Whatever you do, don’t talk.

This morning’s Stuart Elliot column in the NYT is grisly/funny evidence of what happens if you try to talk about advertising to journalists (even careful, knowledgeable ones like Stuart). You wind up saying things like this:

“I didn’t pop my head out of a focus-group room in 6 weeks.” And: “This audience doesn’t want to be advertised to.” (Others do?) And besides: if this audience has a particular loathing for advertising, grilling them in focus-group rooms for six weeks about which “concept” they like will teach you what, exactly?

This: “[This audience] doesn’t want to be told what to do. ‘Free to be’ says ‘you can be anything you want to be and you’re welcome at the CW.’”

(“Free to Be,” by the way, is the CW network’s new theme/strategy, and is yet another great instance of David Nottoli’s Tyranny of Consumer Insight point discussed in my last post.)

I have this vision of this guy’s PR handler sitting in the office, pleading with his eyes for the guy to stop, please stop, omigod please stop, while Stuart calmly sits there, writing down these bon mots verbatim.

Because here’s the deal: talking about advertising to civilians makes you sound like an idiot. That doesn’t mean that advertising is idiotic per se, although all manner of stupid things are said and done in our business every day. It just means it doesn’t translate well to people who are not compelled to drink whatever flavor of Kool-Aid you’re chugging.

While talking about advertising can make anyone look like an idiot, it seems to take its heaviest toll on client marketing execs like this guy from the CW network. Creatives, in general, are too introspective and paranoid to say anything ridiculous, although the ECD on this CW campaign waxed pretty poetic about the color green in the same article. Senior agency account managers don’t want to commit career seppuku by being more quotable than their client.

So that leaves poor Mr. or Ms. Sr. VP-Marketing to tell us why their new ad campaign will rock our world. Some cautiously opt to utter something unoriginal like “We felt we needed to cut through the clutter” in order to try to at least containthe damage.

For those desiring to go beyond the old clichés, the temptation is to put on that new-media-pioneer hat: “We wanted to find innovative new ways to engage our consumer” etc. etc.

And if that’s too tame, you can actually try to explain, as the hapless guy from the CW did, why your new advertising is a great idea. But if I were you, I wouldn’t. Nothing good can come of it.

Instead, I would do what generations of creatives, faced with the absurdity of articulating why they picked this typeface or that color, have done: gesture to the layouts or the roughcut or whatever, and say:

I think the work pretty much speaks for itself.


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