Avoid clichés to strengthen your advertising impact

Thought-stoppers are frequently used in the local advertising industry because every creative brief wants the work to be delivered yesterday — and even yesterday is too late! There’s an obsession with speed in this sector that beats the purpose and experience has taught us that out of the proverbial equation of the time, quality and cost elements, you can possibly have only 2 out of the 3 but never all 3.

So when people say that we are largely a price sensitive market, I disagree; we are a speed obsessed market. It is within this environment that clichés thrive. Rather than spend time injecting original thought into our creativity,  or pushing the envelope and breaking new ground, we instead scan the horizon to review what’s worked before and pray that it will work again.

A cliché is a commonly used term that was initially striking and had great meaning but through overuse it has become meaningless. Lupita cried out that ‘your dreams are valid’ while receiving her academy award in 2014. It was as if the words were whispered by an angel into the ear of every girl who grows up in a third world country, prompting her to rise up and conquer domains that the first world holds dear.

Today all it takes is for you to survive Monday for your colleagues to say ‘your dreams are valid’, as if to insinuate that you’ve achieved something big. Who does that? Gerad de Nerval, a French poet, said “the first man that compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.”

It was Safaricom’s advertising that first used colloquial language or sheng to popularize their sales promotions. Thereafter our creatives, starved for time, who wrote the national campaigns for the competitors, the brewers, the carbonated soft drinks, the financial institutions, and heck, even the soaps, returned to this age old ‘success strategy’ to generate buzz around their activations.

The celebrated comedy group Redykyulass blazed the trail and changed the name of the game when it came to televised satire. For the first time in Kenyan history, a bunch of clowns were able to make fun of the Head of State and not be detained without trial in the dreaded torture chambers.

Beyond their satirical depictions of politicians they also used our tribal accents and mother-tongue interference in a way that we’d never seen before. So much so, that when they switched on the accents, they didn’t need to tell any jokes to get us rolling on the floor and laughing out loud.

Once again, through our red eyes, from burning the midnight oil, we observed the trend created by the comedy trio and picked up our pens to write ads that would appeal to our audiences love for jokes with an ethnic twist. What our clients got, though, were humorless ads with tribal stereotypes laid on very thick, which may have been funny at an earlier point in time.

One Fiber Network Operator has literally pushed the joke too far. What started off as brilliant pieces of animation with the funniest local expressions and accents, has now become wallpaper, and every new ad execution rolled out is gradually turning our disinterest into irritation. A change of strategy is badly needed.

Talking about strategy, ad agencies in Kenya set up strategy departments in the mid nineties in response to clients demanding smarter work. Ad campaigns had strategy infused into every moving part and it signified a long term vision to solving the worlds problems.

However, today the word strategy has been so overused that we now even have strategic tea breaks. If we take a step back and sincerely embraced a long term view to developing solid advertising strategy, part of it means that we should give our art departments more time to create work that stand the test of time.

2 thoughts on “Avoid clichés to strengthen your advertising impact

  1. Excellent point, creativity is sorely lacking in Kenya’s advertising and marketing industry. Most of it has to do with our data culture…. We don’t use data… You can’t find any data about industries advertising campaigns, which means you can’t benchmarking or take risks. I’ve also noticed when we award the best adverts, we don’t focus on the data or the Strategy. I think we need to share data to improve our campaigns.


    1. Mercy, thanks for your insights. Indeed, many clients chose not to invest in research on a regular basis and the industry associations lack the budgets to put assign to sector research. We certainly can’t give up and we should continue to get the captains of industry focused on using evidence based strategies to drive their messaging and media initiatives.

      Liked by 1 person

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