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You’ve Used These Ad Cliches, and This Is Why You Should Stop

3 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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Advertising is full of wit. And art. And lots of shitty clichés.

It’s funny: every single creative comes up with them at some point (myself included). And when they do, they think they’re genius. Lightning in a bottle. Inspired.

The truth is, everyone hates these crappy clichés and wishes they would die.

Clichés Exist For a Reason

The sad truth is, if clichés didn’t work, we wouldn’t use them. But trust me, even when we use them, we hate them. Creatives want to come up with ideas that feel fresh. But people love, we fall back on these clichés.

If clichés didn’t work, we wouldn’t use them.

But if you’re a student, working on a spec project, DO NOT use these tropes. They’re easy outs that employers see right through.

1. The Spokesperson

These. Are. Everywhere. There’s Jan with Toyota, Flo from Progressive, Lily at AT&T, the Verizon guy (now the Sprint guy), the Geico Gecko, Tony the Tiger, Smokey the Bear (those last three will overlap with another cliché later on)...the list is pretty endless.

It’s easy: you need to say something, so you just make up someone to say it for you.

2. The Talking Animal

Have something boring that needs to be said and you don’t want to pay a person to say it? Hire an animal!

Sometimes you get a two-fer and it becomes a spokesanimal (see the few famous ones above). Still lame, even when covered in fur. Or scales.

3. The Fake Disease

This plague has infected advertising for some time. Parodying the horrific advertising that pharmaceuticals are known for is definitely a first-round go-to idea.

The best version of this was already done with boner pills (??Levitra??), who took the familiar “living life while smiling and riding horses” visuals, but penetrated it with lots of humor and innuendo (“in-your-endo”...nice one, Todd, high five).

4. The Hidden Camera/Focus Group

“Oh hello person-on-the-street-being-followed-by-a-bunch-of-cameras, could you perfectly articulate everything about this product for me?” Ok, Chevy did it pretty damn well (potentially for real). Can we be done with it now?

People can sniff out staged “live” video pretty easily.

We have so much actual live video these days, with Facebook Live, Periscope, and Instagram Live, that fake live stuff sticks out like a sore thumb.

5. The Poetry Voice Over

I admit, the “God Made a Farmer” spot was pretty good (though I can’t remember if it was Chevy or Dodge…), but for the most part, this is a tired technique.

Whether it’s Millennials running through hay fields with smoke grenades in their hands while Emerson is recited in the background, or a Johnny Cash spoken-word-style cover song during a super epic fight scene, we get it. The song “spoke to you,” you friggen hippie.

6. The Faux-lanthropy

This isn’t just uncreative, it’s downright shameful. Using a cause to sell your crap is borderline criminal.

If you use fauxlanthropy simply to sell, fuck you so much.

First off, we can all see through the fact that you’re “giving a percentage of your profits” to a charity. Yeah, .01% is still a percentage. Tom’s shoes did it great, and they were close to the first to popularize the “one-for-one” model. But then everyone tried it. Let me tell you, there aren’t kids in Africa who are really hoping they’ll get a pair of Gucci sunglasses when you buy a pair.

And if you’re using the “we’ll donate a dollar for every Like” bullshit, then fuck you. Trust me, the brand already knows how much they’ll donate. I truly hate these campaigns.

You’re Better Than This (I Hope)

Don’t be dismayed. There is a 100% chance one or more (or all) of these tactics will cross your concepting mind. But push past them, to better ones. And beware of using them in your portfolio.

A good creative is able to look at their ideas, whether they’re in the third round or thirteenth round, and know which ones are good and which are not-so-good.

At one point, these clichés were good ideas. But they’ve been done to death, so just let them die.

Thanks for reading!

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