When The Medium Gets in The Way of Your Message

When The Medium Gets in The Way of Your Message

August 3, 2016

By Phil Lempert, RDBA CEO

One of the basics we learn as marketers and educators is that we must first understand who our customer is and how they think. Today we have the tools to segment our customers by age, lifestyle, and certainly health conditions. Much too often we ignore these when it comes to translating our messages to the printed page. I first learned this in my graduate design studies from the master of type, Herb Lubalin!

Whether it is a newspaper ad, a flyer, video or in-store signage, we must adhere to Marshall McLuhan’s tenant that he espoused in his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, in which he coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” The point he made was that the characteristics of the medium used to communicate a message have an important influence on the content itself; how a person understands (or not) that message.

What does this have to do with your responsibilities as a retail dietitian? Plenty. 

You already know the facts - one in four Americans have multiple chronic conditions and that number rises to three in four Americans aged 65 and over. Whether shoppers like it or not, as we all get older, our eyes are affected - from farsightedness (that makes close up reading more difficult) to color-blindness; and if your health & wellness assets are typical, many of the people you are counseling have these issues.

Retail dietitians use a variety of methods to promote their store tours, events, and cooking demonstrations. This can include in-store posting of a monthly schedule. To reach all shopper segments, it’s essential to consider the typeface of these posting. When developing these promotional materials, consider the following tips: 

  • Use simple easy-to-read Serif typefaces (those that have a “tail” at the end of the letter) like Times New Roman, Cambria or Century. Avoid Sans Serif, script or novelty typefaces like Arial, Avant Garde or Chalk. 
  • Always use upper and lowercase letters as they are easier to read (ALL CAPS IN BODY COPY CAN BE DIFFICULT TO READ). Save all caps for headlines, but use them sparingly.  
  • Bigger is better! Type that is too small is just too hard to read and many shoppers won’t even try. Use at least 12 point and preferably 14 point. Headlines should always be at least 4 points larger than the body copy. Remember that each type face has unique sizing (i.e. a 12 point Times New Roman is different than a 12 point Cambria), so check carefully and print out your work on a piece of paper before you finalize instead of just looking on your computer screen.  
  • White space is important! It gives the eye a natural place to relax and helps focus. Don’t crowd too much copy on the page or wrap copy around a graphic - both make it more difficult for the reader.  
  • Use a dark type color on a light background and always avoid a patterned background. While your calendar of events might look great to you in a multicolored format, for your older shoppers, it’s just too difficult to read. No matter how old, no one can read type across a red checked tablecloth!  
  • To be color blind safe, avoid using red, green and teal. Those who are totally colorblind only see in gray, black and white. Your shoppers with diabetes, Parkinson’s, MS, Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma will appreciate your signage and all materials being color-blind sensitive. Even your shoppers who may have had a stroke or are on antibiotics, high blood pressure or other medications may have a color deficiency, so it is important to design all materials with these people in mind. Most of these shoppers have difficulty in distinguishing between red and green or yellow and blue. 

Your health and wellness messages are important. Don’t let the design of your materials get in the way of your important messages.