Last night, I went to the toilet.
(Waiiiiiit for it).
I went to the toilet and laughed, because the sign on the door poked my expectations in the ribs and caught me off guard.
Want some context? Come back in time with me.
I was out with friends at a packed pizza/wine bar thingo. The kind of place where everyone sports Steve Zissou beanies and bare skin between their boots and jeans, peering at you over little round glasses as you walk in.
There’s ironic plastic foliage, a disco ball and a thicket of words and music that makes meaningful conversation impossible.
But that’s not why people come here. They come here because it’s cool. Kooky. Kitsch.
From the menu, the moustachioed bar staff to the bathroom doors, this joint is hot - and everyone knows it.
But how do they do it?
Aside from clever design and crack-laced crust, their appeal lies in offbeat communication.
Brilliant copy that gets attention.
A commitment to the unexpected.
[This is the part where you join me at the toilets. No peeking.]
As I left my mates and walked along the aqua-blue corridor searching for a hospitable restroom, the signage caught my eye.
Instead of ‘men’ and ‘women’- the ordinary system of lav classification - their doors were marked:
See what I mean?
‘Unisex’ is so boring, adding nothing to their vibe. Instead, they harnessed bold, unexpected words to position themselves as ultra cool purveyors of great pizza AND genderless dunnies.
Because, who cares?
I laughed, and crushed hard on their copywriter.
The menu contained more examples of kooky communicative behaviour.
It’s divided into ‘PIZZA’ and ‘NOT PIZZA’.
It says things like:
‘Open ‘til you’re full’
‘Shitloads of Pecorino’
‘See the ’Squisito Board’ for specials or ask a friendly dumb dog.’
100% irreverent and irresistible.
Reading it makes you cool by association.
Why is it magic?
Thanks to unexpected words. These work in a number of ways.
One; they command attention via contrast. Our brains, sliding right over regular words like ‘entree’, ‘main’, ‘dessert’, snag on something different. Not pizza? Wait, what?! Laughter, merriment, connection. Think about how your business can communicate its messages in novel ways. Any thoughts?
Two; being unexpected makes patrons, clients and customers feel like they’re part of a club; an in-joke posse who defy the norm and poke fun at the dull and dreary. Does your brand have a tone, a personality, a language that sets you and your people apart?
Three; odd is ALWAYS more interesting. It’s the oddballs who cut through, break moulds, start movements. Odd or unexpected words require a little more of your reader - extra thought, engagement, interpretation. But they can handle it - trust me.
(There’s only one more paragraph to go, so here’s hoping.)
Your business may not benefit from outrageous tongue-in-cheek copy that appeals to hipsters, but it will ALWAYS benefit from the unexpected.
Refusing to subscribe to industry cliches. Sidestepping the same old shit. Saying what others are afraid to. Creating your own style of communication.
These rules ensure that your brand cuts through and gets the attention it deserves.
Which is what business dreams are made of.
(That and crack-laced crust which keeps staff morale high.)
Got examples, questions, quarrels? Talk to me in the comments.