Friday, July 10, 2020

It ain't easy being easy.

Just yesterday Rich Siegel of RoundSeventeen acclaim posted a string of six of the 92 commercials he helped create for a California chain of chicken restaurants, El Pollo Loco. You can see them below.

And earlier this week, Dave Trott, the LeBron James of British advertising, wrote a blogpost here about his long days and longer nights working as a deckhand on a Danish freighter. In Dave’s inimitable style, he writes:

So I went to the Brooklyn docks and signed on a Danish freighter.
I was only a deckhand, but in the Gulf of Mexico they asked me to steer the ship.
This is done from a big wheel in the centre of the bridge.
The ship weighed 10,000 tons and was travelling at sixteen knots (about 20 mph).
They told me to concentrate on the vertical crane in front of the bridge.
Turn the wheel towards the direction I wanted to go.
As soon as I saw the crane begin to move that way, start turning the wheel back.
Don’t wait for the ship to get to the setting I wanted, by that time it would be too late, the ship would just carry on turning straight past it.
It isn’t like a car where you turn the wheel and the car immediately turns.
Everything on a big ship happens with a time lag.
You turn the wheel and it takes ten seconds for the rudder to even respond.
You’ve got 10,000 tons of water moving past at 20 mph, trying to stop the rudder moving, so you need a massively powerful servo-mechanism to turn it.
Once the rudder’s moved, it needs to bite into the water, that takes another ten seconds.
When it bites, 10,000 tons of ship begins to gradually turn.
That’s when you have to start turning the whole thing back the other way, twenty seconds before the ship gets pointed in the direction you wanted.
The whole process is like a huge factory skidding across the ocean.
Steer…then correct….then correct again…. and (hopefully) one final correction.

Rich’s commercial and Dave’s post cause a problem. They make the work they did look simple. And the problem is that things that look simple seldom are.

But people think they're simple because professionals like Rich and Dave make hard work look easy. So others, clients, co-workers and project-managers think work is simple, when simplicity is anything but.

In fact, simplicity causes other problems.

Often as creative people we work terrifically hard to make complex things readily understandable. The problem is in doing so, we delude people into thinking the things we sell are simple when they’re not. We seldom put ourselves in the shoes of our viewers.

What’s more, with everyone and his cousin telling us that people won’t read ads, we hardly ever get the chance to explain things in-depth. People are all too often left with nothing more than the 40 or 50 words of a commercial showing how fucking intuitive everything is. Except nothing really is intuitive. Truth be told if you’re old like I am, not only can you no longer rip open packages because they're conveniently shrink-wrapped, you can’t read the instructions either because they’re usually set in five-point type.

It would be more useful and honest if we told people that x, y and z were difficult but worth it. Instead we say x, y and z are easy and then we smile and laugh. That leaves people angry and disappointed.

Just a couple years ago, I went down to the Great Hall of Cooper-Union, where Abraham Lincoln speechified back in 1860, to see Steven Heller interview the recently-deceased Milton Glaser. Toward the end of the discussion, Heller said to Glaser, “well, less is more.”

To my eyes, Glaser got a little pissed at that. He pushed back from the table and took a second. Then Glaser responded to Heller.

“You know, I’ve heard that all my life. And I just don’t believe it. When you go home tonight if you have a kilim rug, a Persian rug, a Turkish rug, something like that. You’ll see something very beautiful and very complicated. You’ll see the interplay of colors. You’ll see negative space and intricate patterns. In some rugs you’ll see patterns and tension in the rugs.”

Glaser paused again. An old man’s pause. The pause of confidence.

“These rugs are very complicated. And very beautiful.”

This time Glaser displayed the timing of a good Borscht Belt comedian, and paused again.

“Sometimes,” he said, “more is more.”

Since it's Friday, a little advertising treat on the topic of things that look simple seldom are. For what seems like the last 96 years people have been jabbbbbbbbbbering ceaselessly about using data to create great advertising.

I have yet to see an example but the jabbbbbbbbbbering doesn't stop.

However, the ad below is probably 55 years old. It's data driven. And its copy is some of the best I've ever read, and some of the simplest. That's hard.

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