The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Beware Of The Cliché …
March 2, 2010, 6:40 am
Filed under: Comment


The problem I’ve always had with planning is that at its heart, its goal is to help clients blend in with their category so they have a chance to ‘sell’ to the people interested in that category.

We can talk about differentiation all we like … the reality is many clients view that part of the task as being down to the creatives however we all know those poor buggers can only work with what they’re given [even though they are quite good at not doing that, ha] which is why we all end up with lives filled with unwanted category clichés and blandom.

So how do we change that?

Well obviously there’s all sorts of ways, however for me, a simple way is to avoid the cliché.

I’m not talking about the creative execution – as I said, they can only work with what they’ve got – I’m talking about the people we’re trying to engage.

While I accept marketing will always need a certain amount of scale to drive efficiencies … it’s worth remembering that [1] reach doesn’t necessarily mean efficiency and [2] generalisations are often encouraged for matters of convenience than effectiveness.

If I was an alien whose only view of mankind was based on media, I would think:

Brits are either football hooligans or bowler hat wearing business types. All in possession of bad teeth of course.

Women are either big breasted babes and totally up for it or continually helping out their stupid husbands.

All kids are mini-Einstein’s or future football hooligans.

Americans are either fat, stupid and wear plaid shorts or are hot, fit and tanned.

Men only care about beer and can only drink it in groups of 3.

Babies all look cute and can shit without any smell.

Asians are hot when young but turn into aggresive Yoda look-a-likes when they’re old. They’re also probably untrustworthy. [copyright GREY ‘Eye on Asia’ research]

Humanity judges people by their weight, teeth, skin and/or hair.

Whilst I accept there are many ‘generalisations’ about the human race we can make, if we look beyond the marketing cliche surface, we can uncover a World of astounding and wonderful differences … differences in our habits, feelings, thoughts, desires and opinions … things that stop us being classified as ‘we’ and turn us to ‘me’ … things that help create more empathy and understanding than any 30” film of exasperated Mum, hyper-active child or delusional Dad.

This thing is called insight … and more companies/agencies and – sadly – planners should try it some time because it can create value, desire and differentiation before the creative’s even pick up a pen or – as is sadly becoming the case – going to their mac, clicking on safari and tapping

52 Comments so far
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ill give you this campbell, you take responsibility for the work before, during and after. i know thats because you want to jump on the back of our genius and look cool for once but i still fucking respect that.

you know the best judge is the work thats produced not the work that “could have” been produced and if planners remember that and can show how they take creatives on interesting fucking journeys of possibility then the divide between the 2 disciplines would be a fuckload smaller.

of course i trained you to be this way but youve been quite a good student all things considered and there was a fuckload of things to consider.

Comment by andy@cynic

Try watching repeats of top gear and you’ll think that all builder and van drivers are hideously insulting parodies of cockneys.

How east London doesn’t lynch parts of adland for some of its sub-Eastenders stereotyping I will never know.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Andy, what is the creative set up with you guys? I read about the 2 planner per case thing, but what about the creatives?

And do you share clients contact duties between planners and creatives, or got separate peeps for that?

As for planners, clients being lazy: sexy money.

Comment by Niko

The only time cliches allow differentiation is when you parody them but even that’s become a cliche these days.

Great reminder that it can all start (or end) with the strategy the planner puts down but if it’s cliches on steroids, you’re just asking for the creatives to ignore it. Funny, bit I feel they care more about their rep than a lot of planners but that could be because they can’t hide behind a strategy powerpoint presentation.

Do you think clients (and some planners) like promoting cliches because they’re easier to sell through and less likely to warrant new research to clarify it? Is it laziness over effectiveness?

Comment by Pete

Too much reliance on demographics can lead to stereotyping I think. If you focus on those things you can often be lef to stereotypes. Also, the line between clever observation and stereotype is often very small..

