The NYC Police and the Metropolitan Transit Association have run a catchy public service campaign for the last few years whose tagline is, “If you see something, say something.”
The ad on the train I’m on has these words is big letters, with a picture of an abandoned bag. The message is to keep an eye out for suspect or abandoned packages.
I’ve probably seen this ad two or three times a week for the past few years, and only this morning I paid enough attention to notice the words underneath the tagline: “Tell us, a cop, or call 1-888-NYC-SAFE.”
I bet if you asked 50 people who had seen this ad what phone number to call, 49 of them wouldn’t remember.
It’s easy to make an example of this ad because it so clearly separates out the IDEA (“if you see something…”) from the ACTION (call this number). It could be that they figure “say something” is self-explanatory, but couldn’t they have traded catchy for memorable and said, “See something? Tell a cop or call 888-NYC-SAFE.”
The point is, most of the time we write or speak with the goal of convincing people of an idea rather than convincing them to take an action.
It’s actually much harder to get people to act. You only need to convince them of an idea while you’re talking. But to get them to act, they have to remember what you said long after you’re done . You’ll probably have to come at the idea from a number of different angles, getting people to work through their barriers and their internal conversation about why they should do nothing. You’ll have to be a lot less elegant and a lot more explicit. You’ll have to give examples and be motivational and inspirational and pound the table some.
You’ll have to sell.
And you absolutely, positively, definitely wouldn’t get stuck at a conceptual level if what you cared the most about was action.
If you see something, say something that will get me to act.