Thinking Conceptually: UM-Flint’s “Fastest Growing” Video

One of the most important – and most difficult – tasks of any advertising, marketing, branding, or messaging effort is identifying and executing ways to communicate complex ideas as simply and immediately as possible. The tools and vehicles through which this is accomplished depend on the audience, and the best medium to reach that audience. Yet whether that most effective way is a website, television ad, brochure, billboard, radio ad, or some other venue, the way in which the ideas and messages are packaged often determines its success or failure: did the intended audience receive, remember, and act on it?

This packaging, or framing, is ultimately a matter of conceptualizing. That is to say, it is a matter of getting to the heart of the message, crystallizing it, and presenting it to the audience in an easy-to-grasp, easy-to-digest manner. One of the best illustrations of the effectiveness of conceptual communicating is the classic “This is Your Brain on Drugs” public service announcement. Sure, the spot could have featured an esteemed neurologist detailing the precise scientific affects of drug use on the human anatomy. But the intended audience, teenagers and young adults, would likely tune out such a dry, clinical appeal to reason. A frying pan (drugs), an egg (brain), and the hissing and popping of cooked brains in a skillet delivers the same message faster, more viscerally, more emotionally, more memorably, and more effectively.

One of the challenges to this kind of conceptual communication is that often the product or service being touted has numerous (and divergent) selling points. Should one list or recite all possible instances when a life insurance policy might be worth buying? Or all possible uses of WD-40? Or every benefit and positive attribute of a university? As tempted as we may be to say “yes, all of the above, the more the merrier,” from an audience’s perspective every additional bit of benefit they have to hold in their head, in fact, dilutes each asset. It becomes harder to meaningfully connect when so much focus and attention must be devoted to simply keeping up with an avalanche of justifications, explanations, and appeals. Even if they are all worthy, there is a good chance that none will be remembered, none acted on.

UR recently faced a similar dilemma with the “UM-Flint is the Fastest Growing Public University in the State” idea. While that message on its own carries a lot of positive punch (esp. given the relative lack of familiarity many in Michigan have with UM-Flint), it also instantly begs the questions “why”  and “so what.” UR determined that the target audience for the message would likely prefer receiving it on the web, quickly, and without having to expend a lot of energy and focus with a bunch of reading. A web video seemed ideal. But what do you videotape to visually communicate “Fastest Growing Public University?” And how do you answer the “why” and “so what?”

Well, even though the answer to the question “Why is UM-Flint Growing?” ends up being something of a laundry list – which we acknowledge is not ideal and pretty well proves the earlier point about multiple messages becoming muddled in the viewer’s mind – we think the main concept we came up with comes close to the “faster, more visceral, more emotional, more memorable, and more effective” threshold for good conceptual communication. What do you think? :


Posted by Bob Mabbitt