Friday, May 28, 2010

My one-man campaign against "unique" in campaigns

Cock a doodle don't.

Unique is not very unique.

"Unique" is especially not unique in advertising, evidenced most recently in the new ad campaign for The Forks (above).

The lazy copywriter loves "unique," because it sounds like a great "sales word" and reduces the actual work of having to write, specifically, why something is worth buying, which is no easy task, especially when you have to do it every day.

There are few ad writers among us who haven't rolled under their desks in the fetal position and sucked their thumbs for days, wondering why on God's green Earth anyone would want to buy the thing we've been charged with selling.

And if you can't figure out how to sell "this piece of crap," it must be a "unique" product!

Ask the ad copywriter why he or she has used the word "unique," and the conversation usually goes something like this:
Copywriter one: "Try our unique BLT sandwich today!"
Copywriter two: "What's unique about it?"
Copywriter one: "It's got ketchup on it!"
Copywriter two: "Why not just say that it's got ketchup on it?"
Copywriter one: "Errr..."
When the client moans and sighs...

It's also no secret that "the client" - the advertiser charged with approving the ad - loves the word "unique," because everyone who owns a business or works with a product everyday honestly and invariably believes two things:
  1. The product is "something for everyone;"
  2. It's "unique."
Using specifics sometimes sends the client running or starts a big debate - because specifics mean you've defined a narrow target audience and written something that can be quantified, measured, or (gasp!) noticed by that audience:
Client: "If we say that Pizza Pops blow your head off when you eat them, we may be alienating the older audience. And they don't, in fact, actually blow your head off. Let's just say they're unique."
David Ogilvy's old adage about clients could use a rewrite:
"When the client moans and sighs, make the logo twice the size
If he or she proves refractory, show a picture of the factory
Only in the gravest cases, should you show the clients' faces.
(New line) And use the word "unique" as often as possible!"
I'm not suggesting that copywriters go around alienating clients everyday - after all, you do want to actually "please" the client from time to time. However, in order to face yourself in the mirror in the morning, you owe it to yourself and your client to come up with something original, creative, noticeable, and unique. D'oh!

Unique movie quotes

It all comes down to having enough pride and belief in yourself to risk "being original," which means avoiding every single cliche that you can. The exception is when you're being ironic, which is all good, girlfriend. See what I did there?

As Adam Sandler advises upstart comedy writer Seth Rogan in Funny People:
Sandler: "Okay, don't say "ASAP." And don't say "I'm chilling" or "It's all good" or any of that stuff."
Rogan: "Okay, I don't. I don't chill anyway, so I won't. And it's not all good, so don't worry."
One of my favorite "unique" quotes of all time is from John Candy in the great John Hughes movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles:

Hey: that's what my one-man campaign against "unique" in campaigns needs: a themeline!

How's this?
"If you say "unique," you're an a**hole."
Next blog: I solve the problem of world hunger.

Make up your own "unique" caption joke here.


  1. World Hunger = Much easier to solve that the "unique" issue.

    If you would like to learn more about Kenton Larsen, please feel free to sit in on any of his lectures.

  2. If you come to my lectures, I just read this blog out loud. Ha, ha!

  3. This is one of the first topics I covered on my blog... in the world of advertising, "unique" is quite the opposite of itself.

    Avoiding Advertising Cliches: Why Not Everything Should Be Unique

  4. Ugh! I hate ad copy that's just



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