The New Rule Of “You” 


(By Ronald Robinson) The importance of how, specifically, we communicate to our audiences — both on-air and through commercial copy — cannot be overstated. It can, however, be underrated — and it is. Recently, a number of pundits have joined the conversation. I suppose that could be refreshing, except they are engaging to reinforce the accepted traditions that have become radio dogma.

In his defense of “You” as the most effective element, one of the apologists trotted out a number of well-known examples where the “You” was applied. This is hardly impressive as, through time, there have been no known, understood or broadly applied alternatives!

There has been, and continues to be, only one rule for You: Use it as often as possible — to the exclusion of all other options!

Some of us go back far enough to remember Brylcream’s “A little dab ‘ll do ya (you)”; “Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun” – Doublemint Gum; Mickey D’s “You deserve a break today” and “Nationwide Is on Your Side.” – Nationwide Insurance

Now, I absolutely cherry-picked those four examples to make an important, complex, and separate neurological distinction: All of those lines, and many others, were not spoken. They were sung! Listeners are far more likely to process those as indirect references and not necessarily targeted at any particular listener! With that distinction in mind, the “You” is indeed appropriate and maybe even effective.

Notably, in many TV and other visual presentations, a character being displayed in the video already represents the you. If there is a “vicarious association” on the part of the viewer, all the better. Assurances, however, are not provided.

Print ads, again, because of their unique, neurological impact are open to exemptions from The New Rule of You, but only if the targeted “You” is accepted by the reader. I am also reminded of Uncle Sam’s recruiting posters: “I want YOU!” The emotionalism of the times was already deep-seated.

The danger, meanwhile, of radio’s ubiquitous use of “You” is the result of a failure to consider the matter at all, thereby risking audience rejection on a grand scale.

Beasley-biggie Bob McCurdy quotes ARF’s CEO Scott McDonald.

“We’ve taken targeting too far in terms of effectiveness and ethics,” said McDonald. “At a time when technology is enabling marketers to inch ever closer to one-to-one marketing, one of the industry’s most highly respected institutions suggests that this ‘Holy Grail’ may not be all it’s cracked up to be. The Advertising Research Foundation warns marketers that excessive targeting can lead to lower-than-expected ROIs, a poor customer experience, and potential damage to a brand’s reputation.” And that’s from guys who are swimming in deep pools of credibility.

Creators of You-based radio advertising fail to appreciate they are, practically, assaulting members of their target audiences. The ads, by targeting their audiences – personally – are guilty of the following:

  • They assume a personal connection between a speaker and a single audience member.
  • They tell them what that individual is thinking.
  • They tell them what they want.
  • They tell them what they need. 

And if those weren’t enough of an onslaught,

  • They tell them what to do. They actually demand behaviors! All of these shabby examples of non-influential radio communications are being facilitated with the application of Second Person Singular— the horribly toxic and tainted “You.”

Plus, and here is an irony, it’s all so unnecessary! Here is an extremely distorted mind exercise to demonstrate the point, and I urge readers to participate with full attention.I might say:

“Even a box of breakfast cereal can remember a time when it was close to a body of water, noticing any colors and movement, while becoming more fully aware of the ambient temperature and any sounds in the environment. It can also recall the feelings that were part of the experience.”

Anyone who read that carefully had no choice but to go through the process of recalling an experience that related only to them —personally. That process (Transderivational Search) has to happen if an individual is to understand the meaning of the provided sentences. I repeat: No choice.

So. The New Rule of You is: Don’ need no stinking “YOU.”

Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the ’60s as a performer, writer, and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counselor. Contact Ron at [email protected]


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