The power of rhyme
It once was in fashion, but we’ve since lost our passion, for rhyming in ads, which makes us quite sad. Oh FFS, stop it. Ahem. Here is a great article by Richard Shotton and Alex Thompson about a lost marketing art form...
The most memorable lecture I’ve been to began with a question. Dave Trott asked, “Who remembers an ad from yesterday?” A smattering of hands went up. When questioned most of the volunteers struggled to list a handful. That’s a meagre volume considering we’re exposed to hundreds of commercial messages each day.
Trott’s question revealed how difficult it is for ads to achieve their most fundamental task: being remembered. My colleague, Alex Thompson, and I designed an experiment - adapted from one by Matthew McGlone of Lafayette College - to better understand what tactics could boost message memorability.
One morning, we showed colleagues a list of 10 statements, half of which rhymed and half didn’t. They had five minutes to read the list. We then asked them to return at the end of the day and list as many of the phrases as possible. We wanted to see if rhyming statements were more memorable.
To ensure the experiment was fair, each statement had a rhyming and non-rhyming version. These were randomly alternated between participants. One person saw, “Children and fools shouldn’t play with sharp tools”, while another was shown, “Children and dunces shouldn’t play with sharp tools”. This meant any increase in recall was due to the rhyme not the particular statement topic.
The results were conclusive. Across a week 36 people read 180 rhyming statements and 180 non-rhyming. They were twice as likely to remember the rhyming ones. 29% of the rhyming statements were recalled compared to only 14% of the non-rhyming ones.
Proving that rhymes are more memorable might seem like a statement of the bleeding obvious.
At first glance that seems fair criticism. After all there’s a long history of rhyming ads. Think of:
Beanz Meanz Heinz
A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play
We all adore a Kia-Ora
It’s a lot less bovver than a hover
A great fibre provider
Murray mints, too good to hurry mints
But all these ads are thirty years old. In the last few years the number of rhyming ads has dried up. That’s not speculation. Alex Boyd and I spent a morning in the News UK archives looking at copies of The Times and the Sun stretching back to 1977. We saw a clear pattern.
In the last decade, the number of ads with a prominent rhyme has halved: since 2007 about 4% of print ads included a rhyme compared to 10% in the previous years. Rhymes have fallen from fashion.
The question is why? One reason might be that although rhymes are more memorable they are less persuasive. But the evidence doesn’t support that assertion.
As I have written about previously, Matthew McGlone ran an experiment in 1999 showing that rhyming statements are believed to be 22% more accurate.
The over-professionalisation of advertising
Unfortunately, I think the reason for rhyme’s decline lies with us. The advertising industry has become, in Martin Weigel’s phrase, “over-professionalised” - it has become the domain of experts.
Experts have a tendency to ignore simple solutions, after all they want to demonstrate their sophistication to their peers. This leads to simple solutions being derided as simplistic.
Marketers need to avoid rejecting what works in favour of what they’d like to work. If they do, maybe next time Trott poses his question he might be pleasantly surprised.
Alex Thompson is his promising intern