Why your advertising sucks part 3: You think people are stupid.

David Ogilvy
Image by byzantin3 via Flickr

David Ogilvy said 40 years ago “the consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife.” It seems not everyone listened because the industry continues to insult her.

Ogilvy’s quip may be one of the most quoted phrases in marketing and advertising but marketers often don’t think it applies to them. Somehow it’s their customers that are of below average intelligence.

In my 15-year career, often working as a hired gun, I can say I’ve heard “you don’t understand, our customers just aren’t that smart” from clients in just about every possible category (luxury brands excluded).

However, I’ve never heard after an ad ran from a client or consumer that it was too complicated, too sophisticated, or too clever.

I believe this thinking stems from two causes:

A) A lack of respect and understanding of your audience.

B) Expecting your audience to understand your marketing strategy and not your emotional benefit.

I’m not going to address A because if you don’t respect your customers you’re beyond hope. Sorry.

But I believe B is actually more common and worthy of discussion.

For the record this kind of thinking isn’t just related to clients. It also come from inside agencies, outside consultants, or just about anywhere people sit around thinking about product benefits too much.

As a copywriter, my job is to translate the client’s core benefit into a compelling message for their customer. And compelling rarely means dumbed down.

What it does mean is finding the core emotional benefit wrapped in all the analyzing that’s happened before a project hits my desk. There are often great nuggets of information in all the buzzwords and matrices. But reaching the consumer is rarely done using them.

The deep thinking in these planning and strategy documents is tough to explain even to copywriters at times – so, of course, they’d be tough to explain to a consumer that doesn’t read them on a daily basis. That’s why great copy and art direction reaches an audience on a base emotional level.

Now, if you were expecting a consumer to follow the logic train developed in your PowerPoint document,  you would need to “dumb it down.” But if you can trust your consumer to appreciate your brand on a gut level, you won’t ever feel the need to call your customers stupid or want to idiot proof your messaging again.

Each component of your brand story doesn’t need to be explained to a customer in every piece of communication, nor does each benefit need to be spelled out. Just the ones that resonate emotionally. And emotional arguments are much simpler and easier to communicate than rational ones. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Logically explaining product benefits straight out of a brand strategy. Our high-quality service, new fleet of aircraft, and on-time on time record makes  flying with our airline better than traveling with our competition.

The simpler example of re-framing the argument emotionally. We take the frustration out air travel.

Now it would be tough for your customer to follow the logic established in top example in each piece of communication or maybe even any – especially in a truly creative execution. Yet, many marketing executives believe that the customers need to understand things the same way they do and blunt their advertising to make it happen.

Good advertising usually requires simplifying your promise and using emotional triggers. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you saw a Nike spot where the benefit of the cushioning of the rubber was explained? Or when was the last time you saw an Apple ad that talked about how the silicon chips and software was engineered.

No, they stick with an emotional connection to sports and simplifying ones life. These are things that we, as human beings, resonate with on a deeper level and don’t need to have argued to us. We just get them. And so will your customers.

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Posted on: May 12, 2010, by :