my turn


The 30% Rule

By Mickey Lonchar Anytime you create or test an ad campaign, you're subjecting yourself to what I call "The 30% Rule." The 30% Rule goes something like this: no matter what you say, or how simple you try to say it, 30% of the people still aren't going to get it.

And who exactly makes up that 30%? You know them. They're the ones we "dumb down" our ad campaigns for. The ones we fear might misinterpret what we're saying. The ones we don't think will be able to follow the bread crumbs we've left for them. Those who, heaven forbid, might blink when a key bullet point appears. Or write a cranky letter when we attempt to treat them like thinking individuals instead of spoon-feeding them bland copy points.

The concept we loved in the creative presentation, upon further consideration, might be too far over the heads of "some people," we reason, so let's just dial it down a few degrees. You know, take out anything that may be seen as controversial, esoteric or require critical thinking.



I'm sorry to say this, but there's no better way to screw up a concept. Making a communication "more universal" (a nice way of saying "dumbing it down") almost always results in the loss of the engagement edge that attracted us to the concept in the first place.

And as far as making sure "the rest of them" get it? They don't. These "flat earthers" either don't have the mental synapses to grasp what we're saying or they're just too pre-occupied with the other million things they don't understand.

The scary thing about that 30% is the power we give them to put the kibosh on our work. Too many times, at the first whiff of them finding something in the copy "unclear" or our use of visuals "offensive," we pack up our storyboards and head back to the shop for a makeover.

So what do you do about that 30%? My advice is to ignore 'em. Accept the fact that you're never going to create something that appeals to 100% of the people, and focus on your "sweet spot" -- the key narrow market you've identified. Don't compromise one iota on what it takes to earn their engagement. Challenge yourself to make your marketing communications smarter. Not dumber.

Making changes to a concept because you're afraid "somebody might not get it" doesn't make it any better. It just makes it less interesting. And is that the way you want your customers to see you?

5 comments about "The 30% Rule ".
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  1. Karin Oliver-Kreft, March 30, 2009 at 10 a.m.

    I'd like to say that I whole-heartedly agree with this post. But we need to be careful about dismissing feedback because someone "just doesn't get it." Sometimes, that feedback isn't the 30%, it's the bulk of the audience. Sometimes, we're so caught up in the idea that we fail to recognize that we've got insider information that makes the idea work - but the target audience doesn't have that info.

    My advice is to listen to all advice, but to weigh every comment before reacting. Think it through. Even if the feedback is because someone just doesn't get it, is there a way to use that point to sharpen the creative you've got?

    By no means should you throw out a creative idea because one or a few people just aren't catching on - if the rest all think it's engaging and will encourage a response.

    But make sure you're focused on the audience and response, and not just the brilliant creative idea.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 30, 2009 at 11:29 a.m.

    1. You never know what you will find in that 30%. There is a percentage of that who will break the seal with something that makes sense. Don't completely ignore them.

    2. Although it is true, for the most part, that 30% will never be buying your product/service anyway.

    3. There will always be people who can be referred to as "they walk among us" and never get it. No matter how in your face about the TV analog to digital information is out there, there will be people who will say no one ever told them or they don't get it. (Please note: this excludes who are developmentally challenged.)

  3. Amanda Gawin from Sunset Custom Publishing, March 30, 2009 at 11:52 a.m.

    In a world that is becoming more and more specialized, I agree, focus on your core. Just think how much more interesting (engaging!) advertising/marketing could be?

  4. paul myers, March 30, 2009 at 2:27 p.m.

    I hope more agencies keep "dumbing" it down. Cuz, we will keep designing our communications to target the core. The "sheep" will always follow. That 30% that other agencies keep dumbing down to has helped us grow by more than 30% year over year for the past 9 years, including this year!

  5. Steve Haar from Fanatically Digital, March 30, 2009 at 3:44 p.m.

    I too agree. But to point our how 'dumb-it-down' pervades us...

    Paula wrote: ".... (Please note: this excludes who are developmentally challenged.)..."

    I find myself doing this as well. 70% get that we are not talking about developmentally challenged people. But, we note it because we are worried that the 30% (or even less) who don't get this will raise a stink.

    It is not just in advertising. It is everywhere. Perhaps, if newspapers didn't dumb-it-down, their audience would not have walked so completely a way. Perhaps this is why there is so much niche demand on the net... people looking for things that don't cater to the lowest common denominator.

    Focus on your core, and let the rest catch up... if they can find you.

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