Fewer puns, more meaning

Crafting channel-agnostic stories can stretch your mind, but you shouldn't have to stretch word meanings to get there. Daisy Zhu, managing director of MSLGROUP China, looks at ethical responsibility in communications and sees that China's latest rules on puns shouldn't pose a challenge to PR professionals.

Daisy Zhu, Managing Director, MSLGROUP China

Communications professionals have nothing to fear about SARFT’s recent regulation banning puns in media advertising. In some ways, it makes our profession more vital. A pun is just a play on words, a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or idea. It’s a communication tool, just like a dramatic pause is used before delivering the punch line.

This rule mainly affects our advertising brethren who frequently turn to puns to promote a product, but we’re in the business of telling stories and we have at our disposal hundreds of ways to capture our audience’s attention. The best stories are the ones that motivate people to act or change their behavior.

Sure, we may turn to the occasional play on words, but we only use it on the right channels. Social media is the prime platform to demonstrate wit as users expect reading entertaining and funny posts.

Our focus is on crafting the elements around the story, not just the story itself. That means defining the brand, crafting the messages behind the brand, and bringing the brand alive by tailoring content on different platforms. So what you read on a social media post, in a newspaper, see on TV and hear in a speech are different but aligned. And we work closely with our advertising and media brothers and sisters to make this happen.

Creating stories that are channel agnostic can stretch our minds, which makes communications professionals more creative. As audiences get information from an increasingly large variety of sources, it means we have to dig deeper to understand what drives them. And once we uncover those insights, we must become more adept at using the communications tools available to us and design campaigns with a wider reach. These challenges fuel the creative process and make us all more imaginative people.

I understand the rationale of this regulation; as a mother, I would not want my children or the next generation to be confused by the misuse of Chinese language. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discontinue its use either. Something we all should consider is taking responsibility for what we say and do. Something as simple as a note or disclaimer to readers making them aware that a certain word doesn’t exist in the dictionary. A good story teller should never overlook his or her ethical responsibility.

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