TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter May 2011

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Word Clouds


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You may have seen these jumbles of key words on Flickr and other sites and wondered what they were all about. A word cloud is a graphic created from the text of a web site or from a list of of supplied words. For example, I created this image from the article titles in the Urbach Letter Back Issue Archive. The more frequently a word or phrase appears in a list, the larger and bolder it's rendered in the graphic. There are more sophisticated implementations, but the general concept is that frequency correlates with importance.

Word clouds are surprisingly easy to create using online tools like wordle.net. Once you paste in your word list, the basic cloud is presented, and then you can tweak the layout, typeface, and colors. Can you think of some applications for your own use? Perhaps a report or book cover? Something to put on the back of your business card that'll help communicate ALL the things you do? How about a unique or highly personalized greeting or holiday card?

There are lots of clever examples in the Wordle Gallery, but here is a pair I found of particular interest:


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In her new book "The Achilles Effect: What Pop Culture is Teaching Young Boys about Masculinity" Author Crystal Smith compiled a list of words used in TV commercials for boys' toys. In all, there were 658 words from 27 commercials targeted to boys ages 6 to 8 including Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Kung Zhu, Nerf, Transformers, Beyblades, and Bakugan. The more frequently a word was used, the bigger and bolder it appears in the word cloud, so it's immediately apparent what looms large in the male kid brain.

Smith also studied commercials for girls’ toys. Her girls' list compiled 432 words from 32 commercials. Toy lines on this list include: Zhu Zhu Pets, Zhu Zhu Babies, Bratz Dolls, Barbie, Moxie Girls, Easy Bake Ovens, Monster High Dolls, My Little Pony, Littlest Pet Shop, Polly Pocket, and FurReal Friends. The contrast is striking.

No surprise about the gender stereotyping that occurs in kid marketing, but seeing the terms bolded in a word cloud really drives home the key messaging differences. At this level (expensive TV advertising by major toy companies), everything is response tested. The reason these terms have prominence is because they resonate with the target market.

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