29 Oct

Unnecessary detail… sort of

One thing I like to do, if I get the chance, is have a quick scan of the national newspapers each morning – just to see what’s going on in the world, and how different papers report the same story.

Yesterday, I was running around like the proverbial fly, but I did catch a glimpse of some front pages at a petrol station.

I’m not sure if everyone’s been on top of the news recently, but I’m pretty darn sure that most of you are aware of Talk Talk getting hacked, and customers’ details being pinched. It turns out that a teenage boy – just 15 years old – is the hacker.

Here’s how the Daily Mail and The Sun, side by side, reported that story on their front pages:


Both newspapers ran with the ‘Babyface Hacker’ headline, but – if you know anything about these two newspapers and their respective tones, it’s obvious why – The Sun stop at that, whereas the Daily Mail go for a more in-depth, long format (A.K.A waffley) headline.

However, what truly caught my eye was the completely unnecessary subheading on the Daily Mail. You can click on the image of the front page, but it says; ‘Son of a single mother, Talk Talk suspect, 15, is violent video game addict who rarely leaves his bedroom’

Those extra details – in relation to the main story – are completely irrelevant: they’re entirely unnecessary. In fact, you’d have to go out of your way to add those details in.
Of what relevance is his mother (or her marital status) to him hacking into Talk Talk? Of what relevance are ‘violent video games’ to hacking into the website of a major telecom company? He didn’t walk in there with an axe and a shotgun – he (quite peacefully) accessed their customers’ accounts.

So, those extra details are entirely unnecessary… unless you consider that they’re aimed perfectly at the Daily Mail’s target audience: their readership.
Daily Mail readers are conservative (both with a big ‘C’ and a small ‘c’), believe in ‘traditional values’, and cannot abide those who are ‘other’, on the fringes of society, or those who don’t conform. This is an audience which likes to judge others.

The ‘son of a single mother’ detail is there to insinuate; ‘no wonder he’s out of control, he was brought up by a single mum.’
That detail exists to demonise single mothers, and stick them all in one pot: feckless, irresponsible individuals who got pregnant from a one night stand/don’t know the father, can’t control their kids, and (as a bolt-on) probably claim benefits.

The ‘violent video game addict’ bit is there because the Daily Mail are against such games, and anything of that nature, believing them to corrupt all young people (stopping them from becoming ‘productive citizens’) and make them want to head out the front door and murder complete strangers.

So, the subheading is completely unnecessary, in a general sense, but chimes perfectly with the mindset of the Daily Mail’s target audience.

You can apply this in a marketing sense. There’ll be occasions on which you add seemingly unnecessary detail to your copy / content, which, to many, may be superfluous… but it may well be the extra detail that’s spot on when it comes to nailing your exact target audience. Ultimately, it comes down to your / your copywriter’s judgement.

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