The other day I saw a startling piece of advertising. It was on a truck operated by a dog-poop scooping service (yes, there are such things, at least here in Southern California.) The truck had nice graphics explaining what they did and their contact info, but it was the copyline right in the middle of it that impacted me deeply… and I am a hardened copywriter with many years’ experience:
“Your dog’s ‘biscuits’ are our bread and butter.”
That line is a classic example of the slippery slope we embark on when following the temptation to be clever.
Everybody wants to be clever. Everybody’s heard a really good ad copyline, sometime, that really made you laugh. When you’re designing ads for your own company, it’s really tempting to be clever.
I have to admit that I will remember the dog biscuit line forever. It creates a vivid image in my mind. And advertising is about being memorable, getting attention, right?
Partially right. Advertising is about making the product or the brand memorable. And the biscuit line certainly did that.
So what’s wrong with it? Why do I call it a slippery slope?
Because, honestly, I don’t want to meet the person who thought to link dog poop to the phrase “bread and butter.” I don’t want to shake his hand. I don’t want to smell his breath. I can’t imagine doing business with him.
Clever and on-target can be very powerful. Clever but off target is confusing: it gets attention to your ad, but simultaneously steals attention away from your real message. Clever by itself isn’t automatically good.
The problem is, when you think of something really clever, pride of authorship can cloud your judgment. The urge to spread your bon mot around may make it difficult to know whether or not it’s appropriate.
How, then, to keep from going off the rails? The best way is to make sure that any ad you run meets three simple tests:
1) Before you write or design any ad, decide what the message should be, your advertising strategy. Define the task. Then let the cleverness begin, but make sure that any ad you consider stays on message. If it gets attention but nothing else, move on to the next concept.
2) Is the overall tone compatible with your company and product image?
3) The most successful ad-guy I ever knew said, “Never make ugly.” It was the rule that trumped all others.
To be on the safe side, if you write anything, get a few opinions on it as though it were written by someone else.
These basic rules can help keep your marketing from going wild. I take this stuff seriously. Every ad you publish releases ideas into the public consciousness. It should be approached responsibility, just as much as we’re trying to be responsible about what we release out of our smokestacks and into the atmosphere.
If we’re not careful about our ads… well, I don’t think I can ever look seriously at a basket of biscuits again.