The dangers of being right

I have a friend who loves being right. It’s his favourite thing: being irreproachably, inalienably, technically correct. He calls it being “righteously right” – when no one can challenge you because your position is ironclad. He’s also not in advertising. (And he’s not a lot of fun at parties, but that’s neither here nor there.) Accuracy is important. As marketers, we never want to be in a position of creating false impressions or giving people bad instructions. After all, your brand suffers if you can't be trusted.

But we’ve all been in one of those meetings where a group of people goes ten rounds over whether you can use the word ‘burger’ for a non-meat item since the word is technically short for ‘hamburger’. If A&W thought like that, the Beyond Meat Burger might be called a Pea Protein Isolate Pressed Sandwich. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Accuracy in advertising is important. Technical correctness is often…not.

But how do you strike a balance between being accurate and…well, creating the Pea Protein Isolate Pressed Sandwich? Here are a few ways to tell if technical correctness might leave your marketing campaign gasping for air:


Are we making things more confusing?

Not everyone understands your industry – in fact, that’s probably why you hired a marketing agency. Marketers cut out the jargon and use everyday language, because people can’t remember what they don’t understand.

If the way the campaign describes your product needles you because it doesn’t use the technical name, ask yourself if that name adds anything. Does it clarify things, like “self-driving car” instead of just “car”? Or does it obscure meaning, like “autonomous navigational functionality” instead of “self-driving”?

It might not be the technical term in your company, but if it accurately describes the product and no one has to go back to school to get it, it’s probably the right one. 


Are we losing focus?

No single piece of advertising can address every situation. People are complex, while advertising needs a simple message to cut through the noise. 

Suppose you’re marketing a mortgage product that’s well-suited to first-time buyers, who are typically young couples. Maybe you read that last sentence and said to yourself “well, not all first-time home buyers are young couples.” You’re technically correct. The problem is, anyone could buy anything. That’s a tall order for a marketing campaign. All of a sudden we have 150 ad versions featuring everyone from the couples to seniors to upper middle class Instagram cats. Good campaigns have focus. Don’t let a million possible scenarios overwhelm accurate targeting.

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Are we adding too many words?

A close cousin of  “more confusing”, “too many words” can strike the best of marketers and clients. Slang, shortcuts, and questionable grammar are tools marketers use to make content sound like real people.

Some of the catchiest advertising in the world has unique phrasing:

Just do it.

Taste the rainbow.


If we get literal, we end up with campaigns that sound like an alien visitor trying to translate Earthlings’ strange habits:

Just do what you want to do.  

Taste the many flavours of fruit candy.


Put through the grammar ringer, these phrases actually get less accurate. They no longer communicate the emotional punch of the product.  

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Your marketing agency wants to make you happy. We also want you to get results. The best way to do that is to work together to make our marketing communications accurate and truthful, while avoiding the kind of “rightness” that kills creativity, relatability and strategy.  So let's save being technically correct for scientific journals, and instead meet your customer where they are.


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