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Why bad advertising is harder to write than good.

Originally published on LinkedIn November 26, 2015

This is a tale of two briefs. Both received on the first day of a freelance gig, long before I met my current employer or clients.

The first brief asked us to promote a product and its features with a “smart products” positioning.

The second brief also had a product and a positioning. The product was a limited time offer—2 phone lines, cable television and Internet for $89.99 a month. The brand positioning promised business customers, “no cookie cutter solutions.”

Do I have to tell you which problem we solved in half a day? Or which one still had us scratching our heads a week later?

Good advertising, by definition, has an idea: A simple, single-minded premise which tactical and strategic messages can use to support each other.

“Smart products” may not be an original positioning (notice my title says ‘good’ advertising, not ‘great’), but if the brand is smart, then the product is smart and its features are smart.

If you can’t pop an idea and write to that, you’re in the wrong business.

The cable company’s position was also clear. “No cookie cutter solutions” means original solutions for every customer. So where does this offer fit in?

And if we’re supposed to promote the offer, how do we rationalize a promise to provide original solutions to every customer?

Do we create an ad that promotes the offer and add a paragraph to the body copy about the positioning? Or do we create a brand ad and box off the offer—an ad within and ad?

Do I see a starburst in this ad’s future?

Lots of questions. Lots of trial and error. Lots of trying to figure out where to place all the mixed messages in one ad.

And that’s before the powers behind this oxymoronic brief see our work and start to argue over the ad’s priorities.

Freelance creative people love challenges like this. Especially when they bill by the hour.

Faux Grass

Copywriting Heresy: “I” can be a more powerful and effective word than “you.”