1. Money
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Be Smart, But Don’t Show Off.

The Difference Between Smart, and Pretentious.


Shoot in the foot
Image via Getty IMages

"It needs to be really cool."

"Definitely, very cool."

"And it needs to have a twist of some kind."

"Like a great movie. Like Seven."


"And it should not be too obvious."

"No, it should be subtle."

"Really subtle."

"So subtle it's missed by most people but our target."

"Well, even some of those will miss it."

"Yes, they'll kick themselves!"

"Man, this thing will win so many awards!"

And so on. And so on.

Many of today's advertising creatives will approach a job wanting to do the coolest, most incredible pieces of work that they can. They want it to sing. They want it to be praised by other agencies. They want it to win every award (make that every gold award) and be the first piece in their portfolio.

And if it also happens to connect with the consumer, even better.

This kind of thinking is not thinking at all. It's shooting the campaign in the foot before it ever gets out of the gate. If you put the consumer last, you can expect them to do the same with your advertising. It will be last on their minds, leaving you with a campaign that may look pretty, and clever, but does nothing for your client.

The Circle; Don't Close It, Don't Leave It Too Incomplete.

Many people in advertising have talked about ideas as circles. The best advertising will take consumers only so far around that circle, and get them to complete it on their own. They fill in the gap between what you have put out there, and what you want them to understand about the product or service.

If your advertising is dry, boring and predictable, it means you have left too small a gap for them to close, if there's any gap at all. There's no puzzle to solve, nothing to "get," they just see what you have said and do nothing with it.

Bad direct marketing, and poor TV and radio ads suffer from this. Any kind of car dealership ad will usually close the circle completely, telling you exactly what to think and what to do. This is handholding of the most basic order, and gives your prospect no credit at all for figuring out the message (which is important as it helps capture the attention and make the ad memorable).

On the other hand, when you're too smart you can leave too large of a gap, and it becomes difficult, or even impossible, for the target audience to get the message.

I saw this illustrated once on a poster that had an image of a teapot, followed by the image of an apple. There was a "plus" sign between them. I stared at it for at least 30 minutes.

Teapot plus apple? Apple plus teapot? Apple tea? T-apple? Tapple? Applet? On and on. What were they trying to say?!

The poster didn't mean anything. It was designed to make the designer or advertiser feel the same way as a consumer does when they don't get the "gag." I have ever forgot that lesson.

The Target is Everything.

Remember, you must tailor your ads to the target audience. If it's aimed at a room full of astrophysicists, you can of course do something that they will get but 99% of the population won't. But if you do something that everyone BUT the target will get, you've failed, too.

Smart is selling a product or service well, in a memorable way. It is not being clever without getting results. Remember,David Ogilvy said "if it doesn't sell, it isn't creative" and those words are just as important today. Perhaps even more so. In our efforts to become so very clever and creative, we may just be forgetting the most important part of the advertising industry - the consumer.

  1. About.com
  2. Money
  3. Advertising
  4. Creating Ads
  5. Be Smart, But Don’t Show Off. The Difference Between Smart, and Pretentious.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.