About 25 years ago, when I taught a couple ad classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York, I decided to start the class in an unusual way.
Before class, I went through dozens of old awards annuals and picked out ten or 15 ads I liked from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
The ads didn’t look anything alike. They looked radically different. Design trends, even writing styles changed over time. But, I asked my students, are there commonalities in all these ads?
I wasn’t looking for a magic formula or success, or heaven forfend, a best-practice, but humans after 250,000 years on earth, have formed some communication do’s and don’ts.
Generally speaking, we like simplicity, clarity and wit. We're also, generally speaking, busy. So we have to hear things a few times before we notice or act.
British ad legend (and friend) Dave Trott boils the basics of communication down to three steps.
First, you have to get attention. (If people don’t notice your message what’s the point?)
Second, you have communicate with your audience what you want.
Finally, you have to persuade people to listen, or you won’t get what you want.
That’s simple, right? And logical, too.
But how many commercials did we see during the Super Bowl skipped one, two or even all three of those basic principles?
How many of the dozens and dozens of spots we watched simply failed? They might have gotten our attention, but didn’t say anything. They might have told us something, but didn’t persuade us.
Commercials should be entertaining—but they are not entertainments. They are meant to impart useful information to viewer in the service of the client who is paying for them. If clients are leaving us in droves—or relegating us to what Sir John Hegarty has called the “fringes,” it’s our own fault.
We chase the mammon of awards shows, or seek to feed our own bloated egos to the detriment of the businesses for whom we are agents.
But I believe we have a job to do and we have to get back to doing it. The industry, our jobs will get better when we get better. Our profession will regain its importance when we remember what our jobs are and how to do them.
To that end, some spots, selected and sent to me by Dave Trott.