A view from Dave Trott: Advertising has been self-isolating for years
A view from Dave Trott

Advertising has been self-isolating for years

Why does everyone feel the need to do endless preambles, never getting to the point?

Take YouTube for instance.

The title "The 10 Biggest Mistakes in History" looks interesting, so I click on it.

This takes me to a full-colour visual, illustrating: "The 10 Biggest Mistakes in History."

I click on that and it goes to a title sequence, complete with music, announcing: "The" – "10" – "Biggest" – "Mistakes" – "In" – "History" massive drumroll, mix through to announcer, head and shoulders.

He slowly begins: "History is a record of the past, both good and bad, great achievements and great mistakes…" This goes on for several minutes until we get anywhere near the actual list of: "The 10 Biggest Mistakes in History."

I’ve had four introductions, by which time I’ve usually turned off.

Why do I need four stages of people telling me what they’re going to be telling me?

Just get to the point, don’t keep giving me introductions – all they do is waste my time and get in the way.

Which is exactly how we do advertising: we waste time, and money, and get in the way.

Take the coronavirus pandemic.

Years ago, the government was expecting a bird flu pandemic.

It briefed us on a campaign to run wherever the public gathered, so one of the main places would be the Tube (it handles up to five million passenger journeys a day).

In a pandemic, you don’t want beautifully crafted Cannes award-winning ads – you want answers, fast.

Get to the point, make it simple, make it memorable.

1) Don’t sneeze over other people, make sure you’ve got a tissue – CATCH IT.

2) The germs live 24 hours on the tissue so don’t keep it in your pocket or bag – BIN IT.

3) The germs live on your hands, so wash them as soon as you can – KILL IT.

And that was the line: CATCH IT. BIN IT. KILL IT.

The client wasn’t thrilled, their response was: "Why must everything you do be so Bish – Bash – Bosh?"

I said: "Isn’t it funny how that expression caught on?"

Swine flu was the next pandemic scare to come along.

The government wanted a more conventional approach to the advertising, so it ran a large photo of a man sneezing, with body copy underneath.

This seemed pointless to me: if we have a pandemic, it will be on every news programme and in every newspaper.

Everyone will know about it, all you’re doing is wasting your money on a picture of someone sneezing, telling them what they already know.

Think of the context: all the media will be wall-to-wall pandemic coverage, 24/7.

That’s the equivalent of BILLIONS of pounds of advertising.

The budget for the anti-swine flu posters was less than £10m.

It’s hard enough to make it visible against that blizzard of media.

Why would you waste a penny of your budget telling people what they already know?

And it was proved right: in the second round they had to make the picture smaller and print CATCH IT. BIN IT. KILL IT in large letters underneath.

But it seems this time, they’ve learned their lesson.

There’s no need for a picture of a man sneezing.

Everyone knows what’s going on, get to the point.

At the time of writing, the government has a simple instruction: Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

It’s not going to win any awards at Cannes, but it works with ordinary people.

And that’s the lesson: just think of the context, our ads don’t run in limbo.

People want an answer, they don’t need endless restating of the problem.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three