A basic rule of editing or approving copy is to read the piece through before you pick up a pencil.
Hidden in that sensible rule is a powerful sub-rule: when you must make a change, make sure it’s an important change; niggling little changes, sometimes even just one little change, can create a web of confusion.
The rule extends beyond copy to any form of communication, any action, really.
Consider Southwest Airlines’ new commercial about the curved up wingtips (winglets) on its planes. The commercial’s so new that it doesn’t seem to be on Youtube yet.
Apparently winglets help save a lot of fuel, something like 54,000,000 gallons last year. Winglets are great, we infer. One little thing Southwest overlooked is that the commercial closes with the company’s logo which features a jet with no winglets.
If you drink bottled water, you’ve undoubtedly held a bottle of a Nestle Waters brand.
Down here in Florida, the brand is Zephyrhills, named after a suburb of Tampa. Up in the northeast, the brand is Poland Spring, named after a town in Maine. In Texas, it’s Ozarka and there are three or four others in the US.
Like all bottled water companies, Nestle is under relentless attack from environmentalists for its plastic bottles. So the company shrank the amount of plastic in its bottles, most notably with a much smaller cap which is a real pain to open. Hard to get a decent grip.
On at least some of its labels, the company touts the smaller cap with copy that reads: “Smaller Cap = Less Plastic Did you notice this bottle has an Eco-Slim cap? This is part of our ongoing effort to reduce our impact on the environment. This bottle and cap contain an average of 20% less plastic than our original 500 mL Eco-Shape® bottle and cap. Be Green.”
You barely have time to shake your head at the eco-babble or take umbrage at the imperative command to Be Green before your eye drifts down to a hairline box with this little item: “WARNING: Cap is a small part and poses a CHOKING HAZARD, particularly for children.”
So we have a pain in the butt bottle cap that does nobody any good whatsoever but it annoys customers and might kill children. Amazing. Little things really do mean a lot sometimes.
Both Southwest and Nestle have demonstrated that each change in anything creates a ripple effect that’s sometimes hard to notice in the enthusiasm about making changes.
That ripple effect can appear to be a little thing but, as Kitty Kallen told us back in 1954, Little Things Mean A Lot!
Takeaway? Before we carve little changes in stone, let’s think them through because changes always have consequences. And the law of unintended consequences can be brutal.