If you want to reach more people, if you’re measuring audience size, then the mantra of the last twenty years has been simple: make it dumber.
Use clickbait headlines. Short sentences. Obvious ideas. Little nuance. Don’t make people uncomfortable or ask them to stretch. Remind them that they were right all along. Generate a smile or a bit of indignation. Most of all, dumb it down.
And it works.
For a while.
And then someone comes along who figures out how to take your version of dumbness and go further than you were willing to go. Until everything becomes the National Enquirer.
While this downward cycle of dumb continues to be passed from hand to hand, a few people headed in the other direction. Measuring not the size of the audience, but their engagement, their commitment and the change that was possible.
This is an upward cycle, a slow one, a journey worth going on.
Dumber is an intentional act, a selfish trade for mass. It requires us to hold something back, to avoid creating any discomfort, to fail to teach. Dumber always works in the short run, but not in the long run.
Don’t confuse dumber with simpler. Simpler removes the unnecessary and creates a better outcome as a result. But dumber does little but create noise.
Everyone owns a media company now. Even media companies. And with that ownership comes a choice, a choice about the people we serve, the words we use and the change we seek to make.
It’s only a race to the bottom if we let it be one.
Seth Godin: Writes the most popular marketing blog in the world and is the author of the bestselling marketing books of the last decade.
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