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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Wind, Nick Hornby & Context

Knowing how to frame ideas into the right context seems to be a common stumbling block in marketing and communications. I don't know whether it's because understanding context is diffcult or putting things in context is difficult.

Here are two examples I came across last week that may help you think about context.

Wind power. On Friday two architecture professors, Charlie Cannon of Rhode Island School of Design and Leftheri Pavlides of Roger Williams University, walked me through a presentation about why wind turbines are good for communities. The deck, written eight months ago before energy prices went bonkers and Exxon Mobil declared a $9 billion net quarterly profit, was packed with economic, environmental and health data and benefits.

“So, what do you think,” they asked. "Is it persuasive and convincing?"

Not quite. My advice was that they talk about wind in the context of the out-of-control energy prices, and the impact of those prices on poor and working class folks who are just trying to make it. (Flash back to images of Hurricane Katrina and the poor and working class with no safety net.)

Of course, the environmental and health benefits are solid, but what moves people in the current context is that wind is something we can approve locally to help local people. I can’t do anything about the big oil companies or utilities. But I can approve wind turbines for my local community, which will help some people who are on the brink of financial disaster. Wind is a simple thing we can do that can have a profound effect.

A Long Way Down. Another example of context comes from Nick Hornby’s new novel, A Long Way Down about four really different people who meet by chance on a rooftop on New Year's Eve with the intent of committing suicide. (Almost but not quite as good as High Fidelity and About A Boy.)

This excerpt is from JJ, one of the loser characters who is on vacation in the Canary Islands with his new New Year's Eve friends, and is going out to “jumpstart my libido.”

“I went back to the room to get dressed. I’m not a bare-chested kind of guy. I’m like a hundred and thirty pounds, skinny as f**k, white as a ghost, and you can’t walk around next to guys with tans and six-packs when you look like that. Even if you found a chick who dug the skinny ghost look, she wouldn’t remember that she dug you in this context, right? If you were into Dolly Parton and they played a blast of her album during a hip-hop show, she just wouldn’t sound good. In fact, you wouldn’t even be able to f******g hear her. So putting on my faded black jeans and my old Drive-By Truckers T-shirt was my way of being heard by the right people.”

JJ dressed for the context and did indeed jumpstart his libido. I'd like to share more about the other characters and bigger context ideas but that might ruin the book for you. It's worth the read.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the goal here to persuade or to screw your audience?

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, the environmental and health benefits of industrial wind power are not solid. And oil is minimally used for electricity generation. It certainly complicates your argument if your assumptions are wrong.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Lois Kelly said...

Hello anonymous:
The goal is to help people see your point of view in an open and honest way. They may disagree and they may challenge your interpretation of the facts, which is fine. If we debated more issues with the intent of helping people understand (vs. "spin"), the world would be better for it.

10:51 AM  

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