A couple of years ago some clever chaps wanted to show off some new car's reverse-assist benefit. They decided on radio because they had this great idea to record the audio phonetically and in reverse, so that when you played it backwards it would be perfectly audible and understandable. It would be a world first and would really drive home the point that driving backwards is now as easy as driving forwards. Pretty solid, clever idea, right?
So they got hold of some linguist to help them write the copy out backwards and phonetically, so that when the voice reads it, the message would be totally audible and understandable in reverse.
The problem is that they did it too well, and they never mentioned anywhere in the radio ad that what you were listening to was audio being played backwards. So it just sounded like someone reading a script about parking, and in the end all that detail and research and cleverness and money spent added up to nothing special. It was just too clever.
They of course explained the technique in great detail in some industry related press releases and there was a subsequent case study / awards entry but by then it was too late. The ad had come and gone. With no impact whatsoever... on anything.
Cut to a couple of years later. Some other clever chaps want to show off Volvo's Dynamic Steering. So what do they do? They pop Jean Claude Van Damme in-between two trucks and have him perform the splits (perfectly) while the trucks are reversing down an airstrip. No clever technique here. Just Jean Claude Van Damme, on two trucks reversing down an airstrip. And of course Enya. Beautiful, epic Enya. It's classic show and tell. Classic celebrity endorsement. And just simple enough to be really clever. If you haven't seen it yet you're about 70 million views behind.
Two separate groups facing the same brief. How do we tell people that our car/trucks can reverse really well? One group went simple idea - clever execution. The other group went clever idea - simple execution.
"So what does this long ramble mean?" I hear your mind voice asking? Well, for one, I really love the Volvo ad and I'm pretty sure it's going to repeat its black pencil success at Cannes. And two, clever executions are never as good as clever ideas.
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