How Does Your Brand Speak?

Papua New Guinea. Where Pidgin English could inspire you to think differently about how your brand speaks. Photo courtesy of Eric Lafforgue.
Papua New Guinea is strange and beguiling. You’ll find the language the same. Photo courtesy of Eric Lafforgue.

Ah, the charms of Papua New Guinea.

It’s a place that encourages you to inject more than a syllable of originality into your vocabulary – something that’s bound to help in enlivening the way your brand speaks.

Razor sharp mountaintops soar 11,000 feet above the jungle floor to welcome you to a country that’s a kind of a language lab. A paradise island where inventive expressions abound.

It’s Pidgin English, of course, that provides a lingo that’s rungs higher on the ladder of invention than most everyday communication.

Take note, as you spy a helicopter threading its way between mountain-peak coffee plantations. Pidgin for helicopter is ‘mixmaster him blong Jesuschrist’.

Well naturally … you have Sunbeam and their whirling cake mix beaters to thank for this example of unaided recall. A brand name – or at least a product model name — enters the vernacular with a new and imaginative usage.

‘Throw ‘em away leg’ describes what you did the last time you got up and crossed the room. You literally threw one leg in front of the other and ‘walked’, as they say in Roget’s Thesaurus.

‘Man him write big English in newspaper’ is Pidgin for a journalist. Something to do, no doubt, with the font size of page one newspaper headlines.

The word for scuba diver is ‘man him blong puff puff’. Nicely inventive, even if it is gender blind.

To coin a phrase, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. In addition to strategic thinking, it’s a way to make your brand stand apart from the rest – especially when yours is a parity product.

As you well know, brands now have less and less when it comes to tangible assets. Me-tooism reigns in the way products are manufactured and in the way they’re marketed.

So why is this often forgotten? After all, innovative content helps to elevate you above the generics.

But too much messaging out there is startlingly banal. Limp when it comes to differentiation and interest.

You’ve probably come across this sort of work; it just sits there, inert on a web page with all the energy of depleted uranium.

Happily, there are a few creative agencies bent on changing all that. They have the knack of relevance and engagement. They work to insert emotion into prospects’ lives.

You can trace their efforts back six decades to a kind of commercial Pidgin – a vocabulary minted by ad agencies to communicate the end benefit of a product.

With that you have the ‘ize’ words.

Personalize and customize are Madison Avenue inventions. As are glamorize, sanitize, motorize, vitalize, finalize, tenderize and comfortize.

Could the car polish brand, Simonize, be a legacy of this thinking? Probably.

You wouldn’t be wrong to say the ‘ize’ words are now superannuated and toothless. They reached their use-by-dates (or, amuse-by-dates) long ago.

These days a few campaigns are still trying to speak their own language. ‘Got Milk?’ is one. ‘Like A Rock’ is another. Why did they dump it?

As an extension of this, names of companies can carry this freshness. Even if you don’t need them, it’s had to forget Roto-Rooter.

It’s a name that takes the brand right out of the ordinary business of plumbing and establishes it in a category all its own.

We all sense the power in that –  after all, take away the competition and you’d sell a zillion.

It’s not exactly news that people warm to fresh expression.

A  sign we saw outside a  Carolina mountain village bar read, ‘Tomorrow Beer Is Free’.  So you’re drawn in for the humor and you pay happily for your frosty mug.

Thank goodness for a bit of quirkiness.

Invention adds scope and individuality, or as Jean-Marie Dru, author of Disruption: Overturning Conventions and Shaking Up the Marketplace might say, the best messaging stands out because it ruffles the status quo.

But what if you need to decimate the status quo? Kill it dead.

For instance, in the world capital for skin cancer, Australia, how do you get ad-phobic, skeptical teenage beach addicts to apply sunscreen?

Melanoma can be fatal. But that’s not about to make a dead-set, live-for-the-moment Aussie surfboard rider blink, is it?

That’s why, a few years back, creatives reached further to come up with ‘Me No Fry’… an inventive, fresh execution of a ‘be smart’ strategy. Teenage Pidgin, you might call it.

Great stuff.

But if you were on Sydney’s Bondi Beach you might notice ‘Me No Fry’ took on extra power thanks to an unexpected interactive quality.

The target audience caught the spirit of the message and added two words of their own.

‘Me No Fry My Arse’ is the complete thought for protecting yourself against a ferocious Australian sun. Suddenly you have a weapon to bludgeon the status quo.

You could say our business is pathologically addicted to novelty. So it wouldn’t be a step in the wrong direction to create a vernacular of your own.

In tandem with a strong positioning it’s a fresh way to stand out and differentiate your brand from everyone else in your category.

Moreover it’s a sure way to drive memorability and defeat boredom.

Well, what are you waiting for? ‘Throw ‘em away leg’ and visit your agency. Have them start working on more inventive content.

Share with us. Do you have examples of inventive writing that made a difference for a brand? Thanks for reading,  Steve Ulin





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