Lemons Still Sell

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by Andrew Fatato, Senior Copywriter, POSSIBLE

Learn what old-timey print ads can teach us about making advertising for the future.

Volkswagen ad

In an age of sponsored Instagram selfie lenses created to unlock bespoke VR experiences for toddlers, it can be tempting to toss aside the ad techniques of yesteryear. But it turns out those old print ads still have a few things to say about making advertising. So, ignore your meme-feed notifications for two seconds and give this a quick skim.

Honesty is still compelling.

Or, at least, understated lies.

Please. No more over-written Super Bowl manifesto spots. It’s exhausting. No one believes you.

Sure, there’s a place for cinematic storytelling, but at the end of the day, consumers aren’t any more stupider than you are. And, when they’re surrounded by advertising that constantly exaggerates the benefit, the technique kind of starts to lose its shine.

Let’s get back to a little honesty in advertising. Because it acknowledges consumers for the intelligent people they are. And that’s always more effective than begging them to believe your product is the one thing that will make it all make sense.

We already have hints of it — we see value in influencers and “authentic” brands — but let’s push that frankness even further. Yeah, your clients will be scared. But, remind them that sometimes there’s nothing quite as disruptive as telling the truth.

How International Design Awards 2017

Head-scratchers still stop thumbs.

The value of the understanding gap.

Incongruity between copy and visual is the oldest trick in the book. And yet, too often the endless scroll tempts us to just shout the benefit as loud and as often as possible in the hopes that someone will pay attention. Your clients beg you to just repeat the value props for this year and don’t confuse the consumer. And that makes sense. That’s their job.

But there is value in that moment of incongruity.

If you’ve done your job right, it’s that slight question mark, that raised eyebrow, that stops the scroll. Sure, it might not always be as simple as cooking up an outlandish visual or over-blown headline, but the principle remains.

If you respect your consumers enough to believe they can figure something out, give them a reason to smile, or ask “wha….”, they’ll be more likely to actually consider your brand for more than half a second.

Simple ideas are still the best.

No, I don’t want to hear about how it integrates with an app.

Oh my god, the things these computers can do. And yet, every time a concept takes more than two sentences to explain, you can feel the consumer’s eyes glazing over.

Sure, our phones are powerful, and apps are cool, and VR is the future, and I can’t wait to never have to leave my house again, but the simpler idea will always win.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t use all that fancy technology. Of course not. But if you don’t start with a dead-simple idea, you’ll be stuck with a well-intentioned, multi-faceted, integrated ad-lob thing that no one has the patience to interact with.

Do what I do: If I can’t explain my idea to a drunk friend in a crowded bar, I kill that idea.

And hey, if you need someone to take to a bar to test that theory out, you know where to find me.

Author’s note: Obviously this post is influenced by every advertising book I’ve ever sort of read. Check some of them out for a deeper dive into this stuff: Hey Whipple, When Advertising Tried Harder, Chiat/Day: The First Twenty Years, Ogilvy On Advertising, The Copy Book

About AndrewAndrew is a Brooklyn-based copywriter who makes ideas and words for advertisements. Linkedin

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