Or, what can town criers of the past still teach us about marketing today?
In days past (that’s a beautifully non-specific phrase) almost every town had a paid crier whose job was to let the people know about important news. The definition of ‘important’ being things they wanted to know as well as things other people wanted them to know.
Town Crier were important because they used a variety of techniques to ensure as many people as possible heard, understood and remembered what they were crying about. Variants on these same techniques are the bedrock of marketing. By watching a town crier in action we can still learn a thing or two about getting the message across, in this or any age.
Town Criers were loud
The modern phrase ‘interuptive marketing’ doesn’t do justice to a loud bell and booming voice. The first ‘hit’ is the most important. If they don’t hear you at the beginning you have lost before you have even begun.
Town Criers were visually impressive
In the UK by the 19th century criers adopted an old fashioned manner of dressing which set them apart from the general populace who were dressing less ostentatiously than ever before. If you stand out in a crowd, you are likely to be looked at and listened to. In modern marketing parlance the ‘brand volume’ is something to consider. A stronger visual appeal on the company’s literature (both online and in print) can have a profound impact on awareness of brand and message.
Town Criers spoke clearly
Town criers were famous for speaking clearly. This does not mean they spoke ‘received pronunciation’. Indeed, written records show that they used their local dialects and may well have been unintelligible to people from other parts of the country, but the point was that they made sure they were understood by their local audience. This is a lesson modern marketers should remember. Talking in a way your audience understands not only aids comprehension, but increases their empathy with you and your message.
Town Criers were concise
Modern town criers limit their proclamations to 150 words or less. This is a hangover from the lesson learned by generations of their predecessors that people have short attention spans. Sticking to the point and getting an idea across with as little padding as possible is a great skill to acquire.
Town Criers were reputable
A town crier was not necessarily someone of high social status, but they had to have a reputation for honesty. Nobody believes a crier who lies. Brands must work hard to protect their reputations. Once lost, it is almost impossible to regain a brand’s former position of high regard, so don’t let it get lost in the first place..
Town Criers were Repetitive
Starting with the three rings of the bell and ‘Oyez’ repeated three times at the start of each proclamation, criers understand the value of repetition. A crier will often repeat an important cry a number of times in the same place on the same day to make sure as many people hear it. Advertisers are usually away that it takes at least three interactions with a brand before a potential customer will buy something from the brand owners.
Town Criers were useful
It is generally believed that one of the reasons so few people died in the great fire of London of 1666 is that the city’s criers did a great job of waking the people and letting everyone know there was a problem. Whether it was finding lost children, ‘crying down the fair’ or reminding shopkeeper not to let their pigs road in the high street, the old Town Crier was of use to the community. Modern marketeers should consider their social responsibility and find ways that their brands can also be of use.