When the NOT is important...

What’s not…


I read a piece today that made me think about the difference and the impact of what is and what is not. The author draws a parallel between a style guide and a menu.


‘A manual of style () and a menu share one important point in common: both impose limitations. The word "menu" is from the Latin - minuere, to diminish. You can tell as much about a restaurant by what isn't on the menu as by what is: a chef doesn't try to cook everything, or to appeal to everyone's tastes. A stylebook imposes its limitations on the varieties of a written language: it's from these many acts of limitation and diminishment that a style is formed.’


Marketers are guilty of always focusing on the point of difference, the proposition, the benefit, the key feature. We often ignore what the product/ service does NOT do or offer.


Just like a menu tells you about what you can eat, what is not on the menu possibly says more about the restaurant and the chef than the actual menu. The claims you make in your advertising are as important as the claims you don’t make.


Apple Computers’ manuals never talk about a ‘crash’ or a ‘freeze’.


Apple Computers’ manuals talk about ‘quits unexpectedly’.


The latter statement simply says that the event of an unexpected problem is likely. The first statement says a whole lot more about Apple and the message it wants to convey about is computers and how they are positioning the product as something that is easy, non-technical and definitely not Microsoft.


There are numerous examples of when the ‘NOT’ is more revealing:




  • What you don’t wear

  • What you don’t say when you have an opportunity to correct someone

  • What you don’t drive

  • Where you don’t shop


Not sure who said it originally but the art of sculpting was described as starting with a big block of stone and chipping away what is unnecessary. Marketers sometimes focus excessively on trying to create the ‘IT’ – rather than considering what the ‘NOT’ reveals.