If you can get through to a teenager, you can get through to anyone
Back when such things were possible, my son had a party.
We won’t dwell on the details, suffice to say it ended with the words ‘the next party you give will be your 40thand we’ll come and be sick on your floor and break your toilet’.
Before that disappointing but entirely predictable denouement, we had another problem.
How to get 40 odd 17 year olds to close the door to the kitchen as they trailed in and out in search of food, drink and lavatories. Ostensibly it was to prevent our dogs escaping, but in truth it was to stop the slamming doors, howling draughts and general annoyance.
A big sign reading: PLEASE CLOSE THIS DOOR yielded a 0% success rate.
Watching them go through it occurred to me they hadn’t even seen it. Heads down with those adult-blocking blinkers teenagers wear that render anyone over 30 invisible, they swam in and out like migrating salmon.
Salmon that never close doors.
Unless I was going to spend the night door monitoring, I needed something a bit more persuasive.
So I wrote another sign.
CLOSE THE DOOR TO PREVENT ESCAPING DOGS
The stream of hormone-driven humanity did not falter. They neither looked up, paused or hesitated.
But every single one of them closed the door behind them.
Despite their apparent distraction, they had all absorbed the information, weighed it and found it sufficiently potent to change their behaviour. No discussion. No compromising. It just became as naturally part of their actions as absorbing industrial quantities of crisps and vodka.
Teenagers’ brains are hard to get through to. Science tells us that far from the Homer Simpson levels of brain activity their conversation would suggest, their minds are going like clappers, putting algorithms to shame in matters of data processing, complexity and speed.
So what made these human smart phones stop and listen. Or not stop, but listen anyway.
Closing a door is an instruction.
Stopping a dog escaping is a purpose.
And they like dogs.
(I may be wrong but I wonder if ‘close door to prevent escaping toddlers’ would have the same effect)
It’s all copywriting, isn’t it?
How you say something is important. But give someone a reason that resonates with their world and they may actually do what you say.
Perhaps I should have written another sign:
PLEASE DON’T GET SO DRUNK I HAVE TO CALL YOUR PARENTS. IT MAKES THE DOGS SAD.