Crap Ad Syndrome: 10 Tell-Tale Signs

Your new campaign/ad/video is ready. 

Dollars have been spent, media has been placed, and expectations are high. 

But will it work? 

Ah, the multi-million dollar question.

Who knows? Advertising is an unquantifiable beast at the best of times and a wholly subjective one to boot,

What I can tell you is that if your heroic effort has succumbed to any of the ten suck points listed below, it hasn’t got a hope in hell.

Ok, get your pencils out and let’s see how you fair.

There was never any buy-in on the brief This is a biggie from the get-go. The brief is the tablet of stone by which all is judged. It should set the direction of the communication, guide the creative process and be the touchstone for whether the work is strategically sound, creatively impactful and ready to go to market. It needs to be kept to a single page, and both agency and client need to be on it.

The client has given the agency “direction” Yeah, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Client direction is, after all, code for “do my idea” and that rarely works. All you’re doing is putting the brakes on minds trained to take base elements and turn them in gold. Best let the agency do what agencies do best: come up with great ideas. 

The work has gone through more than 3 rounds of revisions Anything more than 3 and there’s a substantive flaw in the brief. (See #1) It usually means there was never a consensus on what needs to be accomplished, and the vagueness and woolliness of the original brief are starting to show through in the ideas. No good can come from pushing on regardless and hoping for the best – best step back, re-focus, re-write the brief and start over.

More than 3 people are approving it One point to contact with ultimate say-so on either side of the client-agency relationship. That’s all you need. Anything more leads to mixed, diluted messaging that tries to accommodate too many opinions and points of view. An ad or initiative that seeks to say too many things fails to say anything at all.

The Creative Director doesn’t have the final say There’s a reason he or she is called the Creative Director – they’re the person best able to direct the creative and assume the role of guide and touchstone. In the best relationships, the client has absolute faith in their agency CD’s judgment. In its absence, client seniority usually takes precedence – again resulting in a mixed bag of potential outcomes. Take away: If you don’t believe in your Creative Director, replace them with someone you do. Failing that, let them do what they’ve been hired to do.

It’s been focus-grouped Never a good sign. A crutch for the marketing director who’s unsure of themselves, focus groups essentially cede the position of Creative Director to the loudest, most persuasive voice in the room. They usually hog the M&Ms, too. Not good. If you look for nuances rather than definitive analysis, then they maybe hold a modicum of value. But I’m not convinced. Bad idea.

 It lacks impact So much for the politics of the ad, now let’s get to the nitty-gritty of what it looks like. Impact is the first rule of advertising regardless of media. TV, social, print,  radio, if it lacks impact, it means that one thing: No one’s going to see it. And if no one sees it, everything else is a complete waste of time.

It doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable Impactful work signals its presence by generating a feeling of uncertainty in the pit of your stomach. This is because the work is fresh and unfamiliar and, as a consequence, you have no compass with which to pre-judge it. Conversely, a feeling of quiet satisfaction means your ad is a homogenous glob of same-old, sameness and you’re in big trouble.

It’s trying to say to many things at once Is your ad predicted on a single-minded thought provocatively executed? Or is a bloated amalgam of mixed messages, each desperately trying to shout over each other? If it’s the latter, save your money, your ad’s dead on arrival.

It looks like everything else in its category Uh-oh, sounds like you may have created a piece of safe advertising – an ad that desperately wants to look, feel and act like all its competitors when, in truth, what it needs to do is the exact opposite. Safe advertising is predicated on fear. And fear is a guarantee of failure.

So how did we get on?

If it’s any consolation, most ads exhibit some, if not all, of these tenets.

It’s why only 4% of ads are ever remembered favorably.

On a positive note, think of the ads that are memorable, command attention, talk persuasively and stay in the memory?

How many of those fall foul of the no-nos cited above?

Exactly.

Apples & Oranges

Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company was in turmoil.

It had a bloated roster of bland products that included a dozen different versions of the Mackintosh. 

Within weeks Jobs had reduced it to just four.

Legend has it he lost it during a particular turgid product review meeting. Grabbing a marker pen, he marched up to a whiteboard and drew a two-by-two quadrant. Above the two columns he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro”; next to the two rows, “Desktop” and “Portable.“

“Here’s what we need,” he declared.

And that was it. 

Everything else was scrapped.

Armed with this new stripped-down, laser-targeted objective, Jobs’s engineers set about creating a series of products that would come to define their categories for a generation.

Later, anyone enquiring into an Apple product in any of the four product quadrants Jobs had identified would be faced with just one option. And it would be exceptional.

More than exceptional, in fact.

When Apple unveiled the iMac in 1998, its iconic style, intuitive functionality, and vivid colors profoundly changed everything we thought and felt about the home computer. 

The world and his dog wanted one.

In 1997, Apple had posted a $1 billion loss. In 1998, it posted a $300 million profit.

Jobs’s insight was to realize that less is more. 

Less clutter meant more focus, ingenuity and innovation.

How would it be if agencies and brands lived by similar principles?

Instead of cramming every last product feature or reason to buy into your communications, why not concentrate on just one? 

But make it a compelling one.

Take a stand.

Execute against a single thought and do it exceptionally well. 

If you’re a company, product or service, find the one thing you excell at and dedicate your energies toward it.

The ability to be the best you can be is a whole lot easier when you have nothing else to distract you from your goal.

You can’t be everything to everyone.

But you can be something to someone.

After all, if you throw someone 12 oranges, they probably wouldn’t catch any of them.

But if you throw them just one, they’ll catch it every time.

It saved Apple. 

Think what it could do for you?