"Some copywriters write tricky headlines -- double meanings, puns, and other obscurities," David Ogilvy, one of the greatest minds in advertising, once wrote. "This is counter-productive…your headline should telegraph what you want to say."
"Iconic designs that stand out apart from the crowd have just one feature to help them stand out," writes brand identity guru David Airey. "That's it. Just one. Not two, three, or four."
More recently, AdAge Editor in Chief Rance Crain flatly stated, "Good ads are simple and direct."
"Bad ads aren't," he continued.
If there is one ubiquitous theme throughout all the disciplines of advertising, it's simplicity. Simple headlines. Simple logos. Simple ads.
Unfortunately, as Crain points out, simplicity is "a characteristic that advertisers have a woeful lack of these days."
Simplicity seems like a simple concept for advertisers. You only have 30 sec. in which to sell a product to a customer, so it would seem like ad should be as concise and direct as possible. Sometimes, in the case of print, the time to capture a prospect's attention is even shorter -- three seconds at most.
So, why then do copywriters write blind headlines, or creative directors piece together television spots that waste 80 percent of the airtime on setting up some plot or twist unrelated to the actual product?
The war for consumer "attention" is certainly not anything new. It's a battle advertisers have been fighting since the days of Claude Hopkins and before.
The new war, however, has evolved. Advertisers now seem certain that in order to grab a consumer's attention, a commercial must be "novel," "sensational," or "spellbinding." They try to engage audiences with complex plots or graphics, or either misguided attempts at comedy.
The result is often a complete bust; for example, Kia's cosmic adventure advertisement during the Super Bowl.
Do you even remember what car they were advertising?
Simple and direct ads are, many times, very vanilla. They don't have the "wow" factor. That is, they're not built to entertain.
They're meant to sell product, which (used to be) the purpose of advertising.
And, you don't have sacrifice engagement for simplicity. Apple ads (agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day) are some of the simplest campaigns running right now. Yet, I bet after reading that sentence, you immediately thought of an iPad or iPod.
The Reese's "Perfect" campaign, from ArnoldWorldwide, is another exam of utterly uncomplicated ads accomplishing everything they need to do.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking you have to trick the audience into being engaged. As Leo Burnett said, there is "inherent drama" in every product. The true skill of an advertiser is to find this drama and bring it to life. That is, without tricks and games.