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‘That’s the ad where they…’ principle worth remembering

Readers of the column will remember the five criteria put forth for good advertising: credibility, relevance, uniqueness, practicality and sustainability. I have come to realize that there is a sixth criterion always present, which I haven’t given its deserved separate identity — memorability.

In advertising as with all business, sometimes you hit on an epiphany that seems so simple, so elementary, yet so true and effective that you wonder why you’ve never thought of it before. I call it the “That’s the ad where they…” principle, but more on that later.

Everyone understands that for ads to work they have to be memorable, but what it means to be memorable is not so apparent.

Something different

Let me backtrack a moment.

I have discussed “uniqueness” at length before, and it may seem that there’s little difference between this aspect and “memorability.”

Being unique speaks to the quality of the ad to break through all the advertising clutter that bombards our daily lives. Sometimes this means being edgy and irreverent.

Sometimes this means being smart and humorous. Oftentimes, it means being all of these things.

Being “memorable” is something different. An ad can be unique, and not memorable. A good example is the campaign that Infiniti broke when introducing their line of luxury cars (called the “rocks and trees” campaign). It was unique because it didn’t actually show the cars. It was not memorable because, well, it didn’t show cars, or much of anything interesting for that matter.

So to effectively break through the advertising clutter, you have to be unique and memorable.

Starting with a simple idea

It is a common misperception that memorable ads have to be complicated. More often, memorable ads are among the most simplistic. Or at least the idea behind the ad is simple.

In journalism, the rule of thumb is to write news stories on a sixth-grade level. Contrary to popular belief, this is not because the audience is unsophisticated. In fact, news consumers are among the most sophisticated of all target audiences.

The reasons most news stories are written in a simplistic format has more to do with time management and to aid in quick understanding. While news consumers are usually relatively well educated, they are also among the most time conscious. Most have jobs that keep them busy. When not at work, quality time with family is important. Therefore, for news media, be it broadcast or print, to be included in a person’s life, the media must fashion it in manner that is quick and easy to digest.

Something of this notion is applicable when creating advertising, as well.

As a general rule of thumb, the best ads can be summed up in a single sentence or phrase — what I referred to earlier as the “That’s the ad were they…” principle.

Think about the “Got Milk” campaign: That’s the ads where they all have milk mustaches. Think about the Absolut Vodka campaign: That’s the ads where things are shaped like bottles. Simple, but powerful ideas, communicated in simple, but memorable, ways. In fact, the simpler an ad is to describe, the more memorable it seems to be. “The ad where everybody says ‘Wasssup’ . . . the ad where the bunny keeps going . . .”

One very big caveat here. Simplicity is not a substitute for a good idea. Behind the “Got Milk” and Absolut vodka campaigns are strong concepts.

Without a strong concept, your advertising is merely making a statement. Statements aren’t memorable, or unique. Statements don’t build brands, customer loyalty and typically don’t sell product for the long term.

Best executions, best ideas

In advertising, as in most everything else in life, the best executions start with the best ideas. And there are lots of good ideas. After you have a strong idea, then start making it look attractive. It is the art of transforming these ideas into simple, powerful and memorable messages that is the business of advertising.

My advice to the readers, if you take away nothing else from the Adworks column, remember two things:

• Good ads have to start as good ideas.

• Good ads should be able to be summed up in a single sentence that begins, “That’s the ad where they…”

I hope that’s memorable.

Tim Mask is vice president of brand planning and development at Maris, West & Baker advertising in Jackson. He can be reached at tim.mask@mwb.com. Randy Lynn, VP/group creative director at MWB, and Keith Fraser, associate creative director at MWB, contributed to this article.

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