I sent an e-mail to one of my managers recently, on behalf of a client. The note was a masterpiece of detail. Long explanations. Full client background. Promises of future benefits. Proposed approaches to fulfilling the request. Wordy “thanks” for his consideration of the matter. It was seven paragraphs long. I was proud.
At the end of the day, he approached my desk. “Your e-mail…” he said.
I sat up straighter to receive my praise and his certain approval.
“…was really, really long. I didn’t read any of it. Just tell me what you want.”
There it was. The secret of advertising and communication in general. “Just tell me what you want.” If there is one foundational concept that applies to everything from the ads on a diner’s placemats to the brand management of Coca Cola, it’s this: simple message.
The most successful companies in the world have built their brands on the foundation of the simple message. Nike distilled their essence into their famously simple swoosh and the three words, “Just Do It.” McDonald’s chose five notes (ba-da-ba-ba-ba; you just heard it in your head, right?) and we’ve all been humming it ever since. Closer to home, the totality of the Maine experience—all the complex concepts of lifestyle, environment, aesthetic and nostalgia—is summed up in the five words of the state’s unofficial motto: “The Way Life Should Be.”
The world is moving fast. Marketing is literally everywhere. Our to-do lists will never be “to-done”. So when a radio announcer recites 20 great reasons to buy a product… when a newspaper ad doesn’t clearly display a quick piece of information… when a television ad blazes through 15 different products in a 30-second ad… the listener/reader/viewer has the same reaction as my manager did: “I’m busy. Just tell me what you want.”
No matter what medium you’re using, every sentence of the copy should in some way support the main idea. If you have a One Day Sale this Saturday, don’t try to also tell people that you’ve been family owned for four generations, that every Tuesday is half off for seniors, and that you support green initiatives. Conversely, if your intent is to establish your family’s long-standing presence in the community, don’t also try to explain your low-cost guarantee, or that you will not be undersold.
Pick a single idea, and carry it through from beginning to end. SIMPLE MESSAGE.
Epilogue: The next time I submitted a request to my manager, I did it with a single sentence. He responded in four minutes with an equally succinct answer: “Yes.” What else matters?