Yesterday, a short walk around the neighbourhood reminded me that physical, rather than digital, communication is still all around us. It makes for an informing, entertaining, amusing and bemusing stroll.
For instance, shortly after passing the gate with the advice to literate dogs I came across a poster for an art exhibition with the disorientating announcement: ‘Private View. All welcome.’ After pondering all day, I still don’t know what sort of event it was. The picture keeps shifting and makes me feel a bit unsteady. Maybe it’s part of the concept.
However, the reassuring thing about local notices is that confusion isn’t deliberate. Which brings us to energy companies.
This week Ed Milliband pledged to cap energy prices for two years in the event of a Labour election win. The promise received a mixed reaction from politicians and business (guess which business), though it’s bound to please us, the bill-payers. But he’d have been be sure of support from all sides if he’s targeted the way the companies advertise their tariffs. Here, confusion is a calculated tactic.
A recent Which? report pointed to one offer which promised ‘you’ll be up to £100 richer’ when in fact it would make you £233 poorer. Another ad promised ‘two months’ free energy’ when in fact it would save you a mere £3.80 over a year. Yet another offered £125 off your gas bill, when in fact you’d have to switch to a tariff which was £157 more expensive than the competition. The figures were the result of expert manipulation of the complex price structure to create a misleadingly attractive proposition.
There’s a crucial rule in advertising: make a single point in a compelling way. Give your audience one thing to grasp, and do it in a manner that makes them stop and think. Don’t complicate things with too many messages.
Well, the energy companies certainly follow that rule. The trouble is, the complications they kindly spare us have quite a bearing on the main message.
How refreshing, then, to return to the stroll around the neighbourhood and experience a simpler approach to addressing the public, with no apparent intention to deceive. There’s something peculiarly comforting about the expression of an undeniable fact. Here’s an honest claim if ever I saw one.
And a bit of civic pride is always good to see, so this noble assertion is guaranteed to lift the spirits of all passers-by.
Maybe there’s a lesson there for the energy companies and their advertising. Because, with these two examples of informing readers, at least we know where we are.