Did you know that no other Major League Baseball (MLB) catcher has been named to as many all-star teams as the legendary Yogi Berra? Or that he racked up an impressive 358 home runs, 1,430 runs batted in, and three American League Most Valuable Player awards? How about his standing record for having more MLB World Series rings than any other player in the history of baseball? Or that Berra earned a Purple Heart, Distinguished Unit Citation, two battle stars, and a European Theatre of Operations ribbon for his service during one of World War II’s bloodiest battles, D-Day?
If any of this comes as a surprise to you, you’re not alone. More people seem to be familiar with the phrase “It ain’t over till it’s over” than they are with the man who made the words famous. Why? Because in addition to his skills as a legendary athlete and baseball manager, Berra possessed one other important quality: he was a master at being memorable.
The quick-witted Berra was an amiable showman and advertising pitchman who elevated malapropisms from mistake to art form. His “Yogi-isms” were by turn clever, giggle-worthy, or dizzyingly bewildering, but when it comes right down to it, they were nothing else if memorable. How many of these have you heard used in movies, articles, on TV, or even out on the campaign trail?
- “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
- “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
- “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
- “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Berra was definitely onto something here. He clearly knew – consciously or not – that just the right turn of phrase can leave an indelible mark. But what does it take to make a phrase, headline, or tagline memorable? What’s the magic formula that turns a simple string of words into something famous…or infamous, as the case may be? It’s a question that writers of the world have puzzled over since the first caveman put charcoal to the cave wall.
While there’s no guaranteed method for spinning your writing into literary, marketing, advertising, or PR gold, there are some things you can do to help your copy be more memorable:
- Understand what it is you want to accomplish. Are you trying to craft a catchy tagline that’s easy for consumers to remember? A press release headline that hooks a reporter in, making them want to write about your client or product? A tweet that goes viral? Once you’ve got an end goal in mind – and know who it is you’re writing for – you can move onto the next step: figuring out how you’re going to forge a connection with your audience.
- Evoking a response from any audience is a delicate business because it means creating a meaningful link between you and them. Humor, empathy, ire…they can all be used to compel a reaction. Politicians have honed this skill to a razor-fine point. Consider JFK challenging America to “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”, Churchill’s World War II declaration that, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” or Senator Lloyd Benson absolutely demolishing then-vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle with, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Striking the right tone can produce an immediate bond between you and your audience, giving your words staying power.
- Finding the perfect words or phrase can mean the difference between a good speech or ad, and a great one. Use distinctive language – specific pronouns, common syntax, and more verbs than adjectives. “Just say no” to jargon (see what I did there?) and don’t forget, “brevity is the soul of wit” (oops, I did it again). Keep it simple, use powerful and precise vocabulary, and leverage gimmicky tricks like alliteration sparingly – you want to be memorable, not Seussian.
- Want to grab your audience’s attention? Throw in something unexpected. Be bold. Shake your audience up a bit and demand they pay attention to you. Tossing in what at first glance appears to be a non sequitur but that complements your original concept can be an unusual but effective storytelling technique. This post over at Ishmael’s Corner offers a great example of how it’s done.
Being memorable means striking a chord with your audience, resonating for the long-term in their collective consciousness. Mastering the art of being memorable isn’t easy but as the great Yogi Berra demonstrated, it can be done, and done well. So, when you see that fork in the road? Don’t be afraid to take it.