If you can’t say it simply


Edward Kennedy died in August 2009. He’d been a Democratic senator for Massachusetts since 1962. There hadn’t been a Republican elected in the state for thirty years. The fight to replace Kennedy was between Martha Coakley – democrat, State attorney-general and overwhelming favourite – and Scott Brown, a Republican best know for getting his kit off in the June ’82 edition of Cosmopolitan.

No contest, you think. Walkover for Coakley. But Scott Brown still has to go through the motions, so maybe he trundles down to Madison Avenue and asks the best brains of the American advertising industry for a slogan – a campaign strapline. What would they have offered him? ‘Scott Brown – the future for Massachusetts.’ ‘Scott Brown – local man, national future.’ Or something similar.

But Scott Brown doesn’t do that. Instead he uses eleven simple words.

“I’m Scott Brown. I’m from Wrentham. And I drive a truck.”

(Geographical note: Wrentham, population 11,000. 40 miles from Boston.)

I think those eleven words are absolute genius. They captured the whole essence of the election. What was Scott Brown saying when he started a speech with those words?

I’m like you. I’m from a small town. I’m not chauffeured round in a Government car. I’m not pretending to ‘feel your pain’ while the State pays me a million bucks a year. I understand you. I identify with you. I’m the little guy, standing up to big government. And I’m not lying to you, because look – there’s my truck.

Election result? “AP & Fox News call it for Brown. Coakley concedes.”

 

Now think of advertising slogans. When Avis first took on Hertz they could only come up with three words. We try harder. A few years later, Nike’s message was even simpler. Just do it.

So whether it’s from Scott Brown or the goddess of victory, the lesson we can all learn is simple. If you’ve got a story to tell, tell it simply. If you need to get your message across, do it simply. To check that, let’s bring the political debate back home. No cheating, how many of the main party slogans can you remember from May 2010? No, neither could I. But what’s the one election slogan we can all remember from this country? The simplest message of all: Labour isn’t working.

The simplicity test is a pretty good one for your business as well – if you can’t distil what your business is all about into one simple sentence, then the chances are, you’re not entirely sure what your business does. And ultimately, that confusion will show up in the bottom line.

I usually like to finish these blogs with something a little bit flippant. But when I was researching the quotes, I Googled the words ‘famous advertising slogans.’ There was one that I’d never heard before – but I’ve been thinking about it all day. The slogan was first used in America in 1970, two years after Martin Luther King’s death. The client was the United Negro College Fund. It’s hauntingly simple, and the UNCF still use it today. But more than anything, it speaks to all of us when we’re guilty of not fulfilling our potential:

A mind is a terrible thing to waste

Back to you next week…

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One comment

  1. Jo Clarkson · October 15, 2010

    Thought provoking as usual – and a bigger waste for some than others???

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