This might be one of the greatest examples of simplifying a message I’ve ever heard.
This morning on NPR I heard a story about TTIP.
What is TTIP? The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Essentially a free trade zone between the US and Europe.
I say essentially. Because in reality, it is a very long, complex governmental document full of legal language and nuance. Impossible to understand unless its your world.
In short, it is just like many documents and ideas we deal with each and every day. Where the language is insider, dense, jargon-laden and hard to understand from the outside. So, what do we do?
We find our Chlorinated Chicken.
Activists in Europe knew that people were going to be lulled to sleep by the nuance of TTIP, so they found a simple, unexpected and concrete item to focus on: chicken. Specifically, US chicken.
It seems that food safety for chickens is very different in Europe than it is in the US. In the US, we put raw chickens into chilled vats of water. This water contains chlorine in order to kill the salmonella. In Europe, they check the live birds all the time. If they find one with salmonella, they “remove” it. Over 20 years, this reduced their rate of infected birds to around 2%.
The point is not to debate which approach is better. What I want to point out is that activists are honing in on this one very tangible product to raise concern over this big, complex treaty. The fact that no one wants to eat a chicken that just soaked in the swimming pool.
And it is brilliant. The German equivalent of John Stewart’s Daily Show ran a skit about chicken nuggets in the White House that smelled like the kiddie pool. It is a very vivid image. And it seems to be working.
How to use the Chlorinated Chicken Strategy
Everyday we all face a series of complex ideas that we need to explain to an audience with less knowledge than we have. And even more important, they have attention demands that are 24/7. So, we have to make it simple for them. Simple and memorable.
And what I’m calling the chlorinated chicken strategy (CCS) can do just that for you. What is the CCS? It is three simple steps to ensure that all of your communications about complex ideas will resonate with an audience.
Here’s three simple steps to ensure that your message follows the CCS:
Make sure everyone can relate to it. Chicken is a food we can all relate to. We can see it in our mind’s eye. All of the countries in this treaty raise and eat chicken. We have personal experience with it. Not so a treaty. Few of us have read a treaty. Few of us could read this one and understand it. Treaties seem abstract. They sound like history books and dusty rooms. Chicken is in the fridge.
Make sure you paint a vivid picture. Raw chicken in a vat of swimming pool water is a multi-sensory experience. You can see it. You can smell it. You can—worst of all—taste it. If you want to be memorable, then be sensory in your language. The more the better. So, use sights, sounds, scents, tastes, textures. Describe to them what it is like to be there. Be extreme. This is what moves us. And emotions are necessary to lock in a memory.
Make sure you establish a story structure. The poor chicken versus the state. The consumers versus the corporations. The corporations versus the chickens. All of these good guy – bad guy set-ups work on us. Our brain’s are story-making machines. We love them. They are easy to tell. And this is a classic. It is David v. Goliath. It works on the story-making apparatus in our minds. We can remember it. We can retell it. And we love to support the underdog…or under-chicken in this case. It’s part of the American mythology. It seems to be a part of all our story DNA.
Only time will tell if the chlorine-soaked chicken will unravel an international trade agreement. But it will certainly serve as a textbook guide on how to craft a compelling message on a complex topic.