words got in the way

Advertising legend David Ogilvy once said, “Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”  Those are pretty harsh words and I’m not sure I agree (entirely), but sometimes I see ads that seem to have been written by folks who are trying to impress vs. persuade or sell.  Their words, it seems, have gotten in the way of their points.

Here are few recent examples:

Honey Nut Cheerios FSI
Honey Nut Cheerios FSI

I had to read the headline of this FSI three times before I understood what it meant.  I don’t know if it’s the awkward sentence structure or the use of a non-word (“non-challenge”), but the point of the ad — that Honey Nut Cheerios helps lower cholesterol — got lost in my confusion.  It seems the writer of the line sacrificed clarity for cleverness.

Canon Powershot magazine ad
Canon Powershot magazine ad

I’m guessing the objective of this ad is to highlight the cool style and size of the new Canon PowerShot SD780 IS Digital ELPH (say that 3 times fast).  And the image in the ad does indeed make this point compellingly.  So, then, why is the headline needed?  It doesn’t add anything — in fact, it doesn’t seem to be saying anything at all.  Perhaps if the headline pointed to the combination of the camera’s style and power (or functionality or quality), there might have been a reason to include it — but as is, the words seem to get in the way of the striking visual.

pearl izumi ad
Pearl Izumi magazine ad

This last example comes from Pearl Izumi.  I point this out because unless you’re very astute or you’re familiar with the logo, you probably might not figure that out — which brings me to why this is another example of copywriting gone bad.  If you take the time to read this entire ad, you’ll see the headline is talking about sperm and the copy is calling on readers to procreate in order to populate the world with more real runners (vs. ones in quotation marks.)  Regardless of whether you find the ad humorous or offensive, I think you will agree that it says nothing about the product or brand.

Regular readers of mine know that I don’t often rant — and I intend this post as no exception.  I’m not highlighting these examples just to point out how bad they are.  Instead I hope to encourage people who create ads to consider how words can add or detract to the point they’re trying to make  — and perhaps to focus first on the advertising objective and then on the creative way to fulfill it.

I think this is what Ogilvy meant in another of his famous quotes, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.

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  • Craig

    I agree. This is an easily overlooked point, which I think occurs far too often.

    I’ve been following the Pearl Izumi “we are not joggers” campaign since it started and have been continually surprised at their choices. And I personally really like the products. I own some, and have always wanted to own more, but this campaign has been nothing but off-putting and leading customers away from the brand, IMHO.

    In particular, it seems they lost sight of what persuading they are doing as a result of their creativity. I think many of the ads are funny, inventive, and hard core. I like some of them because I can relate to the snarky attitude. But none of the the products I have every bought from them correspond to that, and I am negatively influenced to purchase based on that. I want their products to make me run/cycle faster. Not put others down. Some form of hard-core elitism is not something I aspire to want, and I’m not sure that’s going to be a long term helpful position for that brand to own.

    Many a campaign seems to suffer from this problem – sometimes, more than just words get in the way – sometimes the whole campaign gets in the way. I too think Olgivy was particularly harsh, but has a good central point. His words certainly didn’t get in the way of his message.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more. The same can be seen on TV as well, where a clever idea has been taken too far and rather than promoting the product, has shown the viewer that a clever person created the ad. However, the viewer does not know who this person is or can not remember the product after 5 minutes.

    Keep it simple, easy to understand and crazy, and it will become unforgettable by it’s own virtues!