Simple Words

With all the clutter in our lives, marketers and other communicators are reducing the number of words shown to us so that they can get our attention. A short, simple message is more easily understood, absorbed, processed and filed away. This is especially true if we are distracted and paying attention to many things at once.

There is a great new sign on the door of the Caribou Coffee shop across the street from my office. Facing out, so you read it walking into the store, it says Breathe in. This simple act reminds coffee lovers of one reason they come to coffee places. They love the smell of coffee. And smell is the sense that has the most powerful memory associations. Maybe the smell of coffee reminds you of a lazy Sunday morning reading the paper, or a great trip to a bed and breakfast to where you woke up to the smell of someone else making coffee.

And the sign did not say Smell, but it said Breathe in. Since most of us breathe through our nose, and can’t help smelling the coffee, this further associates the coffee smell, and it’s memories, with a natural response and action. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but I thought it was very effective.

The other side of the sign, which you see as you leave the store, says Breathe out. This lets you know that this current experience is over and you are going back to your life.

Another example of a short, simple message that tries to grab our attention appeared on the back of a bus. Triangle Transit, a bus service that poorly connects Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, got new buses a few months ago with a snazzy new paint scheme. On the back is a rectangular LED panel that illuminates when the brake lights, also LEDs, come on. The panel says STOP. As if four brightly-lit brake lights are not enough, the manufacturers of the bus have added this carefully worded safety device. With so many people talking on cell phones, or doing who knows what, while driving, there is a need to increase the alert level.

This is like when the third brake light was added to cars in the back window. We needed something new to call our attention to the fact that the car in front of us was stopping. And we are more distracted now than ever. What other words are coming next?

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen