Why clever communications propositions usually aren’t


It’s much easier to originate a great creative communications idea from a strong proposition. Communications propositions should be as creative as the creative ideas they inspire. Too often, they are anything but.

In an earlier blog, I talked about how to originate a great proposition by pushing on beyond your first thought to find a more lateral and inspiring central brand idea.

I highlighted a few communications proposition ‘fails’ – attempts to find an idea at the intersection of a ‘human truth’ (or ‘insight’) and a ‘brand truth’ that failed by being predictable and familiar.

But I would reserve my greatest opprobium for propositions that use wordplay as a cover for their inability to be single-minded.

Try this genuine brand proposition on for size:

  • ‘Deliciously rewarding’

So, is the brand ‘delicious’? Or is it ‘rewarding’?

Clearly, ‘delicious’ on its own doesn’t take us anywhere, since every food brand wants us to think it’s delicious. The person who wrote the proposition probably realised this, hence the addition of ‘rewarding’. But, if it’s ‘delicious’, then it will inevitably be ‘rewarding’, meaning that ‘rewarding’ is superfluous and takes us nowhere.

However, ‘rewarding’ on its own would also be a bit dull and familiar, so it does need something more. But ‘delicious’ isn’t it. Will this food product be ‘rewarding’ because it tells jokes? No, it’ll probably be ‘rewarding’ because it tastes nice…

Neither ‘rewarding’ nor ‘delicious’ should be the proposition, because neither is distinctive or inspiring. Putting them together doesn’t solve the problem. The answer might be to take one of them as the starting point and explore as many lateral ways of spinning it as possible. However, the poverty of thought in this proposition is so profound that the solution is probably to start again from scratch.

Here’s another:

  • ‘Refreshingly different’

It’s for a drink. A core generic benefit of the category is ‘refreshment’. So, there’s no point having ‘refreshing’ in the proposition, unless you can come up with a really surprisingly and distinctive spin on ‘refreshment’.

But this drink is also, apparently, ‘different’. How? Given that ‘refreshing’ is a category generic, it can’t be its refreshing qualities that make it ‘different’. Unless for some reason it’s more refreshing than other drinks. Or is it different in some other way that people might find relevant?

As it stands, with ‘Refreshingly different’, I’m none the wiser as to why I should be interested in this drink.

It seems that the person who wrote the proposition couldn’t work out why I should be interested in drinking it either. Instead, they tried to cover their tracks with a double entendre: ‘refreshing’ means not only ‘thirst quenching’ but also ‘stimulating through its difference from the norm’.  Woh! Clever, huh?

So, what ‘Refreshingly different’ effectively means is ‘Different because it’s different’. Good job.

My old boss, Dave Trott, used a simple analogy when I was at GGT to explain why a proposition needs to be single-minded.

“When are you more likely to catch a tennis ball? If I throw you one tennis ball, or if I throw you three at the same time?”

Communicate one thing and, if you do it in an engaging and relevant way, people are likely to register it. Try and communicate several things, and there’s a good chance they’ll take away none of them.

Trouble is, it takes an incisive mind and real clarity of thought to be single-minded. And these qualities are in lamentably short supply, even in companies that really should know better.

I was party to the Carling pitch a few years back, where the client’s brand proposition was:

  • ‘Refreshingly and brilliantly British’

Let’s pause a moment to take a look at this brilliantly refreshing proposition:

  • 3 different ideas: refreshing; brilliant; British
  • Each of them ambiguous
  • One of them a category generic
  • Blended with excruciating wordplay
  • All within a single four-word proposition.

This is a recipe for an extremely unpalatable dish. For great advertising to come out of this, there needed to be a miracle. The miracle didn’t happen. VCCP had the misfortune to win the account. Unsurprisingly they struggled: a good agency trying to execute a gibberish brand proposition and consequently producing average work. The account moved to Creature in 2013.

Apparently, Creature has been working to a different brand proposition:

  • ‘Refreshingly perfect’

Good luck with that.

This entry was posted in Advertising, Brand positioning, Brand strategy, Communications, Marketing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why clever communications propositions usually aren’t

  1. Pingback: What do you do when your agency can’t produce the goods? | movementmuse

  2. Pingback: If you don’t ask, you’ll never know: the powerful inspiration for brand communications that marketing ignores | movementmuse

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