Monday, October 30, 2006

Pictures versus words

Nobody reads anymore.

That’s a common lament from virtually everybody. Clients say that as they ask you to reduce the number of words in an ad. Teachers and parents say that about children. We say that about ourselves as an excuse for not reading that new non-fiction best seller that everyone is talking about.

But that is simply not true. Young people today read more than ever before. And they write much more than previous generations.

If that sounds like a startling statement, think of all the websites, instant messages, emails, blogs and sms messages that a typical teenager goes through in a single day. A group of Professors in the US did that recently and found that young people there are actually reading more than their parents did. How’s that for shutting up the oldie complainers?

Think of the implication for advertising. If we write interesting stuff and place the material in interesting places, then our audience is willing to read it. The problem is that we still insist on putting all our writing in old fashioned ads, leaflets and brochures – dead trees basically – when our audience is moving on to reading on the screen.

Then again, why do words have to be written? I have recently acquired an addiction to Podcasts and I can’t think of a better way to “read” an article quickly. On my iPod right now are podcasts from Business Week, Harvard Business Review, Economist, Scientific American and Comedy Central. And that’s because I have only just started. Give me some time and my library will grow.

That makes life even more interesting. Now you can get consumers to interact deeply with your words. At a pace of your choosing. But with a level of concentration that radio or TV could never even dream of.

All that remains is for us to write something that is really interesting. And find a way of putting those words in a place where our audience wants to read it. Simple!!


fred says said...

Very true. Hence more options and avenues to catch on books, articles etc. ranging on varied topics.

Manish said...

excellent point...its not that we read less, its just that we read with more distractions and less attention.

we also read in smaller bytes. so novel reading is down. editorial reading is down.

the depth of reading is down. but the breadth of reading is up! at least in my case...

the formatting of many magazines has adapted to include important points and key data! but some like the Hindu and Frontline continue with old school copy rules...

also reading is increasingly becoming one among multiple concurrent tasks...

Therefore the new age copy-writer( a rare species in India) must invent memes, new grammer, html copy and other new rules of copy...

Anonymous said...

Reading and writing was a means to receive and impart information. Today, younger people get/give information on the mobile, internet, podcasts, blogs etc.
Tomorrow, it could be ESP for one knows. The truth is, people are the same always...they don't do fifferent things, they just do things differently. As advertising professionals, we need to understand this change and accept it.

Shenoy said...

I guess I am what is called "chronologically disadvantaged". (That means old). I prefer reading stuff written on paper. And I love reading things that are written beautifully. But is my kind going to be extinct soon?

I dont dispute the fact that teenagers read more than we do, but they read such absolute junk that it can hardly count. And reading on-screen cant be done in bed or on the pot, which disqualifies me from membership of podcaster's guilds or whatever such things are called.

I like to curl up into various small mammal shapes and assume angles usually the province of the inebriated while I am reading. Cant do that with a laptop.

I like to savour what I read, rolling some delightful turn of phrase over and over in my mind or trying to relate to some concept or idea new to me. I find that a little hard to do on screen. Probably because I have to sit on my booty continuously.

It's just a mind block, you'd say. I suppose you're right and this is a megatrend. I just hope its a bit gradual.

And this blogging thing is cool. Keep going.

harshal said...

Nice post - and highlights that old doggerel that content is really king. Or the idea, at any rate.

What's frightening in some respects is the reluctance for the advertising rupee to move on to newer platforms - but that's a vast generalisation, i'd suspect.

Arstechnica does advertise on it's RSS feeds, which is heartening. As also case studies in ambient media, which make for compelling evidence that there is a fairly bright future ahead of us.

I believe another planner in the UK has spoken about "attentionomics" in the past. Maybe it's more of a challenge today than it was in the past.

p.s. Liked the blog, be wonderful to hear more of these "conversations in the ether"

Anuranjan said...

If people think that "no one reads today, anymore" then please "READ"

Finally, someone has come up with the research to prove what we all
suspected: Magazines work better than TV!
In the October 23rd issue of AdAge, it was reported that Rex Briggs, CEO of Marketing Evolution, had just completed a study in which he found that "Magazines were superior to both TV and online in driving
purchase intent. It's the safest bet if you want to achieve results".

blaiq said...

Agree wholeheartedly. I recently wrote a post on the fuuture of reading that says pretty much the same thing - without insisting that words are the only form of information dissemination. You can read it here :

Dhivya said...

The youth today are so much more attuned with everything happening around them through podcast, blogs, video games etc.

Nothing can really substitue curling up with a book or reading the morning paper with chai but with such erratic work schedules even thats fast becoming online.

Meenu said...

Hmm nice post! very true .. too .. Reading and writing is still more .. and it is essential in today's world.
Whatever be the way . people are interested in acquiring and sharing knowledge .. and yes physical sense of the material read is really better way to get the feel of it ..