What Does Evergreen Communication Really Mean, and How Can You Apply It to Your Copywriting?

What Does Evergreen Communication Really Mean

Evergreen communication. You know it’s, like, a thing. You know you should be doing it. But you just … don’t … quite know what evergreen communication means, or how to achieve it.

Well, guess what? Most of us writers are right there with ya. Come to think of it, most of us humans are, too.

The other day, I came across a fascinating read debating the question of how to convey the danger of nuclear waste disposal sites to future generations.

For obvious reasons, evergreen communication is tricky. People in 10,000 years won’t speak our language, and the trick of even deciphering it will most likely be lost. Given enough time, symbols are just as meaningless as language. The example give in the article is the red circle with a line through it. To us it conveys “no.”

No smoking.

No skateboarding.

No being a giant douche and parking your car across this handicapped access ramp. (Okay, I’m not sure if there’s an actual sign for that. But there should be.)

But to future civilizations? Well, given a 45-degree turn, it kinda looks like a hamburger. Fun!

… Also ineffective. Soooo, super, totally, does-not-work-y. (Yep, that’s an adjective.) Evergreen communication, in other words, has absolutely no guarantees.

The Problem of Evergreen Communication

This nuclear waste thought experiment provides fascinating insight into the nature of communication, which changes all the time. This happens on a grand scale, of course, but it also happens on a minor scale.

For instance, who knew what “janky” meant 10 years ago? No one. If you even buy the argument that it has real linguistic etymology, I’m betting you still hadn’t heard of it.

That’s a problem for copywriters, and for writers in general. If at least some of the common parlance – whether marketing jargon, digital tech terms or simple slang – is going to go stale in just a year or two, how can you possibly prevent it?

The nuclear waste site solution is a whole range of superstructures designed to terrify the shit out of you. Consider “Landscape of Thorns.”

Landscape of Thorns

Or “Forbidding Blocks.”

Forbidding Blocks

Or “Menacing Earthworks.”

Menacing Earthwors

These babies live up to their names. But even they aren’t foolproof. Some archeologist or thrill-seeker, at some point in time, is just bound to exclaim: “Dude! That is some crazy thorny landscape business over there in the desert where nobody goes! What the hell is in it? Marge, pack my brush and trowel!”

Landscape of Thorns fail.

This is a problem of copywriting too, on a smaller scale. Within a span of years, or even months, your content can become outmoded, useless or even wrong. And it can be taken the wrong way, too: What was funny becomes offensive (you don’t see any lingering cracks about the Twin Towers, do you?). What was de rigeur becomes kinda meh, or even incomprehensible.

Think Britney. Sure, I still make jokes about her all the time, because I’m an unkind person, I guess. But today’s 15-year-olds? They have no idea, and it’s only been 10 years, for crying out loud.

The Best Tricks to Preserve Evergreen Copywriting

Okay, so here’s where we get down to it. Know upfront that you can’t escape this problem entirely. But you can do something about it.

Update Content

For one thing, you can check your content periodically. If you’re passing work off to clients, obviously, then that’s on them.

But your own blog posts, automated email sequences and website copy can and should be routinely scanned for correctness and applicability. I can’t tell you how many courses I’ve taken where the teacher espoused some strategy that just. doesn’t. work. anymore. I’m not going to complain or get my money back, but it’s not professional. With just a few hours every 3-6 months or so, you can avoid this.

When you do update content, you can either choose to just overhaul it, or you can add a few addendum paragraphs to the top with a new date.

Use Lasting Humor

Some humor only lasts for a minute or two. In 5 weeks, no one is going to remember the Trump gaffe you’re referencing, even if it was hilarious at the time.

You know what will be funny in 5 weeks? And 5 years? And 5 decades? Funny Thingz About Catz. I mean, maybe the Zs won’t be in vogue anymore, but cats themselves are bound to please. Other strategies:

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Be Super Freaking Engaging at All Costs

You’ve heard it a million times: Engagement is key, yada yada yada.

But it’s true. If you can keep someone glued to the page because you’re answering a key question for them, you’re speaking to their soul, or even just because they like your writing, you’ve got a far greater chance of withstanding their criticism of a few outmoded claims or old jokes.

Let It Go

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. For the fiction writer, you have to do your best with what you’ve got and trust that the reader understands you wrote in a time and a place, and that the time and place may have changed. Readers are smart, so just trust them.

You can also openly acknowledge that this is a for now piece, and that you don’t know how it will look in a few months or years. Sometimes, this is actually worth a lot. I often cull through the internetz, searching for answers to questions such as “Wait, when did that Facebook algorithm change?” or “How did XYZ amazing company actually get their start, before they refined the brand message?” So never underestimate the importance of contributing to history.

This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically land a reader, keep a reader or make a sale. It DOES mean that all the time you put into crafting emails, writing blog posts, penning short stories and otherwise working to get your message out into the world.

Because isn’t that what it’s really about? Your own message?

Answer: yes. And now you can protect it, at least to the extent that you are able, by implementing these few simple strategies to keep your work evergreen. Go, my little writing friend, go!

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