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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Contrast and Compare: The Perfect "Sticky" Message

Sticky messages – those memorable sound bites, analogies or stories that resonate and "stick" in the mind of an audience – emerge one of two ways: as the result of hard work in message development sessions, or they can just happen organically. In the following case we're not sure which applies (though we'll guess organic), but the death on July 5 of the eccentric and eclectic American abstract artist Cy Twombly provided an example of how contrast and visual imagery can combine to form the "I have to use this quote" sticky message.
Twombly was a contemporary of modern art icons Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg. His influential large-scale painted scribblings were the forerunners of the street graffiti artists who emerged in America’s urban scene in the late 20th century. Yet the general public was not as familiar with Twombly as with his two fellow icons. When National Public Radio decided to profile Twomby in an obituary on July 6, the producers of Morning Edition dug up an interview with noted art curator Kirk Varnedoe. During the interview, Varnedoe encapsulated the essential Twomby in one memorable line about the artist's cluttered home in Italy: "This is a home that a connoisseur would swoon over, and a thief would leave untouched."

Pre-scripted or not, how better to describe a complex and influential but often overlooked figure of cultural importance than to use the image a cluttered home and the contrast between an art expert and a thief as a metaphor? Of course the producers at Morning Edition included that line in the obit.

At CommCore we often paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's line about obscenity, "I know it when I see it." The same applies to a journalist – or any audience – when they are struck by a particularly visual sticky message that conveys far more than the words. Finding that perfect illustration is one of the greatest challenges for any good communicator.

What memorable sticky messages did you or a client develop? How did you come by it?

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