Feb 11

Great ads vs. laundry lists

As we all know, ads can fail for a number of reasons: bad creative, bad strategy and bad clients.

It takes a special kind of client to understand that the best way to win a customer’s heart is to focus on a single compelling point — not to stuff a commercial full of goodness.

Some clients just have a laundry list of points they want to get into their ad, and they find it impossible to let go.

Even Steve Jobs is capable of having — as Pink Floyd once said — a momentary lapse of reason. I saw it with my own eyes at a meeting when Steve was trying to get the agency to squeeze a few more product benefits into an ad we were about to produce.

Sitting across the table from Steve was Lee Clow, past and current leader of Apple’s agency. Lee crumpled up 4-5 pieces of paper and tossed one to Steve. “This is a good ad,” said Lee, as Steve easily caught it.

Then, all at once, Lee tossed the remaining pile of crumpled balls of paper to Steve and he caught none of them. “That’s a bad ad,” said Lee.

If I’d known that the incident would have become a blog post, I’d have made it a point to remember if Steve then let us have our way. But I do stand behind the principle, as would most every right-thinking marketing person.

Simplicity beats complexity every time.

People tend to remember one thing well said better than a laundry list well recited.

Fortunately, just as I need to illustrate the point, Dell rushes in with a new ad. Or, more accurately, a new laundry list. It goes like this:

If you buy an Inspiron 15R (catchy name, fellas), you’ll get:

(1) More fun, (2) more control, (3) more durability, (4) more sales support, (5) for less, (6) with an Intel Core i3 processor for (7) faster multitasking and (8) McAfee Security Center. It concludes, of course, with the dueling theme lines, “You can tell it’s Dell” and “The power to do more.”

When you compare the Dell-style  laundry-list commercial to a more single-minded Apple commercial (like “Mac vs. PC), it’s not hard to understand why Apple is better at winning both customers and advertising awards.

Tags: , , , , ,

  • qka

    My take on this Dell ad:

    1) It starts busy – too much info too fast, too busy visuals
    2) The It’s … was reminiscent of the current iPad is … ads. That was up to your point #6.
    3) Then it reverted to the too busy, cramming all kinds of stuff in before the ad ended.

    In my opinion, another poor attempt by Dell to copy Apple.

  • Riz

    Very true!

    I cannot count the times that I argue with clients to stop making bullet-point ads. In a way seeing Dell’s above ad makes me feel good. If a multi-billion dollar company does the same, what chances I have with my much smaller clients?


  • neilw

    How can an ad focus on one thing when there isn’t one single notable thing about the product?

  • Joseph Futral

    I’m no expert and I’ve only had to do minimal advertising for smaller projects on a local scale. So this is an uneducated, although communications enthusiast’s, opinion here.

    I kind of sort of agree. There is _one_ thing (up until the end of the commercial), the general idea of “More”. But I agree that this isn’t enough focus on its own.

    If this is one of several ads that work together, with the additional ads focusing on each of those ideas in this commercial—a commercial dedicated to fun, another dedicated to control, etc., then this ad sort of makes sense in an “executive summary” sort of way.

    But the principle in your post, spot on.

    But I could be wrong.

  • Don108

    Respectfully, it’s not the “laundry list” that’s the problem with bad ads, it’s what the laundry list actually lists.

    In advertising jargon, this is the problem of “benefits verses features.” Most people with no training in advertising think that features sell products. They don’t. That’s one of the reasons that companies who put up a list of “How our product beats Apple’s product” don’t beat Apple’s sales. Consumers don’t care if a product has faster framistats or more clapatrons.

    What sells is benefits. There is an easy way to tell if something is an ad is a benefit or a feature. Does it answer the question of why I would want it. A faster processor is meaningless. A processor that allows me to see movies more smoothly, move through a large database or spreadsheet in half the time—THAT is meaningful to me.

    Because ads have limited space, when you describe benefits, you only have room to describe the most important ones. The result of giving benefits that sell rather than lists of features that don’t sell is that there isn’t room for laundry lists.

    Finally (while I’m here), I would just like to nominate Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 ads as the WORST in a Microsoft tradition of horrible ads. They literally say buy WP7 so you don’t have to use it! What moron came up with THAT idea? People buy smart phones in order to use them.

  • kevin

    I’d like to know how you contrast this to the “ipad is…” commercials. I’m not arguing, just asking for more insight.
    There is definitely a different vibe, and the ipad commercials feel more focused – I just don’t know how to articulate it.

  • ken segall

    The “iPad is…” commercials aren’t actually a laundry list of features. They are a laundry list of apps. Which, in effect, isn’t really a laundry list. It’s a commercial that focuses on one point — “we got tons o’ apps” — by showing a bunch of them.

    That having been said, I’m not a fan of the iPad spots. Not that they don’t work, it’s just that they all do the same thing, over and over. Which is the same thing that the iPhone ads have been doing over and over for three years already. I find myself wishing Apple would surprise us all with something totally new and fresh one day. One day…

  • Stephen Sonnenfeld

    Probably the best recent example of a single-minded message brilliantly told is the much touted VW Darth Vader spot.

    It, and in fact the entire new VW campaign, is also the perfect how-to-do-value counterpoint to Dell. Both have the same basic selling proposition, get more less. While Dell attempts (unsuccessfully) to convey this message through a bizarre onslaught of information, VW, through the intelligent use of charm, wit and gentle humor gets you to genuinely believe that you get “great, for the price of good.” A terrific line that demonstrates the power of clarity and simplicity when contextualized within engaging presentation.

    This is the magic of great creative thinking – take something basic and inherently generic and turn it into something attractive and distinctive. Something obviously and historically beyond the grasp of the folks in Round Rock.

  • ken segall

    A tip of the hat to Mr. Sonnenfeld, who perfectly nails the value of a well-focused, creative message.

  • Trevor

    Are there any studies that point to the cognitive ability of consumers and that at some point, there is drop off in terms of what they’ll remember? So many times in this business we end up having to shoehorn in additional messages that end up creating clutter. I have to believe that if there was hard data that indicated that consumers at best walk away from even the MOST entertaining and creative ads with 1-2 messages it would be hugely helpful in correcting this kind of behavior.

  • Pingback: Confusion Blog()