A few blogs ago, I wrote a rather anxious piece about the way that the “creativity” in advertising often tends to obscure the communication rather than sharpen or dramatise it. On that occasion, the single example I cited was a bus-back advertisement for Transport For London.
This was hardly “evidence,” so today I’ve done something a little bit more robust. (Not a lot, but a little bit.) I went through all 26 display ads in my paper (The Times, since you ask), and mapped them onto a classic four-box matrix, where one axis goes from “Not expressed with standout or originality” to “Expressed with standout or originality” and the other axis goes from “Not easy to understand” to “Easy to understand.”
Working my way round anti-clockwise from the top left, I found that 12 of the 26 – almost half – came out in the box that scored high for being understandable, but low for stand-out or originality. These were generally retail ads with headlines like “Up to 50% off.”
In the bottom left box, I reckon there were four that scored low on both measures. These were generally pretty hopeless pieces of work, like another retail ad that said “12 months of savings EVENT,” but was so badly branded and art directed that it was far from easy to see what kind of goods or services the savings EVENT applied to
In the bottom right box, I counted six where the attempted creativity more or less obscured the communication – for example, an HP ad with the headline “Flex, when in flux.” Even after I’d taken the trouble to read the copy, I had no idea what this meant.
And then in the box at the top right, where everyone wants to be – ads with originality that were easy to understand – I counted just four examples. Actually, looking back over these, I think I was fairly generous: probably the best was an IG Index ad featuring a picture of a tense-looking bloke and a headline that said: “Feel at home on the edge of your seat. LIVE EVERY TRADE.” No? Well, suit yourself.
So, to sum up, I suppose I’ve imagined for as long as I’ve been connected with advertising that the first priority of the creative people is to find ways of adding interest, involvement, distinctiveness and memorability without any loss – in fact, if possible, with a gain – in clarity of communication. In fact, however, in today’s Times, only four out of 26 ads could be said to do this: 12 didn’t really bother with any of the distinctiveness stuff, and 10 seemed to try but fail.
Excluding the idea that it was a freak edition of The Times, I think this ad-count leaves only two possibilities:
1. Creative people aren’t very good at delivering on their job descriptions.
2. The job description I’ve believed we’ve all been working to for all these years is wrong.
Hmm. Not sure which I like less, really.