Category: advertising

The incredible effectiveness of beauty

We prefer beauty to perfection.

If in doubt, look to art.

Not to be more arty.

But by understanding how images and words combine to engage people.

To engage customers.

People prefer beauty to perfection.

Islamic artists will often leave a deliberate mistake in their art.

The reason shows humility and wisdom. They will tell you, “Only God is perfect.” And, by allowing the artist the freedom of a mistake, the artist can create a pattern where the artistic outcome complements and surpasses the limitations decreed by pure geometry.

Punjabi weavers will create a deliberate break in the pattern of their blankets.

Navajo weavers, similarly, will include imperfections. Delightfully, they believe each blanket contains a piece of the artist’s soul. As such, they will often include a spirit line, stitched from the main pattern to the edge of the blanket, so this piece of their soul can escape and not be trapped forever in the blanket.

(As a writer, I can only empathise.)

I particularly love the idea behind the Japanese art of Wabi Sabi.

Taking imperfections and making them a focal point of the design. Fixing a shattered bowl with gold to create an even more beautiful, if less symmetrically perfect, design. (Something echoed in the late, great Paul Arden’s axiom. To create a great ad, take the weakest part and make it the strongest design element.)

They balance the imperfection with beauty.

Or Marcel Duchamps’ The bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even. A work on glass, he wanted to leave deliberately unfinished – his words reflecting da Vinci’s obsessive lifelong tweaking of the Mona Lisa. The work was shipped to New York and broken on the way. Shattered. Everyone was, understandably, mortified. Except Duchamps, who looked at the piece and declared the shattered pattern actually added to the art. Finishing it in a way he could never have managed himself.

One relevant truth behind all of these is the invisibility of perfection.

If every aspect of a piece is perfect, there is nothing to catch the eye of the beholder. Our brains are wired to seek the tiny things which should not be there – it saved us from being eaten by tigers back in the day.

By celebrating the imperfection, we create pieces which are more noticeable, and more engaging.

Which, at the end of the day, is what we, as communicators, desire most.

The trouble is, most marketers look for the imperfections and strip them away. (It is, after all, easier to see what’s wrong with a work than what’s right with it. And we do love having our opinions heard.) We then insist on replacing the offending imperfection with either an inoffensive addition, or a perfectly sound piece of logic. Both of which not only decrease the attraction of the piece but also its capacity to engage.

If we make a piece too smooth, the viewer’s attention will slide right off it.

Which is exactly the opposite of what the client is paying us for.

Be humble.

Don’t aim for perfection.

Aim for beauty.

The garbage that is “modern advertising theory”.

The reason most people say they don’t pay attention to advertising is simple. Advertising doesn’t give them anything to pay attention to.

I saw this ad yesterday.

Before I start kicking the idea to pieces, I’d like to apologise to the writer.

I’m assuming it’s not your fault.

Whoever is responsible for this, you need to know it’s bad. Not the kind of bad that further curses advertising with the stench of opportunistic, trite and shallow commercialism. It’s not that noticeable. It’s bad in an “I-don’t-believe-someone-actually-spent-money-on-that” kind of way. Whichever gang of monkeys decided to drag the original idea into a committee room and bludgeon it to death with marketing wisdom should hang their heads in shame.

I noticed it because I’m in the market for a new car.

So new cars are on my radar.

This seems, to this idiot anyway, the sort of poster which has been put through the mincer of “best practice” and has turned out another reason (if one were needed) why most marketers should probably have nothing to do with advertising.

The theory says, “show the car”.

The practice says, ‘This ain’t no super model”.

A possible solution, put your energy into making people remember the name.

The theory says, “front three quarter.”

The practice says, “Is that the best you’ve got?”

A possible solution, show only part of the car – the part most people will find most interesting – maybe even the view from inside.

The theory would say, “Nobody reads long headlines.”

The practice would prove people read what interests them.

A possible solution, write a headline which is the engaging part of an advertising idea.

A hard-earned thirst needs a big cold beer.

From where you’d rather be.

When it absolutely, positively needs to be there overnight.

Three highly memorable lines which engaged the reader and remain trapped in the brain. Three lines which modern advertising theory suggest would be better written as; “cold” “from here” and “overnight”.

It’s a trap formed by an evil coalition of unskilled art directors and focus groups.

And a trap most committees gleefully run into because it stops them having to really think about what the customer wants, and what the customer will truly engage with.

People read what interests them.

If young people don’t read long headlines, why do they spend so much time reading the 125 characters in most Instagram posts?

(A sentence which, by the way, contains 125 characters.)

By keeping the headline short, the clever committee have simply removed any capacity for the writer, and art director, to use their skills to create an ad people will remember.

Alliteration. Metaphor. Juxtaposition. Repetition. Rhymes. Spoofs. Parodies. Playing with reality. Over-promise. Under-promise. Reframing. Perspectives. Stories. Alternate uses. All proven effective time after time after time.

If you’re going to interrupt someone’s day, hoping to get them to buy what you’re selling, make it worth their while.

If you can’t make it worth their while, don’t run the ad.

Happily, later in the day I saw the latest Repco campaign. “It all starts with the parts”.

Memorable. Interesting. Engaging.

I don’t even know what a spare part is.

But I think I know where I’d start looking for them if I did.