The Danny Boyle Effect

Whatever you might have made of the opening ‘ceremony’, it was undeniably mad. It’s been described as bonkers, self-deprecating, eccentric. While, for me, it wasn’t faultless (Abide With Me? I half expected them to follow that with All Things Bright and Beautiful, the two favourites for funerals not to die for: yeurgh… and Sir Paul McCartney gave a perfect demonstration of why he should retire now, without delay, and leave us with happier memories), it nevertheless warmed my cynical, sceptical heart.

It had one ingredient that I think was all-important – no other country on the planet could have done it. It was, perish the thought, brand-perfect.

There’s lots of talk about legacy connected with the Olympics, most of it bollocks, in my not very humble opinion. But I think there’s a legacy in Danny Boyle’s production that we, in this funny little backwater of the so-called creative industries, could gain from. It’s called wit.

I bang on about the Five Wits: fantasy, imagination, estimation, memory and common sense. These are qualities that I value above all others in my copywriter’s toolkit – and certainly don’t always succeed in using: although, I hope, not for want of trying. The real art is in leaving the most you can/dare to your audience to complete: that’s what the Five Wits can inform. The more work you leave them to do, the better your message sticks. Hit them under the skin, rather than over the head.

The opening ‘ceremony’ had those qualities, I think. And it could go a long way towards supporting your case as a writer to leave more – ever more – to the intelligence of your audience in a piece of text. Tell your clients: it’s the Danny Boyle effect. And it doesn’t have to cost them £27m to get the benefit.

  • meT3hNy


1st August 2012

Tom Albrighton

Apparently Boyle was dead set against the BBC’s voiceover, explaining who everyone was. The Beeb probably had a point that most people would not recognise I.K Brunel. But the question is, does that matter? Can something still be effective, even though not everyone understands it in every respect?

We tend to measure other people’s understanding by the yardstick of our own – invariably noticing when they understand less than us, while remaining blind to the allusions and dimensions we ourselves have missed. With some authors – Derrida and Shunryu Suzuki spring to mind – you have to read their stuff about five times before you get it. (I did, anyway.) That’s not an argument against their quality – quite the reverse, in fact. The fact that it takes so much work to understand them makes the work far more memorable. In fact, the hard work is the whole point; the experience of reading the text is a large part of its meaning.

8th August 2012


If you unaccountably missed it (I hope you had a note from your mother), you can read my minute-by-minute commentary on HuffPo

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