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November 17, 2016
A Modest Proposal to Make Advertising Great Again
Let’s imagine our industry’s “conventional wisdom” is wrong. Now what?
I’m going to spare you all the marketing-related election recap nonsense. Whose ads and strategies worked and whose didn’t. And I recently wrote about the importance of understanding people who aren’t like us, so let’s dispense with that advice for the moment.
It’s time to focus back on the business of advertising. It’s time to listen to the forgotten people, get out of our little foosball-table-in-the-office, whiteboard-and-PowerPoint elitist bubbles, and make advertising great again. Here’s a back-to-the-basics plan guaranteed not to win you any awards at Cannes (you know that’s in France, right?)
Tell me how your product or service is superior and will improve my life. Stop with the soft-selling, self-actualization, “engaging with this brand helps you achieve total consciousness” nonsense. Stop telling me all the cool kids are using it. In fact, stop showing me cool kids altogether. Lose your “purpose-driven” marketing. Your purpose is to sell more stuff. Stick to that.
Get to the point. Fast. How many times were you in a room with people who don’t work in advertising — like at a Super Bowl party — and a mysterious spot comes on that doesn’t reveal the product or tagline until the 57th second? Then your non-ad friends say, “What the hell was that all about?” And suddenly you feel compelled to explain the concept to them and the strategy behind it, like they’re the dumb ones for not getting it. Even if they are dumb, no one likes to be told they’re dumb. So make advertising you don’t have to explain.
Be simple, rinse, and repeat. Linguists who analyzed his speeches reported that Donald Trump talked on a third-grade level. Nothing wrong with that. How many times have we been told, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”? Lots. Now try it. Lose the buzzwords. Use short sentences. Be direct. And repeat it all. Being simple is that simple.
Don’t assume consumers want to “complete the circle” of your ad. They don’t. That requires work. And most people don’t want to work even when they’re at work. Who the hell wants to do extra work for an ad? Advertising shouldn’t be open to interpretation like a Dali painting. This isn’t an art museum. This is salesmanship.
Bring back cheesy, catchy jingles. Hey, why not? Don’t resort to using some obscure alt-rock track that drives your moody commercial or three-minute brand “film.” Most 50 year-olds can sing dozens of cereal and toy-related jingles from their childhood. “I’m stuck on Band-Aid” had actual sticking power. What was that song in the Nissan ad you saw an hour ago? Exactly.
Use big emotions or they’ll run roughshod over your big data. The Trump victory indicators were there. Buried a bit, but still there. Most people ignored them. Numbers aren’t insights. You might have a sharp-looking data dashboard, but unless there’s someone behind the wheel who can interpret it smartly and create work that pushes people’s buttons, you’ll drive your brand off a cliff.
Make your brand’s tagline or slogan something people would wear on a ballcap. Many taglines today are pointless, meaningless, and esoteric. Great taglines are rallying cries. So ditch the ones that confuse people. In other words: Just do it.
Let’s repeat all that: Cheesy jingles, better taglines, simpler ads, and getting to the point. Now watch the dollars flow in, just like they used to in the good old days. That’s all there is to it, right?
I haven’t the foggiest idea if this is a recipe for great advertising, or making advertising great. Propose these ideas at some agencies and you’ll get laughed out of your ideation brainstorm. What I do know is that there are a lot of people who yearn for a simpler time, and much of our industry is overcomplicating the hell out of advertising. Modern life is complicated enough without our industry making it more so.
But as a, um, wise man recently said, “What do you have to lose?” Do all this, and you’ll at least get 47% of the audience interested in what you have to say. Which, as we now know, is enough to put your client over the top. Bigly.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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