Monday, March 2, 2015

Why simple is not so simple.

It's one of the basic tenets of advertising: simple messages communicate more powerfully than complicated ones. 

And yet.

Back when I was a baby copywriter, we used to bitch about how the creative briefs we were given kept getting bigger and bigger. Yes, even at a storied ad agency like Chiat/Day, a place famous for creating simple, powerful advertising. Sometimes the brief for a single ad or commercial would run to four pages.

Whenever we were given a brief, the first thing most of us in the creative department would do is flip through it, skipping over all the background and demographic stuff to the one important line item: What’s the single most compelling thing we want readers/viewers to take away? A simple answer there would mean we’d been given a good assignment. Not because the solution would necessarily be easy, but because even an idiot would be able to determine whether we’d met the criteria. 

It’s hard to keep an assignment simple. Clients who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ad feel as if they’re being asked to pony up for a Ferrari, but not being told whether it will even turn left.

(I once had to work on a billboard that had –- and I’m not making this up –– a list of eight things that the brief said needed to be communicated. There’s a general rule with billboards that you don’t want to go over nine words. Which, as the account person nervously joked, gave us the freedom to throw in a gratuitous “the” or “and.” My partner and I actually nailed it, but unfortunately the headline we wrote had twelve words, so our solution was killed before it ever got shown to the client.)

That was years ago. Since then, media has become lots more expensive. And the vast majority of clients have become accustomed to being regularly deferred to by agencies who are so terrified to lose the business that they refuse to have an opinion, much less take a stand. 

All of which adds up to an advertising landscape that’s fetid.

And then there’s this. 

Forget how dazzlingly funny this is. That’s bonus. The genius is that the very structure requires the spot to say only one thing. The single most compelling message. 

I look at this spot and I see not just a brilliant creative solution, but also a healthy agency/client relationship. I know. That's two things. 

See? Even I can’t help but want to make two points.

Way to go, Martin Agency.

Brian Belefant is a copywriter turned director currently looking for his next assignment. Please call (503) 715 2852 or email