Real-World Clutter Busters Help Advertisers Clean Up Their Act

They Do Wonders in Living Rooms -- Imagine What They Can Do for Media Plans

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Ad clutter is driving everyone in the ad business crazy. But real clutter -- piles of paper and extra shoes and whole drawers full of dead electronics -- is driving everyone crazy in the real world, too.
National Organization of Professional Organizers: 3,000 strong and growing
National Organization of Professional Organizers: 3,000 strong and growing

We are having a collective clutter moment.

Household clutter is so distressing to people like my husband (who for some reason can't enjoy eating next to a stack of ever-stickier mail) that a whole industry has risen up to relieve them. Three reality TV shows are devoted to decluttering, as are two magazines: Real Expensive -- er, I mean, Real Simple and the one I love, Quick and Simple. And then there's NAPO -- the National Organization of Professional Organizers -- 3,000 strong and growing faster than a pile of unread New Yorkers.

With so many great minds concentrating on clutter, I wondered if any of them had any tricks that might apply to ad clutter, too. Turns out -- they do!

Use color: "To make things stand out in their home or office, I tell people to color code them," says Betsy Fein, president of She has clients use a green folder for money issues, a red one for health forms, etc.

How does this translate to advertising? Figure out the color of your product and make it all yours. Target is red, UPS is brown and Barbie is the color of girlhood. Barbie wasn't always hot pink, and hot pink wasn't always exclusive to Barbie. Then Mattel colonized the color, and now the color sells the product. Make your product's color intuitive and bold.

Recycle: "If you're going to put a key container on the table so now you'll always have one place to put your keys, let's search the house and find a container you love, so it feels right to you," says Ann B. Gallops, head of In other words: If you've got clutter, you've already got whatever you need. Just dig it up and start using it again.

Smart advertisers do this with their old campaigns. The Vlassic Pickle stork is staging a comeback, as is syrup siren Mrs. Butterworth. And when the Chicago Tribune asked ad execs how Kraft Foods could regain its mojo, the cry came back: Do more with the Weinermobile! Just because something is in storage doesn't mean it can't be dusted off and used a new way. And people appreciate the familiarity.

Group like with like: When it comes to closets, this is easy to understand: If you mix all your pants, shirts and skirts together, all you'll see is jumble. But put your pants with your pants, etc., etc., and suddenly you can easily see -- and use -- everything you've got.

Same goes with advertising, says Jamie Novak, resident organizer for NBC's iVillage and a participant on HGTV's "Mission: Organization." "I'm looking at a Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon right now," she said. "They've got all this information at the top about 'We won't be undersold,' but then in the middle of all that terminology they list where you can find the locations. If I wasn't reading their guarantee, I wouldn't have seen this information." Keep separate info separate, insists Jamie, or it will get lost.

People seek simplicity: Clutter has become such a zeitgeist issue that Peter Walsh's book "It's All Too Much" ended up a bestseller. "People are feeling out of control," Walsh says. "They are really questioning the stuff they own. They say, 'I've got a house full of stuff, and I feel overwhelmed, paralyzed.'"

This is not good news for marketers hoping to sell one more Hummel figurine. But advertisers who can explain how their products will make life simpler, saner and cozier will find a receptive -- nay, desperate -- audience.

Less really is more these days. Good luck trying to sell it.

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Lenore Skenazy is a journalist who lives in New York. E-mail her at [email protected].
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