Comment by Rob Mortimer

demographic, psychographic theyre all treated like theyre the fucking answer to the middle east and theyre not, theyre at best a guide at worst a fucking hammer into the cliche spaces.

dont think planners care less about their rep than creatives pete. campbell guards his like hes peter fucking grant looking after zep but the evidence of our work is there for every fucker to see where planners can post rationalise our good shit and deny the less good shit. but we can decide what the fuck we want to show to the world so it all evens out in the wash.

we have more designers than creatives niko. not doing many ads these days, doing stuff that changes the world more than 30″ at a time. lol. were a lean machine so the key relationships are handled by the 3 of us then we have producer, traffic and finance guys to handle the back end shit which the 2 planning gods dont understand one fucking bit. but watch this space, there is some fun coming up. fun for me which is exactly as it fucking should be.

sexy money? is that when ana beatriz barros calls me up and offers me a fuckload of cash to make her feel like a woman?

Comment by andy@cynic

That’s a very interesting answer there Andy..sparking all kinds of questions, but I’ll leave those for a more appropiate time, intoxication level and setting.

Comment by Niko

so youre saying i inspire you? only human.

Comment by andy@cynic

Please don’t encourage him Niko.

And please don’t encourage him Andy.

Comment by Rob

what could possibly go wrong if we combined powers?

Comment by Niko

Thank you for that jaw-dropping peek into your media consumption habits. The last time I saw a bowler hat was in a rerun of A Clockwork Orange.

And by the way, surely marketing only needs scale if you’re spending a fortune on TV campaigns. Reduce the costs and that issue should go away.

Comment by John

what about the shit avengers remake? or mr ben? or odd job who wasnt a brit but those foreign fuckers dont know that unless they have their hands on that grey report.

scale is relative and most clients want volume not impact. but we put them right on that.

Comment by andy@cynic

I said a rerun, not the original cinema release whenever that was. But my point was that, in real life, I dont think Ive ever seen a bowle hatted businessman. Cliches and cariciatures are different things.

And most clients want a good talking to.

Comment by John

am i right if i assume you have had an eye on ‘the document’ yet?

either way, thanks for this post. if individuality or difference would be embraced, and not just cliches served, it would be easier to see similarities as well. dont ask me to elaborate this further now, please. dont know where it came from.

Comment by peggy

Ha … no Peggy, not seen “the document” yet … though the anger I felt when I first spotted that ad is probably still lying within me which is why this post got written.

And Mr Dodds, your “Clockwork Orange” comment is quite a nice reflection of how so many in business tend to only accept the view they can relate to, without ever appreciating or investigating the perspective from other people and cultures.


Comment by Rob


Comment by John

I wonder of the difference between cliche and insight is where you stand:
– a cliche is based on what you might think about a group of people
– an insight is best based on how they think about themselves

Comment by katiechatfield

I know what you’re saying Katie … it’s called “a cliche” because its something an incredible amount of people do … and I understand and agree with that [hence the whole ‘unplanned’ thing I wrote about ages ago: … however I question if many of the cliches presented in adland are infact true.

Of course in some cases, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy … but so many are just bullshit, dressed up as insight [] … and it annoys me because the ramifications of this is work that looks like it has just come out of the photocopier.

I guess where I get frustrated is that I know if people spent some time finding out WHY people did the things they do – even the cliche stuff – they would find a whole host of different motivations which could inturn help the creatives find fresh approaches to otherwise stale category communication.

Does that make sense?

I guess the issue I have is given insight is supposed to understanding why people do stuff [both perceptual and ‘real’] – rather than just what they do – we have a fuckload of planners who aren’t doing nearly enough digging and a fuckload of clients who say they value insight, but really couldn’t give a fuck.

Which is probably the best description of what is wrong with this industry that I could come up with.

Comment by Rob

I think I do- I’m sure that we agree that generalizations and clichés are pretty lazy off-the-shelf thinking and that what cut through work needs to be based on is ‘people geekery’.
I’m lucky enough to have cut my teeth in a discipline that really values ‘personas’- not abstract target audience bullshittery- but living sets of need states, goals, motivations, tonal expectations brought to life within narrative contexts.Why and what people will do with names and a faces and a whole bunch of things that allow you to make a whole bunch of decisions about how to satisfy each person. Or at least not piss them off too much.
I wonder if the gap you’re referencing is that not only does adland not generally take the time to map motivation- they don’t take the time to understand and design behavior.

