The image of words

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 at 1:00am

Resraechres at Cmabirgde Uvinserity fnoud taht eevn if you coplmteely msislepl a wrod, as lnog as the fsirt and lsat lertets are in the rghitpalce, the mnid is stlil albe to rcgenozie and cmopherend it.

Ptrety amzanig, huh?

When we first learn to read, we slowly string letters together to form words. But over time we learn to recognize the word's "shape". Once the shape is learned, it is instantly recognizable to the mind's eye. The mind's "voice" then speaks the word, and the mind's "ear" hears it. This is the process we call reading. Most people can interpret these "word pictures" in a less-than-conscious manner when they are displayed in a common and predictable way. In that sense, words are actually metaphors, not the real thing being described.

But what happens in the mind when the word is "intact" but the letters themselves are manipulated?

Picture yourself driving in a rural area. You're on a hunt for some organic farm fresh eggs. You spot a wooden sign next to the road that reads "Fresh Eggs". The words are spelled correctly, but the letter "s" is backwards.

Then about 10 yards up the road you spot another sign. This sign also reads "Fresh Eggs". But this sign differs in that it is pure white and bears crisp black letters that have been meticulously and artistically crafted by a professional sign painter.

Which sign advertises the kind of eggs you seek? How does the way the sign looks affect your preconceived notions of the quality of eggs each farmer is selling?

Truth is, one could safely assume that any egg purchased from a farmer with a chicken coop is both organically yielded and relatively fresh. No real danger exists in purchasing eggs from either farmer. At best, the difference in the letter styles will appeal to different people and in different ways but may not necessarily give one farmer an advantage over the other when it comes to attracting new customers.

But what happens when the stakes are higher?

Let's replace the words "Fresh Eggs" with the words "Flying Lessons".

Which merchant are you more likely to do business with if your mission is to obtain a pilot's license?

In today's competitive marketplace, businesses that are competing for the same customer may find it difficult to promise their customer something the other cannot. In situations like these, it is the company's "image" that becomes the key differentiator.

Do the "images" that appear in your advertising appeal to the hearts and minds of your prospects? Or do you tnihk tehr'ye not pinyag anetttoin?

Nathan Fleming is the Creative Director at Red Pepper Inc., an advertising, marketing and branding firm.

Filed under: City Business