Perceptive campaign plays with paradox
When Perceptive Software needed to fill 130 positions — more than one-third of its existing workforce — in just three months, a contradiction in terms was just what the company needed.
Perceptive communicators created a campaign to show that the company — a midsized document management software engineering firm based in Shawnee, Kansas — was hip, hiring and a great place to work.
Shawnee and … hip? For a woman who was raised in this Kansas City suburb, that sounds like an oxymoron. But despite its location, Perceptive is cool, what with its cutting-edge software, Wii “decompression” chambers, on-site dodgeball court and slide from the second to the first floor.
That’s a paradox. So paradox, or oxymoron, became the theme for Perceptive’s campaign.
Contradiction in terms
Oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms — think “deafening silence,” “wise fool” or “cruel kindness.”
The best oxymorons emphasize contrasts, incongruities or the complex nature of reality. “Oxymoron” is Greek for “sharply dull,” so the word is itself an oxymoron.
For nearly 40 years, researchers have been showing that paradoxes in advertising:
- Draw attention to a message and may enhance persuasion
- Give readers a sense of accomplishment and are thus intrinsically rewarding and pleasurable
- Seem “surprisingly true” — and might astonish people into changing their attitudes and beliefs
The Perceptive communicators built their campaign around oxymorons — from the company’s career site URL to its billboards, radio spots and T-shirts. Here’s a sampling of the copy:
The Perceptive communicators were using one of Roy Peter Clark’s top 50 writing tips: Use modifiers to change the meaning of the word, not to intensify it.
“‘Killing Me Softly’? Good adverb,” The Poynter Institute senior scholar writes in Writing Tools. “‘Killing Me Fiercely’? Bad adverb.”
How to write an oxymoron
You can use this approach, too, for your own copy, concept or campaign:
- Determine your key word or phrase. Let’s call it “prima donna.”
- Find contradictory modifiers or verbs via Visual Thesaurus (via RevUpReadership.com), OneLook Reverse Dictionary or your own beautiful brain. “Timid,” maybe.
- Put them together (timid prima donna) and — voila! — you’re off.
It’s one thing to be creative, of course, and another to generate serious business results. Among its successes, Perceptive’s campaign:
- Drew 3,055 résumés via the website — an increase of 408% over the same period the previous year
- Filled 135 positions — five more than the original goal. That was three more during the four-month campaign than the company had filled during the 12 months before the campaign
- Came in at 8% under budget
- Earned lots of buzz from the media, adoration from Perceptive executives and a PRISM award from Kansas City/PRSA
Bottom-line creative. There’s nothing oxymoronic about that.
Sources: Jason Stella and Stewart Adam, “Tropes in Advertising: A Web-based Empirical Study,” Southern Cross University, 2005