More years ago than I care to remember, I devised a test to help me discern if a person was cut out to be an advertising creative.
It was a simple test, and I’ve found through the years that it’s a pretty good barometer. I ask people if when they go to a grocery store, particularly a high-end grocery store, if they’re interested in the products that are being sold.
When they see the 117 varieties of mustards, are they interested in the stories behind those condiments? Do they care about how things are packaged? Even the language on the jar.
It doesn’t have to be mustard, of course. It could be olive oils, steel-wool pads, 91 different types of hammers. Are you curious about them? Do you want to know more and tell their stories?
Today, with the world’s and our industry’s ongoing assault upon our language, I am developing another test. It is a test of clarity. It is a test of simplicity. It is a test that separates ‘complicators’ from ‘simplifiers.’ And it spots blowhards like you’d spot an incipient forehead-pimple on prom night.
In the words of Robert Caro, one of the world’s greatest living writers, good writers should: “Find out how things work and explain them to people.” That definition works for pretty much all writing, whether it’s a planning deck, a brief, a tweet, a commercial, or instructions on how to set up a new printer.
So next time you read something at work—no matter what it is, ask yourself, does it do the above, does it explain things? Or does it spray out buzzwords like a Gatling gun?
Basically, it makes sense to look at most writing (and speaking) you'll encounter within an agency with this simple chart in mind. My guess is it's right 99% of the time.
If people can't make things simple or refuse to, they either don't understand it themselves and haven't the bravery to own up to that, they're purposefully being deceptive, or they're simply full of crap. In some circumstances, they're probably all three.
Occasionally people have the misfortune to arrange an interview with me. If that unhappy event should ever happen to you, watch your mouth.
I’m testing you.