Recently the advertising news website ‘More About Advertising’ published my choice of ads to take to a desert island. Many people have chosen their Desert Island Ads before. Often they select ads, (usually TV commercials) that others have previously chosen, which is fair enough. If you’re going to be alone, stuck on a desert island, you’re entitled to take whichever ads you want, even if a bunch of other people have picked the same ones. But I wanted to be different.
I decided to confine my choice to posters. I introduced my piece in a way that I hoped would amuse my readers. I’d like to think I succeeded. But although my introduction was light-hearted, my purpose was deadly serious. I believe that a poster, consisting as it does, of few words and a picture, is the ultimate distillation of an advertising idea. The posters I chose not only invite attention, they work their socks off to sell product. For example, the Volkswagen poster that makes a virtue of the fact that the Beetle is cooled by air, rather than water: ‘No radiator problems. No radiator’. Or Leagas Delaney’s poster for Timberland shoes: ‘Paint the colour on our shoes? We’d rather dye’.
Both these examples are in harmony with what I learnt when working at Collett, Dickenson and Pearce in the seventies: keep it simple, strip away anything you don’t need – and strive to be witty, as witty as you can. Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to the present day.
It seems to me that a lot of marketing communication is far too cluttered. This applies particularly to digital media, where all too often the eye has no idea where to look, and consequently the brain has no idea what to focus on. If I had to put my finger on the cause of the problem it’s this: digital designers appear to allow themselves to be seduced by the numerous bells and whistles available to them and feel duty-bound to use as many as they can. And it’s not just digital media that suffers. So does conventional advertising. Designers and art directors appear to run riot at the expense of delivering a clear message.
Contrast this with my choice of posters and you will see what I mean. They demonstrate the power of simplicity. Good designers and art directors have always grabbed simplicity with both hands and still do. As the folk singer Pete Seeger once said, ‘Any darn fool can make something complex. It takes a genius to make something simple.’ Have a look at my posters and see if you agree. And, while you’re at it, wander around the pages of More About Advertising. I reckon it’s the most entertaining of the advertising news websites.