Love and Copy In The Third Millenium

June 14, 2006

The Art Of The Advertising Cliche

Filed under: Advertising,Bitter,Copywriting — dearlove @ 10:07 am

Dammit, we sweat blood to put something original and interesting on that hideously blank page and still there are dickheads being paid to serve souped-up turtle. What the fuck?

Over the years, I’ve shared countless sniggers with other arch creative types about that interesting phenomenon, the Advertising Cliché.

Most likely to thrive in cheap trade rags, they also flourish on the pages of more acceptable media, spewed out by people like you and me, some of whom are actually paid to pollute the cultural ether with said spewings.

I’m going to publish a coffee table book of the biggest ad clichés of all time, for the amusement of the general public and if I’m feeling clever, a means of analysing the human condition. I am working on a treatment at the moment right now and am working to secure copyright on all clichés in the process, thus removing them from circulation finally and for ever.

On the cover of my book, I’ll put the daddy of clichés, The Creature Boost, also known as Pimp My Sloth. If you haven’t seen this one, you haven’t been looking.

In its basic form, it manifests as a naturally slow animal – often a tortoise – that’s been given a speedy advantage by means of:

* A large firework strapped to the shell
* Roller blades and go faster stripes
* Chromed-up exhaust system
* All of the above

Headlines include:

Acme Networking – GET THE EDGE!!



The boosted animal motif is timeless and universal. Images of hot rod sloths have been found in French caves and it thrives today in trade press magazines, a living cultural fossil.

Clichés evolve and persist because of certain human weaknesses:

• Laziness and fear
• Muddle-headedness
• The herd instinct
• Severe hangovers

Cliché collecting and swapping is a fun way to pass time with a copywriter or art director. If you know them well, you can even confess how close you came to presenting A Boosted Iguana or worse.

Cliché One

The Medicated Logo or IT Headaches?

An ad concept for idiots, this one just won’t go away. The company’s logo fizzes happily in a glass of water, just like an aspirin. It’s a metaphor*, see? Your business problems are the headache, Pratt’s Printers are the cure. For fuck’s sake.

Cliché Two

The Great Left Brain Right Brain Showdown or Ticks Both Boxes

A subtle one, this. Almost all luxury car advertising is a variation on this idea.

The visual is simple, a great shot of the product. It’s what they call automotive porn – a well-shot image of the car, beautifully lit and gleaming like it’s been rubbed with baby oil. The light plays over every curve, the paintwork shines, so far so good. The cliché here resides mainly in the copy and it can be bluntly summed up like this:

“As you can see, this car is beautiful – the good news is it’s also sensible”

You’re supposed to undergo some grand fucking epiphany, a magical melding of reason and emotion as you hold the list of features and reasonable cost in your palm and weigh them against the rush of blood to your loins caused by the picture. Your wallet tells your heart it's ok to go out and play. Cue yawning fit.Classical notions of passion versus reason are dredged up for the headline, which appears in various forms:

Left brain (tick box) Right brain (tick box)
The new Zephyrus 3000 – Passion Meets Reason
You know what’s happening now? Your heart's thinking.
Heart says yes. Head says Yes.

Cliché Three

The Swiss Army Knife

Some businesses have a single function, yes. But some can meet all your needs. They are versatile. They have many purposes.

At face value, they are just a business, one business with one job to do. But look closer and they reveal many functions. Varied functions. The other businesses are like penknives, the kind with one blade only. This business however can do the event marketing equivalent of remove small stones from hooves.

Coming Soon:

The Impossible Scales
Fast and Loose
What’s Stopping You?

* Or is it a synecdoche? (A figure of speech where the whole is represented by a part). I would say it’s a hybrid. The headache is a synecdoche of the bigger business problem; the dissolving logo is a metaphor for solutions. Right, just to clear that up in my mind


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