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Simon Hall is an ex-BBC journalist and reporter who is now a lecturer at Cambridge Judge Business School. In this podcast, he explains why the simplest messages are often the most powerful and urges us all to rediscover the power of simplicity.

As marketers, we are often guilty of overcomplicating our messages. Whether it’s our printed marketing material, the posts we put out on social media, or the content we publish on our blogs (and our clients’ blogs), there’s a tendency to use more words than we actually need.

But as Simon explains using some fantastic examples, simplicity – when used correctly – is extremely powerful.

Some of the most famous books ever written

Consider these book openings:

  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984 by George Orwell
  • “All children, except one, grow up.” Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
  • “Call me Ishmael.” Moby Dick by Herman Melville

They are all brilliant in their own way. But the one thing they have in common is simplicity.

Take Pride and Prejudice, for example. In just 23 words, Jane Austin tells you that (a) it’s a romance and (b) she’s a damn fine writer. Plus the intriguing way she opens compels you to read on. All that in just 23 words!

In 1984, George Orwell starts off conforming to normality and then veers off sharply at the end, creating a sense of intrigue and piquing your interest to keep reading.

The power of simplicity…

Lincoln’s iconic Gettysburg Address

What about the Gettysburg Address. Abraham Lincoln’s monumental speech on November 19, 1863 that changed the way Americans viewed themselves and their government.

But it only contained around 278 words! Now we say “around” because the exact length differs depending on which version you read. The point is Abraham Lincoln was able to deliver an iconic, world-famous message in less than 300 words – most blog posts are longer than that!

The power of simplicity…

Simple slogans and catchphrases

Some simple examples of slogans and catchphrases, each brilliant in its own way:

  • “Because I’m worth it” – L’Oréal Paris
  • “Snap, Crackle & Pop” – Kellogg’s Rice Krispies
  • “D’oh!” – Homer Simpson
  • “Never knowingly undersold” – John Lewis
  • “All for one and one for all” – The Three Musketeers – togetherness, spirit of togetherness
  • “Labour’s not working” – Margaret Thatcher’s famous 1979 election slogan
  • “You’re fired!” – Alan Sugar, he’s in charge, he’s ruthless

Again, they are all extremely simple, yet impactful and instantly recognisable.

L’Oréal Paris even changed its slogan in the mid-2000s to “Because you’re worth it” and then to “Because we’re worth it” in late 2009. The brand’s line for kids goes with “Because we’re worth it too”.

If this doesn’t highlight the power of simplicity, then nothing will. All those changes, yet the same core concept/message was retained throughout.

Movie summaries that have attracted tons of likes

How about these simple movie summaries that have all attracted lots of attention online:

  • “Strange group of friends spend nine hours returning jewellery” – Lord of the Rings
  • “Fishing trip goes badly wrong” – Jaws
  • “Mad factory owner kills children one by one in front of their parents” – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • “Leonardo DiCaprio wanders a frozen wasteland in search of an Oscar” – The Revenant
  • “Girl hits head, dreams about fancy shoes” – Wizard of Oz
  • “Father and son don’t get along, universe suffers” – Star Wars

Brilliantly simple, extremely engaging and with the potential to go viral because people can instantly relate to them.

The power of simplicity…

But always be remembered for the right reasons

You want your simplistic slogan, catchphrase or piece of marketing material to trend for the right reasons only. That’s why it’s imperative that you check every single piece of marketing collateral you create for errors. Whether that’s picking up on typos or sanity checking the actual meaning, thorough checking can save a lot of embarrassment.

So while less is more and you should always aim to keep your messages shorter for maximum impact, don’t be too hasty to hit the ‘post’ button.

Remember, the average attention span is around 10 seconds, so that’s all the time you’ve got to make an impact and hook someone. So try to use the absolute minimum number of words and pictures that you possibly can in any situation to drive better results.

And finally, perhaps the greatest example of using simplicity to create a multi-billion pound business is Google. A webpage that features a small box, but which enables people to search the entire contents of the World Wide Web is absolutely mind-blowing.

Sometimes, we just need to get back to basics and rediscover the power of simplicity once again.


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