The bible is likely the best-selling book of all time. According to the American Bible Society, about 88 per cent of American homes contain a bible, averaging 4.7 copies per household. That’s an awful lot of holy scripture.
You would think with all those bibles out there, the 10 Commandments would be well known. You’d think most people would be able to recite all 10, or at least a few. You’d be wrong.
I stumbled on this stat recently. And forgive me because it’s from a 2007 study done by Kelton Research to help promote The Ten Commandments, an animated version of the famous OId Testament story. The survey found that fewer than six in 10 people knew the commandment “thou shalt not kill.” And fewer than half knew “honor thy father and mother.” In fact, seven of the 10 were familiar to less than half of those polled. Even people who attended a place of worship every week had trouble naming all 10.
Big Mac beats Moses
The study also asked respondents if they could name the ingredients of a Big Mac. It does not surprise me that people did much better there: 80 per cent knew the Big Mac had two ‘all beef patties’ and 62 per cent knew it had pickles. I wonder how many sang the entire list of ingredients?
The Big Mac ingredients were immortalized in a famous advertising campaign which put them all into an catchy jingle. People who haven’t heard that commercial for decades can still sing every word of it and they’ll do it with a smile.
I raised this story recently when giving a speech to the Manitoba Bar Association. I was there to talk about how to improve your communications. Part of the challenge of modern communications is to cut through the clutter of messages that bombard people every day and to do it in a way that is memorable. Will your message stick?
The 10 commandments versus Big Mac memory test is a great reminder to make sure people remember what you say. It’s extremely difficult to memorize a list of laws – even ones as ubiquitous and well-known as the commandments. By comparison, it’s easy to remember a friendly, upbeat jingle about a burger.
Tell a story
I wish the survey had tested people’s knowledge of the commandments another way though. I wish it had asked if people could tell the story of Moses and the commandments. My bet is that the results would have been much different because the story of Moses is compelling. It’s an underdog story of the Jews being persecuted and led out of Egypt towards the promised land. It’s the story of how Moses went up to the top of Mount Sinai and brought down the commandments etched on two tablets. It’s the story of evil versus good and rich versus poor. It’s the story of miracles and murder and salvation.
Nearly everyone knows that story, because stories are memorable. So are the lessons they teach us. Even though people may not be able to recite the commandments, they know the story of Moses and its imperative call to behave morally.
If you’re struggling to have your key messages remembered, maybe you should put them in the form of a story, or a jingle. Even better, make it rhyme … but the power of rhyme is another lesson for another day.