Blog Post

What Does a Billion Dollars Look Like?

As a communications firm that focuses on public issues, we deal with numbers. A lot of numbers.
February 11, 2014
  • “Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States.”
  • “Great Outdoors Colorado has permanently protected more than 1 million acres of open space.”
  • “Working with more than 2,300 small businesses, Colorado Lending Source has helped create and retain nearly 20,000 jobs during our 20 years in business while pumping more than $900 million into Colorado’s economy.”
Is that a lot? Is that astonishing or impressive? It’s so hard for people to understand what the numbers actually signify and how they should feel about the data if they can’t visualize and truly understand what those numbers mean.
That is one reason why I think HR Block’s new commercials are genius.
HRBlock
The ad tells us that Americans leave behind a billion dollars a year when they try to do their own taxes. A billion dollars sounds like a lot of money to me, but it sounds even more alarming when it’s put into context. According to the ad, a billion dollars is “$500 on every single seat — not just in this stadium — but in every professional football stadium in America.” 
Now that’s putting a number in context.
So what can you do to put your numbers into context? 
  1. Make it big. Show just how big a number is by putting it in the context of things people can relate to or visualize. One of our examples can be seen here.
  2. Make it local. Compare your number to places or things in your local community that people are familiar with (“could fill every seat in Coors Field three times”).
  3. Make it personal. Illustrate your numbers with a story of one person who was impacted. People remember stories and images long after they forget data and figures.
Tell us how you put numbers into context.

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