By Roy H. Williams
People are more interesting than non-people.
Mingle a bit of wood, paint and cloth, then drench the pile in sparkling imagination and a new person leaps onto the stage.
Few techniques in communication are as powerful – or as often overlooked – as personification: ascribing human characteristics to inanimate objects.
It turns dead corporate brands into living persons. Who are the Keebler Elves, the Jolly Green Giant, Mr. Clean and Ronald McDonald if not personifications of the brands they represent?
This memo isn’t about clumsy corporate cartoon characters. Personification is much bigger and more elegant than mere mascots and logos. When conceived in words, lively words, personification summons the imagination and triggers the emotions.
Listen to how Robert Frost gives human characteristics to inanimate objects in his storm poem, Once by the Pacific:
The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God’s last ‘Put out the Light’ was spoken.
Waves looked over others and thought of doing something to the shore, which was lucky in being backed by cliff?
Personification. Can you do it? Can you speak a person into existence?
Herman Melville did it 156 years ago in 3 short words, “Call me Ishmael.”
I did it 12 years ago in 5 words for Rolex and Everest, “…the world’s most angry mountain.”
Apple is doing it in 7 words right now. “I’m a Mac.” “And I’m a PC.”
(Did it ever occur to you that the audio track from these ads would work even better on radio than it does on TV? Evidently, it’s never occurred to anyone who sells radio airtime, either.)
We gaze longer at pictures that have people in them than at pictures that have no people. I believe the same is true of words. We pay more attention to words that tell us of people than to words that don’t.
That’s enough rambling for one Monday morning. Now go look Today in the eyes, smile sweetly and say, “I own you. You’re mine. You’re happy and warm and comforting and good and if you think for one second that I’m going to let you be otherwise, you’re sadly mistaken.” Be firm. Days can become unruly if you let them.