Commentary: Making an Impact with Seven or Fewer Words

By Edward P. Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Recently, as I came around a wide bend in the freeway, I saw a billboard that showed a college student wearing his school sweatshirt. Accompanying the photo were the following words: Only a 45-minute Drive from Youngstown.

Less than a half-mile later was another billboard with a picture of a nurse on a hospital ship. The accompanying words, “Love in Action,” were followed by “Join Us” and beneath that, “”

Then a third billboard a few miles later showed a luscious and inviting pizza (including the pizza box with the business name on it). This time the words on the billboard said, “Yes, Money Can Buy Happiness.”

As I reached my destination, I sat in the lot for a moment and recalled a few conversations I had a while back with folks in the marketing field who told me that research shows the human brain can safely and rather easily comprehend a picture and seven or fewer words as we drive on a freeway.

Some time later, while driving on an interstate at 70 mph, I noticed billboards  put up by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. With just a few words – “Joy in every direction,” for example – it make an impact.

Let me be clear. I am not writing this column with any professional background in promotional/marketing science. In addition, I am not claiming any expertise in this field. What I am saying is that my experience with these billboards not only caught my attention but stuck with me.

This billboard’s image and four words makes a lasting impact. Image courtesy Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

These experiences brought up a more recent conversation I had at a meeting that included a marketing professional from a local company. In our conversation, he mentioned that in advertising, sometimes a certain shift happens when a particular style gets “flooded.” He added that when this happens, the message becomes noise. Too much, too often weakens the impact of a marketing campaign.

His words were enlightening and interesting, especially when he commented that traditional marketing is making a comeback. With some campaigns, distributing a brochure or posting a billboard is again standard practice.

As he was talking, I kept thinking of those billboards. What the market professional was saying made sense. It even made more sense as I thought of how difficult it is to make a statement, share a message and promote something in seven or fewer words. Hey, eight or nine words might be feasible but what a challenge to compress an effective statement in so few words.

Later that day, I passed a billboard on a main thoroughfare whose message comprised its address, schedule, phone number and logo. I realized that the only thing I really noticed was the logo phrase because it’s been with the company for a couple of decades.

With all the means of communicating we have these days, I can understand the concept of “flooding” the market. That could dilute the message and cause the message to drop from our radar.

A few days later, I stopped at a printing company to pick up some note cards I had ordered. Within a week or two, I encountered three folks who received one of the new cards.

They told me how nice the cards were and asked where I got them. After the third person made such nice comments, I emailed the printing company. The owner replied: “Fr. Ed, thanks for your kind words and promotion of what we do. The personal touch is usually the best promotion. And it’s the most economical!”

Sometimes we all need to take a deep breath and realize we live in a wonderful world that gives us plenty of ways to communicate. Modern technology is phenomenal. The upcoming AI revolution is a bit scary. But if used correctly, it will be yet another tool.

Remember, though, the human touch is profound and costs just our time. Maybe, just maybe, it’s part of the theory of seven or fewer words.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.