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Know your audience: simplify your message

Jon Kallus, Creative Director at Grey London, believes that truth is the key to communicating quickly and effectively with your audience.
So I’m going to talk about three things today. One, why it’s important to know your audience. Two, how to connect with that audience in a short time and to recognise the different places that you can speak to them in. And three, how and why it’s important to then distill that message shorter still. So let’s start. Why is it so important to know who we’re talking to? Now on the surface, if you think about it, that’s kind of a weird question, right? Why is it important to know who we’re speaking to? If you Google the question, you’ll get a bunch of business-related answers about being more successful or being more persuasive.
But I think it’s a weird question ask for a different reason. I think it’s a weird question to ask because you guys already know the answer. And you’ve been intuiting it your whole lives. How do I know? Look, I bet you speak a little bit differently to your mum than you do to your boss than you do to your best friends, right? Why? We’ll get to that in a second. But if you Google the question, why is it important to know your audience, you’ll get dozens of articles from business magazines and public speaking guides. And they all make good points, but I’d like to add one more to the list.
And it’s a point that you’re not likely to read in any of those business mags or how-to guides because the end result is a little bit sensitive and a little bit tender. See, when you communicate, whether you’re writing a screenplay, or a TV commercial, you’re posting something on Insta, or just commenting on someone else’s feed, you’re doing it because you’re hoping somebody will read it and like it. And by extension like you. That’s what this thing is all about. That’s why it’s so important to know your audience, because the whole point of communication is connection. But I think you know that, and I think that’s why you speak differently to your boss than to your date.
Because you want to connect with each on a different level and you know the best way to do that. The business magazines– insert business phrase here– will call that “modulating your message” or “adapting to your audience”. But in plain English, all you’re doing is choosing your words based on who you’re speaking to. So connect, people. Connections help us be successful and friendships make us whole. And an abundance of both makes us happy. And nothing in life is more important than being happy. So that is why it’s so important that we know our audience. In advertising our game is changing. Now this might get me in trouble, but I’m going to say it.
It’s not about the 30 second TV commercial anymore. And I really, really, really like good 30 second TV commercials. But it’s not. The point of storytelling, from gaming, TV, film, books, stage, all the way back to the campfire, has always been about connecting. You have you and what you want to say, and you have your audience that you need to or want to speak to. Find a moment where those two intersect emotionally and you’re golden. And you know what? You don’t need two hours to do that. You don’t even need 30 seconds. Look. Check out these Vines by the French directors Megaforce. They’re for Nike soccer. And they’re all about the way it feels the moment you’ve just been owned.
Yes, yes, oh.
Yes. Oh. Ooh.
Oh. Mama.
[SAD MUSIC PLAYING] [LAUGHTER] Dude. Don’t post it, man. [LAUGHTER] Or check out these upcoming programme announcements for Channel 4 here in the UK. The tag line is “Born Risky”.
There are 2.5 million people in the UK with different voices. Biscuit. Hedgehog. Biscuit. But they’re rarely heard on TV. Biscuit. Who else but Channel 4 would let someone with Tourette’s– biscuit– announce their biggest shows? Hedgehog. Right now “Heston’s Great British Food”. Biscuit. Hedgehog.
Channel 4 was set up to take risks, so you let me in your living room. My name is Katie, and I have cerebral palsy. Up next is (SINGING) “The Simpsons”.
Or these posters. for the Parkinson’s charity Parkinson’s UK.
There you have it. Three different ways to communicate three very different narratives in very, very short snapshots. The one thing they all have in common, an emotional connection. Which brings us to the last part, how and why to go even shorter with your short message. Well the why is really simple. In order to sell it. I’ll tell you a story about my first job. Before I was in advertising I was in Hollywood. There’s a lot of differences between Hollywood and advertising, but one of the biggest is this. In advertising the moment any element of our idea starts to feel familiar, it’s out. In Hollywood you can’t get a meeting unless every element of your idea is familiar.
Just Google the top box office weekends of all time. So that’s the difference between Hollywood and advertising. One of the biggest differences. But here’s the similarity. You got to be able to summarise your idea in a sentence. You can call it a logline, you can call it an elevator pitch, but it’s also not specific to advertising or Hollywood. Tech is in this game too. How many times have you heard of a new app described as Uber meets this or eBay meets that, Or Instagram meets this? But that’s good. Why? CDs, and VCs, and CMOs are busy people. If you can’t summarise your idea in a sentence, how are people going to get it in an instant? Cool.
So there you have it. Remember, you’re already doing the most important bit of this whole thing. You’ve been doing it you whole lives. So keep on choosing your words, or modulating your message, depending on who you’re talking to and you’ll be just fine. But I don’t think you’re in any danger of forgetting how to do that.
Jon Kallus is a Creative Director at Grey London. His career spans agencies all over the world and his work covers products and brands from credit cards and cars to snack food and spirits. Born and bred in New York, he’s a frequent contributor to D&AD in London, a former instructor at Miami Ad School in San Francisco, and an occasional Instagrammer. You can follow those infrequent posts at @jxkallus.
We’re all used to adapting to our audience. After all, do you speak the same way to your best friend as you do to your boss? Choosing our words carefully helps us connect well with the people in our lives.
Storytelling, too, has always been about a meaningful connection between the narrator and their audience. The best advertising taps into this truth, whether it’s a TV commercial, a six-second Vine or a poster on the Tube.
You can watch the full videos by following the links below.
At around 6.25 in the video, Jon refers to some job roles in the creative industries:
CDs = Creative Director
VCs = Venture Capitalist
CMOs = Chief Marketing Officer
Two Minute Task
Pick one of the three above examples from Jon’s video (or try all of them!) and answer these questions:
  • What is each of them trying to say?
  • How do they use the format effectively?
  • Do they have any other strengths?
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Storytelling in Advertising

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