Comment by katiechatfield

Adland should be an industry that understands motivations of society better than anyone else … sadly they think they’re just about ads.

I would rather do something with a cliche [a real one, not a marketing one] than do something totally irrelevant simply for creatives sake … however I also know that if you look into the needs/wants/fears/hopes of people, you can find a whole host of untapped nuggets and the fact so few companies seem happy to do that makes a mockery of their need for effectiveness and responsibility.

Comment by Rob

Ah generalizations. It’s not easy to break is it. Some people can watch a whole movie and not realise that it’s an attempt to break stereotypes (like that DVD I left on the bin outside your apartment cause I thought everyone should watch a lady boy porno once in a while)

OK I’m kidding (can I have it back?) but it’s interesting that say in Thailand where the level of cosmetic ability often far exceeds the women that somebody hasn’t found a ‘stunna’ to represent a cosmetic or skincare brand when it’s evident that some people afflicted with gender dysphoria are clearly superior at both making more out of less or just looking better.

I use that only as an offhand and ill thought out example but you know it’s a ‘signifier’ issue that given we only have 40 seconds or so to convey a story that we’re forced to rely on stereotypes.

Though there’s nothing better than sending up stereotypes really is there?

Comment by Charles Frith

Without insight differentiation becomes more reliant on the executional exaggeration of established cliches which over time will result in messages needing to be more extreme to be different which means the heart of commonality gets lost.

Comment by Sanjeev Kaur

Hi Sanjeev – nice to have you pop by.

I know what you mean, but I think the creatives would be able to spot the ever growing gap of relevance … and as I said, I don’t believe this is [just] the creatives fault given planners are supposed to be finding interesting ways to let them run riot whilst still ensuring some sort of category relevance and commercial validity.

The thing is many planners want to drive things, but don’t seem to want the responsibility of it.

Comment by Rob

I have become a cliché.

Comment by marcus

You are a stupidly smart Englishman, living in Germany, working inside a shed and starting internet mayhem.

If you’re a cliche then you’re a new sort, the uber-niche cliche.

Comment by Rob

the Internet needs more mayhem. It’s starting to get very, very dull.

Comment by marcus

iPod Singing 2.0?

I’ll do it if you will … but it needs a twist, what do you think?

Comment by Rob

hmm. May be.

Comment by marcus

What about iPod scenes?

Where we have to act out pivotal scenes from a movie but the soundtrack actually is the real one?

God that’s shit. Come on Marcus, get your fucking mischievious thinking cap on.

Comment by Rob

“the Internet needs more mayhem” – inspiring word

Comment by Jacob


Comment by Jacob

The photo on this post is hardly refuting the cliche about brit teeth. Thought I should point that out.

Comment by DH

How do you know he’s English? Just because he’s on the UK’s version of Jerry Springer [but without any of the humour and full of self importance] doesn’t mean they only have English guests.

Except this guy was one – worse, a Brummy – and I should know because I bought the series.

Oh the shame …

Comment by Rob

Late to the party, two things to add:
What do we know about the audience that will help us solve the problem?

How do we want/to can we change audience behaviour.

Oh, and I think it’s pointless to endlessly replay people’e lives back to them, or show them a mirror of themselves, but that’s just me.
I’m always going on about Sainsburys, but they realised the problem was ‘sleep shopping’ and realised they could change that by offering ‘safe experimentation’ – I think that’s what I’m on about

Anyway, I’m a ciche. A planner with no hair that wears ironic t-shirts and reads the Guardian (and blogs)…and just out of interest, who are the biggest cliches, creatives or planners, I know where my vote would be going

Comment by northern

Meat bracket 2.0?

Cook along with Northern?

Comment by northern

What about sausages V bacon v tea V The smiths V Boney M?

