The art of simple

There is a great series of blog posts from a few years ago by the brilliant Ad Contrarian that talk about The Age of the Complicator, entitled Parts 123 and 4.

The basic jist is that there are two kinds of people, simplifiers and complicators. And that “next to talent, the most important quality an ad person can have is the ability to simplify”.

I remember this being very elegantly demonstrated when I worked in an advertising agency when one of the most talented creatives that I had the privilege of working with presented his initial ideas for a forthcoming pitch. Eschewing endless scamps, he simply stuck several pieces of paper to the wall, each of which carried at the most a short phrase.

Of course, he proceeded to elaborate by talking around each concept but the beauty of it was that the simplicity of the presentation in fact allowed for a more complex understanding of each idea. Rather than pinning himself down to a single execution, we were left with a more thorough understanding of how each concept might be applied across an entire campaign. And it was much easier to make the decision about which ideas to take forward.

With ever more data at our disposal, along with increasing amounts of research, ever greater numbers of segments, channels and methods of ‘engagement’, it’s easy to understand the rise of the complicator. And we’ve all come across them. People who use twenty words when one will do, people who cram so much onto Powerpoint slides that you can’t read the text.

The importance of simplicity in marketing stems, quite simply, from the fact that people have limited attention and a limited capacity for absorption. Each day, we are all bombarded with a mountain of information and messages that we have to constantly sift, prioritise and recall where necessary. To have any hope of competing in this arena, you have to be single minded. You’ve much more chance of landing a single, clear proposition (which is relevant to me, differentiates you from your competition and that I can grasp quickly) than trying to tell me lots of stuff at once or deliver a complicated message. Which will just get lost amongst all the other stuff that people are flinging in my direction.

Of course, simple isn’t necessarily easy. And simple does mean there’s nowhere to hide. Simple requires confidence. And simple does not have to be effective. But effective does have to be simple.