Creating Content for Zombies

Written by Shannon Fisher

November 12, 2014

Have you ever looked around during the inflight safety demonstration and noticed your fellow passengers gripped by the presentation? Yeah, me neither.

When I do catch myself watching the demo, it’s in body only. My spirit is off in a land with more legroom and bigger bags of anything-but-pretzels.

But why? Why am I so flippant about my own safety? Well—besides the fact that I’m in denial about the possibility of bad things happening—because I’ve seen that safety schpiel enough times to know it never changes. Permission to zombie out.

But do I really know what to do? If my flight was mid-crash, would I mistakenly look for my flotation device in the overhead compartment bin and help everyone around me strap on their oxygen until I passed out, maskless?

In the last month I’ve been on 12 flights. A couple of them were with United Airlines and lo—they surprised me with a safety demo I’d never seen. It even had—gasp—humour! And it worked. I watched the whole damn thing, you guys.

When I flew home a few days later, again with United, the video sucked me in a second time. I noticed some fun details I’d missed, like the surprised look on the taxi driver’s face when he was ordered to buckle up. And I’m betting if I watched it a third time, I’d catch more layered nuances.

We become numb to the routine parts of our lives. We bumble through with a case of “brain cloud” like a zombie Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano. We shut ourselves off to the familiar because we assume we know what’s coming. We get complacent.

Until the unexpected wakes us up.

Steve and I have two dogs, both pointers. If we have any hopes of sanity, they need exercise. So. Much. Exercise. We have some favourite off-leash areas we frequent. The parks all have signs along the trails alerting dog owners to bylaws about things like leashes, licensing, and poop. Pretty standard stuff. Nothing you’d pay attention to ever after reading them once.

Except at Inter River Park in North Vancouver. These signs are different. Each one is customized and takes a shot at being clever. And because of that, I pay attention. I look for them along the trail. Some of them are super cheesy, but there’s even something about cheese that’s inherently endearing and compels me to take note.

Instead of:

“Bylaw 1177 requires owners to immediately remove and dispose of dog poop in a sanitary manner.”

The Inter River signs say things like:

“Dog Guardians: In a world where everyone is looking out for number one, who’s taking care of number two? Pick up after your dogs. Thank you.”

And:

“Attention Dog Guardians: Pick up after your dogs - Thank you. Attention Dogs: Grr, bark, woof. Good dog.”

Cute right? Nothing mind-blowing, but enough to pull me from the grey. Enough to make me stop and read all the signs in Inter River Park.

We can do better at taking advantage of opportunities to shake things up and pull our audiences from their zombie stupors (where it’s appropriate—i.e. not with navigational naming conventions). Bring them to the conscious level with small surprises. Break through their brain cloud. Be memorable. Delight them!

Sometimes this will simply mean using conversational tone in your copy—in 2014, this is something many companies are still trying to get right. Sometimes it will look like sending a follow-up email that doesn’t sound like every single follow-up email ever written. Sometimes it will take the form of a 404 page that’s impossible to forget. And other times it will be a FAQ page full of questions that no one’s actually ever asked.

So, how will you compel the passengers on your flight to pay attention? And what things are you doing already? Do tell!

Need some ideas? Get in touch!