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7 Things You Should NEVER See in an Ad (or any marketing materials)

November 6th, 2009

It’s 10:30 pm. Your brain is cooked. The first round of ad comps are due tomorrow and your computer screen keeps displaying The Idea you’ve been working on feverishly all day. Unfortunately, The Idea stinks. Oh sure, the concept sounded really good when when everyone was brainstorming. You could visualize it all coming together with powerful visual assets and a clever headline. And you knew, you just knew people would swoon at the unveiling. But it didn’t come together. Looks like the swooning’s been postponed. And now it’s —

11:15 pm. You try a different photo. Try some Photoshop filter and some technique you saw in a video podcast recently. Surely that will pull this idea back from the abyss. It doesn’t. It goes over the edge and you watch helplessly as it spirals down to its death. In slow motion. Screaming “SAVE ME PLEASE!” But there is no saving of this idea.

12:45 am. You make a strong pot of coffee and splash cold water on your face. It helps, but only for a moment. It’s then, that your eyes glaze over and you have a weak moment. It starts as just a tiny thought that you immediately dismiss. But you think about it some more, and start rationalizing it. And then common sense kicks back in, and you feel dirty. Not because the clothes you’re wearing have been on for more than 18 hours and 27 minutes. You feel dirty, and cheap, because you’re rationalizing using a — cliché. Yes, a worn out cop-out cash-it-in surrender to the circumstances cliché. And your mind continues to wrestle with the thought. You think you could dress it up so it doesn’t look like a cliché. Get a really cool photo from Getty Images (there is a little photo budget in this job, isn’t there?). Get some dramatic lighting, maybe a little grunge background with some cool shadow stuff going on. Place and kern the type tastefully and expertly so that it just sings visually. People might just might swoon after all!

1 am. But the battle rages on within you. As tired as you are, a tiny vestige of rational thought struggles to its feet and croaks to be heard. You try to block out that little voice, but you hear it anyway. It says, “No amount of window dressing will ever change the fact that this “concept” is still just a photo of two guys shaking hands.”


A little dramatic, perhaps, but consider the landscape. Take a look at some of the ads floating around, specifically in the B2B space. One would think it obvious to not be this trite, but alas, that’s not the case.

Many years back we made a list and posted it in our conference room. It’s a list of all the VERBOTEN things for ad and marketing imagery. We will NOT, under any circumstances, use ANY of these things in our ads or marketing material for our clients (unless of course they insist and their budget is . . . just kidding). Are there exceptions? Sure, but they’re rare.

So, don’t be tempted to use these whether you have an in-house marketing department or work with an agency. There are actually many more than these, but these are some of the biggest offenders.

The 7 deadly things that should never be in an ad.

1. Shaking hands

2. Globe

3. Gambling things (specifically dice, playing cards, roulette wheel, slot machine)

4. Mountain climbing

5. Dart boards

6. Crystal balls

7. You pick. What do YOU think should be number 7? Let us know in the comments.

Tim Hodgson
Principal/Creative Director

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