Fun post on Slate today from Patrick House, who had the winning submission in a New Yorker magazine cartoon caption writing contest.
His winning caption: “O.K. I’m at the window. To the right? Your right or my right?”
Yes, the caption is funny, but read the article about how he came up with the winner. It’s a brilliant essay on knowing your audience, which in this case was really four audiences: First he had to get the submission past the initial screener; then it had to be approved by the New Yorker cartoon gurus; phase three was a public vote; and finally of course there are all those New Yorker readers.
If you’re marketing a product (instead of a cartoon caption) how many people do you have to “sell”? Let’s see, there is the your internal boss(es); the buyer for the retail outlet; perhaps then a teenage boy and probably his mom as well. How much do you know about each of these “consumers”? Do you have a real understanding of how to get past one gatekeeper so you can get to the next?
One of the brilliant lessons from House was that it’s not about writing the funniest caption, it’s about writing a winning caption. “Same thing,” you say. Not exactly. Writing the funniest caption may not be appropriate in this situation. Again, it’s about knowing your audience. The average New Yorker reader, House posits, doesn’t want a laugh out loud guffaw, they want to smile knowingly. House has taken something as simple as writing a cartoon caption and applied psychographic analysis.
Maybe your product doesn’t have to be the best, maybe it just needs to be the right product for your audience?
Here’s an interview with Bob Mankoff, New Yorker cartoon editor, talking about his job and making mention of the Cartoon Caption Contest: