” from Netflix today: Be relevant
Rule 1. Simplicity: Use Small Words. Avoid words that might force someone to reach for the dictionary,
because most Americans won’t. The average American did not graduate from college and doesn’t understand the difference between effect and affect.
Rule 2. Brevity: Use Short Sentences. Be as brief as possible. Never use a sentence when a phrase will do and never use four words when three can say just as much.
Rule 3. Credibility Is as Important as Philosophy. People have to believe it to buy it. If your words lack
sincerity or if they contradict accepted facts, circumstances or perceptions, they will lack impact.
Rule 4. Consistency Matters. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Good language is like the Energizer Bunny.
It keeps going … and going … and going.
Rule 5. Novelty: Offer Something New. In plain English, words that work often involve a new definition
of an old idea. At a time when cars and the promotion of them were expanding in size, Volkswagen took exactly the opposite approach in design and in message. It worked because it made people think about the product in a fresh way.
Rule 6. Sound and Texture Matter. The sounds and texture of language should be just as memorable as the
words themselves. A string of words that have the same first letter, the same sound or the same syllabic cadence is more memorable than a random collection of sounds.
Rule 7. Speak Aspirationally. Messages need to say what people want to hear. The key to successful aspirational language for products or politics is to personalize and humanize the message to trigger an emotional remembrance.
Rule 8. Visualize. Paint a vivid picture. From M&M’s “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand” to Morton
Salt’s “When it rains it pours” to NBC’s “Must See TV,” the slogans we remember for a lifetime almost always
have a strong visual component, something we can see and almost feel.
Rule 9. Ask a Question. “Got Milk?” may be the most memorable print ad campaign of the past decade. A statement, when put in the form of a rhetorical question, can have much greater impact than a plain assertion.
Rule 10. Provide Context and Explain Relevance. You have to give people the “why” of a message before
you tell them the “therefore” and the “so that.” Without context, you cannot establish a message’s value, its
impact or, most importantly, its relevance.