Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rudolph's Sticky Idea

Its that time of year again when the signs of the season descend upon us. The weather gets colder. The regular holiday street players dust themselves off. Human resources sends out open enrollment notices.

I was reminded of this by an advertisement I saw on CNBC from a company whose memorable tag line is, "Ask about it at work".

I will never be able to watch the Rankin-Bass classic again without hearing "Aflac!" screaming softly in the back of my mind.

Ideas have many intangible properties. Stickiness is one of them. If Aflac's advertising campaigns over the years had employed a used-car sales approach to supplemental insurance, I doubt they'd still be in business. (I'm not sure that supplemental insurance is a blood-pumping topic of discussion, though I welcome to be proven wrong if anyone at Aflac is reading this). The invocation of pop-culture icons as a foundation in which Aflac's story is re-told, makes their idea one that is both sticky, and pervasive.

The stickiness of ideas is the subject of a book published earlier this year. In "Made to Stick", authors Chip and Dan Heath look at six essential qualities of ideas that make them effective in influencing thought, and changing behaviour.

One example is the concreteness of an idea. Chip and Dan remind us that while the language of communicating ideas is often abstract (a favorite of theirs is "idiopathic cardiomyopathy"), life is not abstract. Abstraction makes it very difficult to understand and remember ideas. I can certainly agree with this.

Ultimately, what winning ideas need is gift-wrapping from their own personal Aesop.

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