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February 14, 2009

The law of shiny things: the value of newness and the wonder of the interactive PDF (or iPDF)

The law of shiny things works like this: magpies can’t tell the difference between a diamond ring and a bit of Kit Kat wrapper. And humans aren’t that different.

A new delivery format or an extra bells-and-whistles feature will attract client attention – even if it’s not a step-change improvement. (Penicillin was a step-change improvement, touch screens are a shiny thing that may improve mobile phones).

There’s a bit of magpie in all of us, and our inner hunter-gatherer is always on the lookout for things that are different from the norm. But once you have the attention you have to deliver. The law of shiny things is not a licence for froth and baubles

The rise of video clips – the law of shiny things at work

Video clips on websites are a good example. Several UK law firms have adopted them in the last year – they give you a lawyer’s talking head rather than a screed of text. Here’s an example from Ashurst, a London law firm (we had no involvement in this piece of work): have a look

This is a good-practice example as it looks smart and there’s an easy-to-see-link to a briefing that fleshes out the content of the video clip (the briefing uses text tables too). But video clips work partly because they’re shiny things – different enough from the norm to get noticed. Once all firms use video clips they won’t be so shiny.

But a word in the defence of video clips: even when the format is less shiny (i.e. a norm rather than an exception) it will be just useful for clients. That’s because it takes less mental effort to process a video clip in ‘lean back’ mode than it does to read a briefing in ‘lean forward’ mode.

For now, video clips are a good illustration of the law of shiny things – they give you a low-cost way to stand out from the crowd.

A shiny-thing format that gives you a website you can email and print out. Without having to talk to the IT folks…


When we decided to market a joint-venture with Music Makers* (details at foot of page), a professional-services telesales firm, we had the law of shiny things in mind. So we developed this interactive PDF, or iPDF.

An iPDF is a PDF that behaves like a website. You can email it, and print it out, but it works like a website, and you can even embed sound and video – as shiny a thing as you ever saw.

Have a look another example and make sure you click on the sound clip – it’s under the big red arrow in the upper-left corner: try the sound clip in this iPDF. And the links in the right column of this iPDF are cunningly set to open web pages in a new tab.

Embedding sound clips is easy to do, and means that you can have a neat way to email clients something that’s a cross between a PDF, a website/microsite, and a podcast.

Product features can be shiny too

Slinky content-delivery formats aren’t the only way to tap into the law of shiny things – helpful product features are shiny things too.

Useful know-how update features – clear headlines, summaries that highlight action points, helpful text tables – all help to make your products shinier than your competitors’. We cover these topics in our writing training, and our pet client-focus mnemonic will help you focus on these client-focused features.

From touch screen phones to, well, more touch-screen phones


Pre iPhone, hardly anybody had seen a touch screen phone. At the moment touch-screen phones are still fairly shiny, but not for much longer. Most higher-end phones now have touch screens. And at the time of writing Nokia – who sell about a third of all mobile phones – is wheeling out its first touch-screen phones.

The shininess of the touch screen phone is on the wane, but goodness it’s given Apple one wild ride – they sold over 17m in the 18 months between June 2007 and December 2008.

And that is the second part of the shiny thing law – the shiny thing of today will become the plain-vanilla feature of tomorrow.

So if you want to make use of that magpie-instinct in your clients, keep an eye out for the next big shiny-thing.

*Music Makers are a professional-services telesales firm
They arrange new-business meetings for law firms, accountants, insurance and financial services firms. Previous and current clients include Mazars LLP, Haines Watts, Hoodless Brennan & Partners Plc, Clyde & Co, and Katten Muchin Rosenman Cornish LLP. Find out more at


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