The 5 flavors of award-winning content
Hip hop mogul Flavor Flav of the legendary rap group Public Enemy once said, “One thing you can’t do with babies, you can’t give them steak.” This is sage advice as babies do not have teeth and teeth are requisite for chewing. More importantly, it’s helpful to the aspiring copywriter who aims to successfully serve up award-winning content and mouthwatering brand messages for their clients.
Hitherto, scientists have identified five basic flavors that the human tongue is able to detect: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory (aka umami).
We each have personal preferences and our tastes may evolve over time. Whereas your mother may have a sweet tooth, your mother’s mother may crave more salty vittles. As a young lad, you may have eaten Sour Patch Kids by the fistful. But now, fully grown, find yourself to be more of a savory man.
But just because you prefer savory burgers and burritos, doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally enjoy a sweet slice of apple pie.
Your marketing audience is no different when it comes to the marketing messages they prefer to consume. The seasoned copywriter – much like the skilled chef – can adjust flavor profiles to match the mood.
Let’s explore the 5 flavors of content messaging…
Flavor #1: Sweet
At first blush, you may assume sweet messaging only appeals to select audiences — like grandmothers. Perhaps you’re right. Conversely, consider this: More rugged and dare we say, masculine, audiences are not entirely immune to having their heartstrings pulled. Particularly, if you appeal to their sense of pride.
For many in the agriculture community, the most memorable commercial of the last 20 years was “So God Made a Farmer” from RAM Trucks.
It’s an inspired ode to farmers. Once upon a time, Mr. Paul Harvey delivered this powerful message with a subtle hint of sweetness and adoration in his cadence. Now imagine how different this spot would be if Harvey had used a more chest-thumping tone. Or if the commercial had been set to hearty rock music.
Indeed, here sweetness hits the spot.
Flavor #2: Sour
Something that is sour has a sharp, unpleasant taste like that of a melon. This doesn’t appeal to most, but it can be absolutely critical in your marketing messaging during tough times.
For instance, when a brand has difficult news to share, it’s best that they don’t sugarcoat it. Be honest and transparent — even if it’s a sour message that will be tough to swallow.
To be sure, that initial shock of sourness will soon fade. But disguising it with fluff or untruths will almost certainly backfire in the end, causing brand damage that can linger for years. It’s better to be sour for a day, then to be deemed untrustworthy for a decade.
In 2015, an E. coli outbreak hit Chipotle, lasting nearly six months and resulting in an 82% decrease in profits and a 15% loss in the stock market. Company leadership could have delivered a sour message and assured customers and employees that it was working diligently to resolve the outbreak. Most would have forgiven and forgotten.
Instead, leaders like co-CEO Monty Moran made light of the issue and placed some of the blame on sensationalist news media. Consumers received this content messaging dish and sent it back.
Flavor #3: Salty
Salty messaging is bold. Used properly, it can be quite powerful. Use too much, however, or in the wrong dish, and it quickly overwhelms. Whether in cooking or copywriting, a pinch of salt can do wonders. Needs salt or too salty are missed opportunities.
The purpose of salty content messaging is to take a stand. Let the world know what your brand is all about. Like salt, some will love it, others can do without.
In 2018, Nike created cultural shockwaves when it aligned with Colin Kaepernick, telling the world to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
The public reaction was exactly what you’d hope for when deploying salty messaging: Many loved it, many hated it, just about everyone agreed it was worth talking about.
Whether you personally loved or hated it, there is no denying that it was well worth the risk, given the amount of earned media Nike received from the Colin Kaepernick campaign.
The numbers tell the story: Nike added just enough salt.
Flavor #4: Bitter
Bitter messaging almost never works and likely won’t produce award-winning content. It’s typically childish and reactionary content. A brand throwing a public tantrum of sorts. Imagine a scenario where McDonald’s or Walmart took to Twitter to denounce a raise to the federal minimum wage. That scenario would not end well. Avoid bitter content messaging at all costs as it doesn’t align with ethical advertising.
Flavor #5: Savory (umami)
The protein of messaging. Even vegans and vegetarians crave it. Because this type of messaging cuts to the chase. It’s the facts and the figures. Where transparency meets truth. Taking a stand and holding your ground.
Recently, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many brands have sent messages to customers saying, “We’re here for you and happy to help.” This is sweet messaging. Then consider Google offering $340 million in ad credits to small and mid-sized companies whose business has been disrupted by the coronavirus. Or, back in 2018, when Starbucks responded to a clear-cut case of racial discrimination at one of its stores by closing all 8,000 stores to provide racial-bias training to its nearly 175,000 employees. These are just two examples of brands walking the walk and talking the talk with savory messaging.
Award-winning content and switching up the flavors
In conclusion, we in the marketing and advertising community preach the value of a consistent brand voice — it’s the essential flavor to award-winning content. But, consistency doesn’t mean you can’t switch up the flavor profile when the occasion calls for it. After all, the sign of a great chef is one who can serve up a masterful appetizer, entrée or dessert in a moment’s notice.
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