The Truth About Advertising #4: When Too Clever Becomes Useless

By Angelika Ilina

Sometimes you can be very clever with your advertising and get away with it — people will get it, remember it, and praise your cleverness. Maybe they’ll even buy from you. But most of the time, advertisers take cleverness too far, and the whole campaign becomes meaningless and useless.

I was fooled by an ad just this past week. As I’m browsing through the newspaper I notice an upside-down ad. I think to myself, “Wow, the newspaper misprinted this ad — sucks for the advertiser — and I’m sure they’ll raise hell!” There was no prominent headline (upside-down or not!), so I didn’t stop to look at it.

The next day I see the same ad, still upside-down, but in black & white. I think, “I can’t believe this! The newspaper printed it upside-down AGAIN! What morons!” I don’t stop to check out the ad in detail because all I can think of is how incompetent the newspaper is.

A few days later, I see the same ad for the 3rd time — you guessed it, still upside-down! And, wow, this time I finally notice the “You’ll Flip For These SAVINGS!” as the only portion of the ad that is readable (not upside-down).

Now, that made me think. Okay, so they’re trying to be clever in an attempt to stand out, but was I the only one who didn’t make sense of it until the 3rd time?! Am I the moron here?? I hope not. The thing is, their only readable line wasn’t the most prominent element, so I didn’t catch it the first two times.

I wonder how many people had a similar reaction to mine — thinking it was a misprint and skipping it?

And that’s my point. I am a more engaged reader than most because I specifically like to browse the ads to see who’s doing what. Most people out there aren’t as engaged.

Plus, I happened to see it 3 times, but what if I only saw it once? The only thing that would stick in my mind would be how incapable the newspaper is, especially now that companies are careful how they spend their every dollar.

I think this is a perfect example of how too clever of a campaign becomes meaningless, useless, wasted, and plain silly. Did you see this ad in the Boulder Daily Camera? What did you think? Did you get it or did you skip it? And even if you didn’t see it, what do YOU think?


4 Responses to The Truth About Advertising #4: When Too Clever Becomes Useless

  1. robin says:


    I think you’re right. Its actually kind of nausea-inducing. The idea might have promise, but the execution is terrible!

  2. Thanks, Robin. I like your “nausea-inducing” description!

  3. Nickie says:

    Angelika, I had a similar response as you to the ad. However, it brought to mind other facts about the company i.e. they donate $1,000/month to local charites. Then I thought more highly of the company for trying differnet ways to connect with the communtiy. Can’t ads also be used to build a relationship with the public? Especially for this company whose service isn’t used everyday?

  4. Thank you for your comment, Nickie.

    It’s great to know that this particular company supports local charities. I am not judging them as a company; I’m simply interested in the ad itself and the effectiveness of it.

    If the purpose of the ad is to get someone to hire them for a plumbing service, it’s clearly ineffective. I bet the ad would have generated a greater response if, at the very least, it were printed upright and included a prominent headline that described the offer.

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