Each week I probably look through 5-10 trade journals within various industries that our clients do business in. And each time I finish going through a trade journal, I’m astounded at how many companies/brands paid good money to run ads that have no impact…no appeal…no creativity attached to them. It’s as though the people making the advertising or marketing decisions were genetically incapable of creating messaging that stands out, and so they defaulted to their risk-adverse flavor…vanilla. Having been in the business a while, dealing with all sorts of companies and people, I believe the number 1 reason for these boring “vanilla” ad messages is a result of trying to please all the people all the time.
On that last point, we all know you can’t please all the people all the time, so why do so many organizations try to do so? What intrigues me is just how much effort some folks expend trying to do just that. Like myself, I’m sure you’ve seen these sad attempts to please “everyone” on every type of messaging canvas there is…from websites to ads to sales support material to tradeshow booths, etc., Pick an industry, any industry. From packaged goods to retail to professional services to consumer goods to non-profit…including the one you do business in as well. Vanilla is by far the favorite flavor.
I think there has been a retreat from being bold. In the public sector and the private sector, from CEOs to politicians, being inoffensive and bland in communication appears to be a highly valued skill. The issue with this is that, once everything becomes vanilla, it loses power and uniqueness. It lacks any special flavors. It lacks any pretty colors. It’s just ordinary. Worst of all, there’s nothing about it that makes it stand out from all the other plain vanilla marketing efforts of every other business that’s competing with you. To stand out, to be different, to be memorable, takes boldness.
Let me put it another way: How many people outside of your organization have either written or told you that what you’re doing and saying is the type of approach that they wished their own company did? You see, herein lies an important message for brands: if you always play it safe and try not to surprise anybody, it’s highly unlikely anyone is going to get really excited about your brand. Vanilla brands might not have enemies, but they also don’t have passionate advocates whose enthusiasm spreads. I remember being told a marketing truth when I first started out in this business that’s worth sharing: “In order to win the race, you can’t stand still. Vanilla marketing is standing still.”
In today’s world, people get so much plain vanilla marketing shoved in front of their faces every day, they’ve developed a natural immunity to it. Vanilla marketing almost becomes invisible to them. They subconsciously block it out. Your marketing dare not have the monotone delivery of Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?”.
People want to feel something after reading, hearing or seeing what you have to say. So excite them, educate them, annoy them (if that’s your style and it fits your brand), surprise them, make them laugh! Do anything but bore them.
You can be unique by doing things differently that everyone else. For example, instead of sending out a typical direct mail piece, try mailers that have unusual shapes like messages in a bottle or coconuts. Instead of an ad that shows a “catalog” of your product offerings, focus on the one most unique feature of your one most unique product with a short, crisp headline and almost no body copy. Go for impact.
The bottom line is fighting the desire to be all things to all people yields the following benefits:
- You stand out. Be unique and different. Embrace and communicate what makes you special. Otherwise, you’re wasting your resources—and your visitors’ time—looking and sounding like everyone else.
- You attract the right audience. Those who are like-minded and more interested in what you’re offering.
- You create stronger connections. Connecting with the right people is a two-way street. Showing that your organization has a personality sets the stage for stronger relationships.
So, however you go about it, stop dishing out plain vanilla marketing and start scooping out interesting flavors (think “Cherry Garcia”; “Chubby Hubby”; or “Chunky Monkey”, etc.) that stand out and are uniquely your own. We’ll all pay more attention to what you want to tell us.