Get The Message

Posted by David Menear on August 12, 2013

I’m holding a scalpel in my hand, staring over at the blunt stub on the hand of the guy next me.

Eight of us worked together in a room lit up like an operating theatre, lined up in two rows of four, doing paste-up for the Woolworths catalogue. We all wielded these blades to do our work at our “drawing” tables. The missing digit, it turns out, was a childhood farm accident.

We need razor sharp knives to cut precisely around the most picayune pieces of typesetting delivered to us in 9”x12” photographic sheets. These, we then coat the back of with hot wax. Now, with T-squares and set-squares, we “cut and paste” and align to perfection. Films are made, plates are etched in acids, inks mixed and tested and retested until finally, printing. Then these first sheets are adjusted and readjusted long into the angry night.

This is my first job out of high school. I’m working in the “art” department of one of Canada’s largest commercial printing companies in a big, old, thumping and smoking brick building in the manufacturing district in Toronto, at the very bottom of Spadina Avenue. Places where those silver food trucks come around and honk-honk some sort of hellish urgent music. There’s no chance of food anywhere else nearby, so you gladly sit on the parking lot curb, bending into your egg sandwich, gulping down snapping cold milk and coveting a Snickers bar.

Where I’m going here is, well, nowhere. As with all things, I am of the church of uniformitarianism. This idea assumes that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. When we smugly believe we’re on the edge and pushing the envelope we get, and deserve, a stinging smack to the back of the tête.

The point I’m hoping to make is that the catalogue of forty years ago is the same idea with the same function and financial end game as it is today. This big book of must-have stuff to buy is now created with keystrokes and software, not wax, knives and inks; it’s delivered to your inbox, not your mailbox. The big difference in getting the message out isn’t much different. (Oh, and that keyboard configuration you’re tapping away at, it’s older than your grandpappy.)

And so, I must disagree with Marshall McLuhan’s, “The medium is the message”. I argue that the message is the message, despite the age or medium. In advertising, or communicating an idea or a belief, the greater the collective agreement one earns, the greater the sales or converts to a product, belief, or cause, be that theological, political, or beer. Money and power are to be had.

I’d suggest, without hesitation, that icons or logos such as the Star of David, the Christian cross and the Swastika will endure well beyond the NIKE swish, the Walmart happy face, or Facebook’s thumbs up “LIKE”. Get the message? Change minds, and thus behaviour to your favour. Powerful “experiential” theatrical examples of the past included the crucifixion of Christ, public beheadings, hangings, whippings and the burning of “witches”. Strong messages, these.

Shakespeare, and billboards, have been in our face for over a hundred years, and sandwich boards are again crowding sidewalks and breaking backs. Soap-boxers and Town Criers are still telling us what to buy, what to believe, and who to vote for. As with today’s lobbyists, “influencers” have always swarmed the ears of Kings, Queens, Chieftains and all of their family and aids to control control.

What we try to convey doesn’t warp in time or place. Presenting or exploring less of the parallels, and focusing more on the messaging paradigm should strengthen our message. That’s our job. Let’s do it. The message is the message. Get it?

Don’t get fooled or fall in love with the mechanics of marketing, but instead focus on ensuring whatever means there are to best serve your end are what you deploy to deliver your message.

Always remember, it’s the message, not the method.