Unusual news has a knack for spreading across the country like wildfire.
Take a story from earlier this month, for example, when a man walked into an Indiana bank lugging bags of change and $1 bills ($12,656.07 to be precise) to pay his property tax bill. (Apparently real life’s not exactly like in the movies where half a million fits snugly into a metallic briefcase).
Granted, the stunt was not a chance event. It was staged to protest Indiana’s property tax increases, but that doesn’t take away from its viral, sticky appeal that vaulted it to national attention. Our internal schema actually enables us to visualize the size of the bags of money, the effort to hoist them to the bank, and the consuming effort it takes to count all the money by hand. And, it evokes an uncomfortable awareness that this is a lot of money to be paying for property taxes.
And now I have to share a similarly “sticky” story from Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick. In the early ‘90s, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) made a shocking discovery: a medium size bag of movie popcorn had 37 grams of saturated fat, nearly double the USDA daily recommended intake. Shocking, indeed, but a difficult numbers-ridden message is tough to convey to the movie-going, popcorn-loving public. The solution: rather than focus the message on scientific analysis and numerical values, CSPI held a landmark press conference. Their announcement: “A medium-sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings – combined!” To illustrate this they laid out two tables, one with a day’s worth of unhealthy food and the other bare save for a medium-sized bag of popcorn. Unsurprisingly, the story was an immediate hit that “saturated” national television, radio, and print coverage.
So what’s the message here? The stories behind greasy popcorn and sky-high property taxes are similar – the involved parties were able to transform an intangible, numerical value (37 grams of fat and $12,656.07) into a simple, concrete and unexpected story. These qualities are the mark of a great news hook – ones that we PR professionals strive to create daily.