on images & generations (part 2)

>> January 12, 2011

Postmoderns are by definition undefinable. While this article isn’t a full dissection of the postmodern generation, a few small things can make a big difference in the communication field.

Start with images. Postmoderns tend to be highly visual and relational. The younger generation values experience and feeling. These characteristics flow over into their choices for entertainment, recreation, and marketing.

While previous generations wanted lots of facts and information, today's generation tends to focus on how it feels. Doubt me? Just do a YouTube search for classic tv commercials (try THIS one, or THIS one) and count the sheer number of words.

Then search modern tv commercials (like “Toyota”, or “Febreze”) and notice how the entire focus is on feeling instead of fact.

Advertising today is all about the personal experience. And while we know that the gospel isn't only just good feelings, Jesus did put a huge emphasis on telling your personal story to others. What more is the gospel than the sharing of your individual experience, your feeling about the amazing things God has done for you?

There are also huge differences in marketing and design between past and present generations. I think Christian communicators are wise to develop an awareness of these changes, and see which ones might be beneficial. Here are a few then-vs-now tips in case you serve on your church's communication department, or for sharing with your PHs communication team:

past: concerned with accurate representation of the object being photographed,
present: concerned with evoking feeling or emotion often using steep angles, creative lighting or other effects

past: concerned with transmitting as much information as possible
present: concerned with transmitting a brand or image, usually with spare visuals, one strong image, and few words

Try designing websites, bulletins and brochures with as few words as possible, and allowing one dominant image to carry your message. Keep colors spare and clean. Don’t be afraid of black and white photographs, especially punched up with one or two accent colors. Write your copy and then cut it in half. Let it sit for a week and then edit it in half again.

The art of writing has changed over time, too. Instead of proving credibility through big words and the cold distance of third person, today's successful wordsmiths tend to settle in the first person. Good writers seek to build a relationship with the reader, even when writing about important subjects.

Research writing hasn’t altered much, and the criteria for college papers may never change – but outside the confines of academia it’s a different story. The postmodern reaction to a forceful attitude of  “I’ve got the truth!” can range from indifferent to hostile. Instead, try drawing out an audience through invitations and examples. Ask them to participate – invite them instead of demanding or overloading.

Experienced writers can play with expression through partial sentences and phrase structure. Put yourself into your story, and tell it from how you feel on the inside. For some writers this is excruciating at the beginning – but that’s okay.

If you don’t watch much television, try going on the internet and searching funny video clips or television commercials. Give yourself a homework assignment to rate the quality of different commercials based on image, appeal, and content.

Visit church websites and decide why you like or don’t like them. Try http://churchrelevance.com/resources/top-75-church-websites/, or http://ministrycss.com/ for an archive of various amazing sites.

Maybe these concepts seem new, maybe they match how your PH and your church already work. Either way, remember that learning your audience and adapting to it isn’t a contemporary concept – it’s a biblical one.

Paul said “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. … Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings” (I Corinthians 9:19-23).

So, even if you're "just the PW", people may look to you for comments or opinions. Or maybe you can just share ideas with your PH about ways to build connections between your church and your community. Whether or not communication is really your thing, you may have opportunities to influence others in the gospel quest to find common ground with everyone in your audience.

And, as the PW, you might be someone who can ask some tough questions: Does your church tend to neglect one generation in favor of another? Are your leadership teams willing to reach outside their comfort zone and try something unexpected?

this article was originally published in 
the February 2008 issue of Practicing Communicating,
a journal for Christian communicators

adapted for reposting on CLUTCH
by Sarah K Asaftei,
former associate director of the
Centre for Secular & Postmodern Studies

© CLUTCH, 2009-2011 unless otherwise sourced.
Use allowed by express written permission only.
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