by Molly Michieli
As a content creator and writer, one of the best parts of my role is learning new ways to express feeling and purpose in the written word. When I first purchased the book, “Hit Makers: The Science of Population in the Age of Distraction” by Derek Thompson, I knew I would learn something within the 352 pages, that would benefit the work I do as a content creator for Flood Marketing. What I didn’t know is just how much I would learn from it, or the fact that it’s one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.
Thompson brings up an eye-opening formula of rhetoric that we’ve all been hearing for decades, yet knowing there was a formula to it – let alone a word for it – is new. The antimetabole. This led me to wonder what other rhetoric “formulas” I’ve been writing in, and how being aware of these can make me a better writer. I’ve chosen two from which I think the marketing world benefits from in particular. Enjoy the read!
Throughout history, speeches, taglines, quotes, and songs, have been tugging on our heart strings and forever burning their way into our memory. But why? How do spoken words become memorable? Why can we remember a slogan we heard on a commercial six weeks ago, but we have no idea what our spouse said to us five minutes ago?
There are two particular forms of rhetoric in the English language that have incredible emotion-inducing power and leave listeners and readers with not just an experience, but also a memory. The two forms that Flood Marketing discussed in our last staff meeting, have been gaining speed in the marketing world, and we wanted to know why.
The first, is the antimetabole. Ugh, the WHAT? How do you even say that word?
An antimetabole, is a form of rhetoric that uses, and then reuses a phrase to make it memorable and catchy. One of the most memorable examples of antimetabole, was spoken more than 56 years ago. Yet still today, we know it by heart, we know exactly who said it, when and where they said it, and many would argue it holds more meaning now more than ever before.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
In John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech on January 20, 1961, people from all parties, all walks of life, all ages, were awakened by a tremendous jolt of emotion when the new president spoke these words. That emotion was a strong feeling of responsibility, unity, and hope. Even those of us that were yet to be born on the day this memorable speech was spoken, know this quote and feel its weight.
In his 2016 book, “Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction”, Derek Thompson, points out that many of the most famous examples of antimetabole, have been made memorable by politicians.
One of the most recent examples was spoken by Hillary Clinton; “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”
When our country saw one of its darkest days in recent history, President George W. Bush stated, “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.”
There is an obvious pattern here. In the Greek language, “antimetabole,” means to “turn about.” Turning around the words to create a rhythm, motivate listeners, and clearly tell the message the speaker is trying to convey, is the purpose of antimetabole. In “Hit Makers”, Thompson remarkably demonstrates the power of antimetabole in song and speech, and dissects the structure of its formula in such a way that team Flood is now intently listening for this pattern in everything we hear. Thompson explains that all we need to remember antimetabole, is “ABBA” or “AB/BA.” That is the basic formula of this poetic and mighty device.
The best part about using the antimetabole structure, is that generally the meaning and message are easy to understand. This is the ultimate power of antimetabole. People get it. We all know exactly what Clinton, Bush, and Kennedy meant when delivering these memorable phrases. Thompson calls the antimetabole, “one of the most efficient tricks, precisely because the brain hears the music and then wants to believe the underlying policy.” When you can make music from the spoken word, people listen.
Advertising has taken a lesson from politics and music. When creating taglines and slogans, it is incredibly important to know your audience and at the same time, speak to everyone. Take Bounce dryer sheets for example. Not the most popular product to shop for these days, but their slogan clearly demonstrates the purpose their product serves and is catchy – making it memorable and powerful when a consumer has to decide which brand of dryer sheets they want to purchase.
“Stops static before static stops you.”
The other very powerful device in the rhetoric toolbox, is the isocolon. The isocolon is rapidly gaining popularity in marketing due to its simplicity and social media-friendly structure. An isocolon is a sequence of sentences, phrases, or clauses that are all the same length. Like the antimetabole, an isocolon is a parallel formula for writing memorable slogans that while short in length, hold enormous power for the listener.
Year after year, the motorcycle company, Harley Davidson, gets praise for having one of the most effective slogans in advertising history.
“American by birth. Rebel by choice.”
You don’t even have to like motorcycles to enjoy that slogan. It’s an emotional overload in two short sentences. When we read this, speak it, or hear it spoken, we immediately feel pride, bravery, and a sense that the choice to buy a Harley is a good decision able bring out our bad-side. Daring and exciting, this slogan was written with the company’s customers in mind but the yet-to-be-customers at heart.
One of the biggest corporations in the world, Walmart, uses an isocolon as their slogan as well.
“Save money. Live better.”
Short, sweet, and simple, the message conveyed here is incredibly clear. By shopping at Walmart, we will have more money in our pockets to enjoy life, and it tells us their products are of the quality essential for living an enjoyable life.
Similar to that of Walmart, Home Depot’s isocolon slogan is also one that is easily engrained in our minds.
“More saving. More doing.”
By saving money shopping, we can do more for home improvement. It is a simple message that speaks to us all. Who doesn’t want to save money? Who doesn’t want to do more?
These phrases, slogans, and speeches, are memorable because they are rhythmic. They not only speak to us, they seem to sing to us as well. Just like a catchy song, we remember them, we repeat them, we feel them.
Words hold immense power; a power that is often overlooked. When it comes to marketing, cautious thought must be put into the creation of a tagline. The best taglines come to mind easily and speak to more people than just the ones who already purchase the product. Just as JFK’s speech in 1961 united people from all sides, slogans should unite a company’s purpose with everyday life. Or in Harley Davidson’s case, what we dream everyday life to be like.
So, sing it, don’t just say it. Put memorable rhythm to words with the antimetabole and isocolon formulas and spark the emotions you want your customers to feel.