It’s said there are seven basic plots in literature that all stories derive from. If so, how can we call anything created to-day “original”? While the term “original” may always be in question, a better word to describe new work of every form is “fresh.” In advertising, “fresh” is usually the goal. A unique twist on an old idea is what most good advertising agencies strive for. Still, most of what passes for advertising these days is neither fresh nor original. Although there are few ideas for ads in this world that haven’t been done in one form or another, the consumer’s short-term memory is faulty. In that regard, coming up with something unique for your audience is not as tough as it might seem to be, and old ideas can have new life breathed into them with a little twist.
That being said, here is a list of a few advertising clichés you should try to avoid when formulating your big idea. If you can find a unique twist on any of these, more power to you.
You have a new product. You want to give it a coming-out party to your audience. It has a world of new features, is dramatically better than the competition, and screams for advertising that notices these things. Instead, we get “Introducing the Newest Advance in Accounting Software.” Agencies love “Introducing.” In fact, they love it too much. It’s old, it’s cliché, and you can be sure that there will always be another ad with the word “Introducing” at the head of it in the same publication or site you’re advertising in.
2. “The Best (Product Here) I’ve Ever Used!” [Celebrity/Industry Spokesman Here]
Make no mistake: endorsement ads are important. For some businesses, they drive sales better than any feature-based advertisement possibly can. The problem with most endorsement ads is they feature endorsers known only by industry old-timers and, in a country where youth is omnipotent, using minor to sub-minor celebrities to hawk your wares is about as exciting and substantial as Ed Wood hawking Bela Lugosi long past his prime. Good celebrity endorsements require a solid public relations agency, a budget, and time. If you are unwilling to invest, you should look into another type of advertisement.
On the other hand, if you can find a cost-effective celebrity who fits your niche perfectly and can come across as a surprising choice (like William Shatner for Priceline), you might have something most celebrity endorsements don’t—that unique twist that can turn a cliché on its head.
3. “Does Your Product or Service Act Like This?”
These types of ads usually show the ugly side of a product or service. For example, “Does your call center connect?” might show a slovenly phone operator filing her nails while her entire switchboard lights up. The subhead and body copy will usually explain the benefits of your call service and how it is different from this exaggerated outcome, but most viewers will be left with a negative feeling, either about the service industry itself or a misplaced belief that your service fits into this category as well (the result, usually, of viewers not reading the full ad—which most of them won’t). A way to counter this kind of negative ad is to cut your design in two and make the negative much smaller in scale to the positive.
Their product, our product. Notice the difference? Comparison campaigns have been around forever, from taste tests to Bounty paper towels. They are the go-to idea when you’ve exhausted your first few inspired ideas and hit a wall. A high mark for this kind of campaign was Rolling Stone magazine’s first foray into advertising: “Perception, Reality.” Directed at their readers (but also at their advertisers) this campaign contrasted the percep-tion of who their audience was and the reality of what they actually really were (for example, the hippie of old was, today, a well-off businessman). Although there is always room for a new twist on the comparison campaign (which Geico proved recently with their customer “taste test” commercials), nine times out of ten these ads tell you what you already know.
5. Inspirationally Vacant
Nothing is less effective than an advertisement with a vague, clichéd image and an equally vague headline. How many times have you seen ad or banner with “inspirational” images, such as hands holding a globe or someone standing on top of a mountain, and a headline like “Moving Forward”? More than you’ve probably taken notice of. The body copy for these ads usually explain that these companies are forward thinking and on top of their game, but their advertising is as vanilla as it gets. These are the kinds of ads that nobody remembers because they all mesh into each other. To break the cliché, the ad needs to be specific: How a company is forward looking is far more interesting than merely stating it is.
6. Tired visuals
Two hands shaking. Puzzle pieces. A scale. There are dozens upon dozens of images that have become the default for marketing teams that are either burned out or not aware enough that these graphic icons have been overused to the point of nausea. Once again, you CAN use these images in unique ways that make them fresh to tired eyes. It’s just not easy. Here are few more to avoid should you hit a wall in your brainstorming:
A light bulb
The tin can phone
A hammer breaking a piggy bank
A mountain climber
A Swiss army knife
A magnifying glass
A group of business people smiling
Creating something fresh in advertising, particularly B2B advertising, is not really that difficult. What is difficult, of course, is having it supported, presented, and getting your client to sign off on it if they do, in fact, like it. Some of our agency’s best work came from a bold, unique idea (and accompanying campaign) that defied even our own beliefs about what our clients might or might not go for. Many times, they will surprise you and defy the cliché in deference to what’s fresh and new.
Read More: Digital Marketing with Bill Blaney