Simple lies and complex truths


I went viral on Twitter last week.

Not on my business account, @Glass_Halo_Ltd, but on my own, rather more outspoken, personal account.

Tired and emotional following the EU Referendum, and the weeks of unedifying debate that preceded it, I lost my patience when I threw in my two pennyworth to the #BrexitIn5Words hashtag game.

Tweet: Simple Lies Beat Complex Truths Brexit

Simple lies beat complex truths

1,000 Likes and 673 Retweets later and my tweet had clearly hit a nerve.

I say “my” tweet but I suppose the French political writer Alexis de Tocqueville deserves some of the credit, having said something remarkably similar a mere 150 years earlier.

And this was a campaign littered with pithy – if questionable – key messages on both sides of the argument.

But the Leave campaign’s messages were simpler and, for a majority, more compelling.

From “£350m a week to the NHS” to “Taking back control” the messages resonated.

This, despite the £350m figure being thoroughly debunked early in the campaign.

£350m a week into the NHS

Trump’s triumph

The high impact of simple messaging is not a new phenomena and it’s no one-off.

Donald Trump’s meteoric, and for many disturbing, rise to become the Republican’s presidential hopeful was assisted by a simple rhetoric that engaged with people.

Analysis of Trump’s speeches shows he uses the grammar of an eleven-year-old.

He knows what he’s doing: 40% of Americans have basic literacy skills and these are the voters with whom Trump is connecting particularly effectively.

The Washington Post pointedly compares Trump’s blunt rhetoric with Hillary Clinton’s more verbose style:

Trump: “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country”

Clinton: “We will throw the book at China for their illegal actions”

Trump’s words are short, visual, impactful and memorable.

“But what about Obama?” you might ask. “He is a master of oratory and doesn’t talk down to his audience.”

According to the same research Obama’s speeches require an eighth grader’s level of literacy.

Not quite Trump’s simplicity but not far off it.

Not only does simple language connect better with audiences, according to this research, it makes you seem smarter as well.

Simple truths for business

So if simple lies work so well in politics, imagine the power of simple truths in business.

Even if you are writing for a sophisticated business audience, resist the temptation to impress your reader with the extent of your vocabulary and dexterity with language.

Use (and if you mean ‘use’ say ‘use’ not ‘utilise’) short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep it simple.

Does this mean you need to keep your copy short?

Not necessarily in my opinion.

Concise copy is important. And no one would suggest padding out copy with unnecessary words.

But if you need a lot of copy to fully describe the benefits of your product or service don’t be afraid to do so. Just make sure it’s an easy read.

Check out Mike Matthews’ Muscle for Life site for a cracking example of how to use long copy well.