Comment by northern

i dont know why the fuck im commenting but doddsy, the problem with caricatures is the people who know its a pisstake have experienced the real thing so can make the distinction where other fuckers think its as a slice of reality because theyre working blind which explains why a brummie mate of ours was able to screw hot yankee chicks by claiming he was a member of the fucking royal family. well it doesnt explain it but i just like telling that story.

northern. what the fuck are you talking about? most ads that mirror peoples lives might be fucking shit but like most things its all about how you do it so dont say that doesnt work, say you think it has to be done fucking well which basically means understanding the details not just the action.

fuck do i have to teach every fucker every thing around here?

and to change behaviour you have to know behaviour and the reasons for it but not enough planners or clients care so creatives get drivel and are expected to turn gold. twats. im with campbell, cliches are all fucking well and good if theres a reason for them but too many fuckers think laziness and convenience is a valid excuse.

as for internet militant shit, what about best fucking cheese or shittest county like that craptowns book. or hottest chick and get the feminazis kicking up a fuss. fuck fhms top 100 lets do our fucking version.

who the fuck is with me?

right on twats.

Comment by andy@cynic

Which city – street address if you have it.

Comment by Brummie John

thanks to fucking viz i got it. nolan sisters v bucks jizz, i mean fizz.

any takers? i couldnt give a raspy fart either. so its back to best pizza topping or some other fucking shite i suppose. bet the fuckers who invented the web had this use in mind when they were tap tapping in their binary fucking code.

Comment by andy@cynic

Creatives a cliche? Never.

What happened to the brand mascot war that was due?

Comment by Rob Mortimer

a caricature is an exaggerated image of, say, a person’s (specific) characteristics. the cliche evolves when those characteristics are transferred to other people’s images, because they share qualities to a certain extent, but might differ in other areas significantly and would therefore not be suitable for being grouped together. or something.

bucks fizz but without the orange juice. or gin tonic. or wine. or beer. or some cocktail. or longdrink. or shots. should i go on? gotta finish my coffee first…

that brummie story is kinda funny. (does that make me sound like a bitch?) its what you might get being blinded by the royal family lights. your mate is a bugger though, lol.

sometime theyll give a brand mascot war and nobody will come.

Comment by peggy

Five Star v Steps

Andy, as usual you’re just about right, but that’s only because I didn’t explain myself very well. Of course you need to show people they can relate and the depth, drama and nuance of that is essential (I’m thinking Gold Blend – or maybe I’m realy saying decent acting)….but you can’t just replay an insight back to them in a conventional know, like ‘food brings people together’ and have a happy family around the dinner table. Anyway. most planners claim to have an insight when actually they just state th obvious.If you’re going to play it back, dramatise it, but, to be honest, work from the brand point of view outwards.
Aviva are running some stuff in the UK right now driven by an ‘insight’ that people don’t want to think about the future if they can help it. Well roast my raisin! You don’t say.

Comment by northern

well explain yourself better then northern, youre in the fucking communications industry for fucks sake.
and any ad that doesnt understand it needs to entertain on some level is fucking stupid which are likely the pieces of shit that are getting on your tits.

Comment by andy@cynic

5* v steps? maybe a battle of who was shittest but thats about it.

Comment by andy@cynic

You can’t change behaviour, you can only make people want to change their behaviour.

Comment by John

fair doddsy, but if you do shit outside the typical realms of adland you stand a fucking bigger chance of making that change happen, even if they end up doing it because youve made something easier than some dramatic change of attitude.

Comment by andy@cynic

I have to admit that I’m running out of steam on the internet mayhem thing. But they may have something to do with the fact that I do all my stuff in the evening, after work and I’m just probably too tired. Or may be I’m just loosing my edge a little.

Comment by Marcus

this isnt about your needs marcus, its about saving the slacker species. dont be so fucking selfish, your people need you and remember its always funny when campbell makes a tit of himself.

Comment by andy@cynic

true. there must be a newer, better way of making campbell make a tit of himself.

I’ll have a think.

Comment by Marcus

Think big Marcus. Think big.

Comment by John

if this was a hollywood movie this is where it would go into a montage of you coming up with shit. make us proud.

Comment by andy@cynic

How nice to see that even when I sleep, you talk about me. If it wasn’t planning to humiliate me, I would almost feel touched.

Comment by Rob

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