Ad whiz: Keep it simple

24 09 2010

My last post was about how brilliant advertising brought Apple from the brink of bankruptcy to the head of the tech industry.

What I didn’t mention is that maybe the single most important figure in the creative effort that saved the company is a guy by the name of Ken Segall. Segall worked for Apple’s ad agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day. He came up with the “i” in iMac and iPhone. He also wrote the “Think Different” campaign, which won just about every honor in the business, including the first Emmy ever awarded to a commercial.

Given his track record, Segall clearly knows how to reach an audience. And in his view, the key is simplicity.

From his website:

“Simplicity works wonders. It’s satisfying, motivating and seductive. Every company talks about it, but few achieve it. Most failed branding projects actually don’t miss the mark — they shoot way beyond the mark. The farther a project strays from simplicity, the more risky it gets.”

An audience — be they readers or TV viewers — shouldn’t have to work to get your drift. Your job as a writer is to hook them (as Segall says, seductive), keep them interested (satisfying), and inspire them to act (motivating).

Segall’s philosophy applies to many areas: whether you are crafting a company’s core message or simply writing a headline on your website, less is more.

Segall continues:

“We get used to names like Mac, MacBook, iPod and iPhone. But for the sake of comparison, I refer you to Time Magazine’s Top 10 Gadgets of the Year 2009. Forgetting iPhone for the moment (#4), other products on this list include the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, the FinePix Real 3D W1 and the charmingly named Casio G-Shock GW7900B-1. One can only scratch his/her head and ask “Why?” Logic says that naming has to be this way because manufacturers and retailers have to deal with product pipelines, warehousing, retailing and related real-world issues. Silly model numbers are a necessary evil. (Never mind that Apple encounters the same issues and somehow manages to get around them.) We may be simple-minded, but most of us would prefer talking about an iPod than a ZipMaster XLZ-500CSS MP3 Player.”

It’s a comforting idea that you don’t have to conjure a miracle to create compelling, impactful content. Just remember that your audience is people, and people respond to simple, clever ideas.

While “keeping it simple” doesn’t guarantee you an Emmy, it is a powerful lesson that just about any communications professional can learn from.

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