Clever-clogs, San Franciscan adman Howard Gossage once said that advertising had a responsibility to society not to pollute our environment.
Particularly outdoor, as everybody was exposed to it.

I’m sure everyone in marketing at the time nodded sagely in agreement, then got back to polluting.
After all, job one is shifting product.
Creating a more pleasant trip to the shops is an indulgence.
Isn’t it?
If you believe dull, ugly ads shift more product.
Do they get you to buy?
Are they easier to remember?
Of course not.
So why are our streets filled with them?
Maybe it’s inappropriate to be playful and fun when times are tough?
Times like these call for ‘hard working ads’!
Every Creative will have been told, solemnly, ‘Now this one needs to be a hard-working’.
(Like you’re just fucking about the rest of the time to amuse yourself.)
Nope, this time, they actually need to sell some shit, so
keep it straight, don’t go all creative on us.
Ok, so what is the information we need to deliver without diluting it with our fancy creativity?
The magic bullet?
Ah! ‘Our product is…(wait for it)…good’.

It’s not to say that every message needs to be put through some kind of creative filter.
Let’s say the BMW i3 goes for 300 miles on a single charge – you probably don’t want to veer too far from that set of words.

But if the information was, what the headline became ‘As promised, the all-electric BMW i3’ you should veer.
Or flee even.
Not to keep yourself amused but to generate interest from others.
Simply introducing a product or is saying it’s good isn’t hard-working.
It’s dull and unbelievable.
Like saying your son is so handsome or you’re a great golfer.
There has never been more products available as there are today.
And there’s never been fewer differences between them.
Take cars, I’m in the process of buying one – asking dealers what the difference between model x and model y is like debating a politician.
“What does the extra £5k get me?”
“It gets you the ABC Model.”
“I know, but why’s it better than the CBA Model?”
“It’s the ABC Model…it’s superior.”
“In what ways?”
“What specifically?”
“All round, it’s a superior car…it’s the ABC!”
That’s a big purchase, imagine asking someone at Sainsbury’s what the difference is between soaps – “The one on the left has the word ‘Pears’ printed on, whereas …”

But you still have to choose one soap over the others.
If you can’t differentiate them by what they do, you are forced to differentiate them by how they present themselves.
The name, packaging, marketing and so on.
Never was this more true than in the lager category.
BMP used to regularly launch new beers, beforehand they’d conduct some blind taste tests, to see how their new brew fared against the competition.
They concluded that ‘beer drinkers drank the advertising’ because they couldn’t taste the difference between one pint and another.

Today, most categories today are like the lager category -very few tangible differences between brands.

So what you say is less important than how you say it.

Simply saying your lager is awesome won’t do it.
You have to be creative.
You have to conjure up a personality
to separate yourself from your competition.
What kind of personality appealing?
Well, no one’s looking to be bored – so don’t be dull.
I’m sure I’m not alone in finding bullshit off-putting – so be honest.
Given the choice, I prefer self-deprecation to self-aggrandising.

I’d guess people prefer buying from intelligent companies rather than dumb ones.
I like those who make me smile, laugh even.

I’m more likely to look at something attractive than ugly, hence the word ‘attractive’ I guess.

Oatly is a good example.
I like them.
What’s the difference between them and other Oat Milks?
No idea.
But I like the cut of their jib.

They don’t take themselves too seriously, occasionally make me smile, they just seem cool.
Next time I’m in Tesco’s, staring at Oatly and the 30p cheaper oatmilk next to it in the fridge, I’ll probably go Oatly.
Those 30p’s can really start adding up back at Oatly Towers in Malmö.
Would I feel that way if Oatly said stuff like this…

…rather than this…

It’s only one word different.

A change in tone.
But one company I like, the other – not so much.

Would I still think The Economist was a smart brand if their posters looked exactly the same, but instead of the Creatives staying late, trying to squeeze out an observation that made people think, like this…
They just cut to the chase, and went home on time…


All very well if you’ve a clever target, but what if you simply have to say your product is very good?
You could say it.
In only four words.
That’s got to be good for a poster?

Or you could say it like this.

They both say it’s good, I’d give my cash to the second lot, the haggis guys, I just like them more.

What broadcasting, what do people want from a tv channel?
Right, so let’s not mess around over-complicating it – let’s give the friggin’ dog a bone.

Let’s state clearly and simply that we have what they want; good entertainment.
No, scratch that, make it ‘great entertainment’…that’s even better than ‘good’.

Doesn’t get clearer than that.
Clear but dull.
I suspect the channel below is more entertaining, judging by their advertising.

If you’re selling fashion there are two things you have to do.
1. Show the clothes.
2. Tell them what to ask for when buy them.
Otherwise, what the hell are we selling?
You’re not going to buy what you can’t see.

But fashion is not a logical.
People buy brands they like, brands that fit their self-image.
Or at least, the image they aspire to.
Most people want to appear sexy, cool and confident.
No amount of product info can persuade you a pair of jeans are cool.
Attitude can though.

Posters have to be quick, don’t play games.
People simply don’t have time.
Some are even on the move.
Get in, get out.

2 seconds.
Got it – so what?
Or maybe you do play games?“Whats that?
Who’s it for?
No logo…ah…Target!
Aquariums…fish food…Toilet plunger?
Oh yeah…funny.”
5 seconds.

But I now like them.

Let’s say your brand has a thing, a property.
You could just say it simply.

Or, as David Abbott did – say it in a cleverer, more memorable way.

Alternatively, you could say it in an engaging way and bring a bit of humanity to the message (literally) by showing kids.

You could make the message more emotional by showing the kids in a more vulnerable situation. 

Or, you could say it in four words, next to an image you’ve never seen, that reminds you how precious out kids are.

Here’s Howie again – ‘The buying of time or space is not taking out of a hunting licence on someone else’s private preserve, but it is the renting of a stage to perform.’
We can’t make people engage with our ads, but we can try to engage them.

If we fill our streets with dull, shouty creative work, it devalues those spaces.
Maybe there’s a tipping point – when
people assume there won’t be anything interesting on those posters up ahead –  so don’t turn their heads.
On that head movement rests the success of the outdoor industry.
Maybe we’d engage more people if we gave them more engaging content?
A reason to look.
Maybe even make them smile.
Maybe Mr Gossage was right; we shouldn’t pollute our streets.
Maybe it’s not only morally right, maybe it’s financially right too.


  1. Rosie Arnold says:

    OMG you have my first ever poster ” Spray on Jeans ” for Levis do you have a good resolution I could have? Kindest Rosie

    • dave dye says:

      No Rosie,
      I was hoping you’d lend me your proof or laminate to scan – I love that poster.

      • dave dye says:

        *When I say ‘no’, I mean I haven’t got a better resolution than than, but I’ll email that one to you. Dx

  2. Rosemary Arnold says:

    Thanks so much I had a mad throw
    out years ago and really really regret it!

    • dave dye says:

      What did you do that for Rosemary?
      (I’ll send it over.)

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