How Simple Was That?

Stats, Formulas and Jargon Sway Neither Clients Nor Consumers

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Derek Walker
Derek Walker
Simple isn't easy.

Never mistake simple for stupid, uneducated or uninformed.

Most of the time it is the exact opposite -- the more you know or understand something the easier it is for you to explain it in terms everyone gets.

What is it about us professionals that when we want to show how much we know, the first thing we do is kill simple? Why? Do we really believe that throwing in graphs and charts, adding statistics and formulas, and talking in a vernacular that requires a translator makes us appear smarter?

I think it makes us more arrogant.

Never underestimate simple.

I'm simple. I'm proud that I am.

We all need to be simpler. Our job is to communicate to people like and unlike us, to talk with people who we may have little in common with or who are exactly like us or somewhere in between. And we can't do that by being complicated. We need to be simple.

Simple is the secret to the most effective advertising. It isn't about being ultra creative or highly intelligent; it is about being human -- making a connection. The most effective work touches something inside people and shows that our client understands what it is that is important to them. It is a common thread.

"At the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his actions, even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him." -- Bill Bernbach
I know this may insult the intelligence of many, and I'm sorry that it does -- this is not my intent or purpose. Many of us have worked our entire lives to be smarter, more intelligent -- experts in what we do. And for me to come along and tell you to be simple might seem wrong. However, I'm not telling you to be stupid or less intelligent.

A very wise man once said to me, "The beauty of being a genius is not in showing people how smart you are but in being able to take the most complex thought or idea, and explain it in such simple terms that anyone can understand what you are talking about. That's true genius." My dad is so much smarter than me.

Under the stress of trying to justify to clients what we offer is worth what we are asking for, simple eludes us. Insecurities get in the way. We give in to the "more is better" school of thought. We think that clients can only see our expertise and value through more charts, more graphs, more jargon, more words ... more whatever.

I was once privy to a logo redesign project for a client and the document for the presentation was 27 pages. Now, I understand that a client wants and needs to feel like it is getting its money's worth, but 27 pages? If it takes 27 pages to explain/justify the redesign of a logo, then the logo design doesn't work. Even those working on the project were shocked by the size of the document. As you can imagine, the presentation was exhausting for all.

I wish this was an exception but I've sat through way too many presentations both internal and external to know that it isn't.

But this isn't just about our presentations or writings, it's also about the creative we produce. And no matter whether it's on TV or the phone or the computer or the iPad or anywhere else, what we do is produce creative -- it's that simple.

Let's look at the Old Spice work. I know some of us are so sick and tired of it, and there is debate on what exactly is moving the product. But product is moving. And the campaign is good.

What makes this campaign so special? Why does it work where others haven't? The agency and client kept it simple.

Did they talk about a reformulated product? Was there a list of ingredients? Do we know if it was scientifically tested?

No, we know a man will smell like a man. We don't even get what that smell is! Think about how simple that is.

Want to show the world how smart or creative you are? Want to impress the client with your expertise and knowledge? Want to show that you deserve whatever you are being paid?

Make it simple.

Simple is the answer, our salvation -- it always has been.

Simple is insightful, meaningful, deep. It is that message that resonates with the human being in us.

That's as simple as it gets.

Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.
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