The Importance of Clever Packaging!

The University of Pennsylvania has just released the results of a study which proves that during the 2012 American Presidential Election voters who watched The Colbert Report were better informed about campaign financing than news channels and programs. Interesting? I think so!

Stephen Colbert

This study from the University of Pennsylvania compared viewers who had watched Stephen Colbert’s program against a number of network news bulletins from Fox, CNN and MSNBC, talkback radio and newspapers. And the results are surprising. Compared against each one of those media sources, viewers of The Colbert Report were better informed every time. Newspapers weren’t more effective, talk back radio missed the mark and even dedicated news programmes on some of the major American channels couldn’t compete with this satirical program.

Here’s what he did.

On his week nightly show, Stephen Colbert set up a Super Political Action Committee called ‘Americans for a better tomorrow, tomorrow’. He then also created a shell corporation that accepted anonymous donations and passed them onto the fake political party who could legally claim the donations came from the shell corporation rather than the original (and potentially shady) donor.

The segment worked so well that it became a recurring feature of the show in the lead up to the Presidential Election and even encouraged Colbert to invite a former Federal Election Commission chairman onto the show to explain the whole system to his audience.

So how did he educate his viewers better than any other news media source?

This is what the experts have to say. Firstly, he stepped his audience through the complex political set up within a narrative structure over several episodes. Secondly, he employed the use of humour and satire during his explanation. Basically, he broke the confusing concept into small, easily understandable pieces with a storyline and he told this story in an appealing way.

It is the same reason why you can sit in your final exam and recount the entire storyline to the episode of Friends, The Big Bang Theory or Offspring that you watched the week before, but you can’t remember the definition of that important term. Current audiences regularly soak up satirical retorts or situations which we then spout off to our friends at a moment’s notice or virally share around social media platforms. And the storytelling, by explaining these difficult concepts within a narrative, the concepts take on a new meaning making them more memorable.

This provides some interesting food for thought when it comes to presenting any kind of material to an audience. No matter the message, the way it is packaged could make or break your audience’s understanding and enjoyment.

There is that old saying ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ but unfortunately we don’t always have time to read the whole book before making a purchase. So it never hurts to have an appealing cover!