Aditya Kilpady
Guest Article

The universal truth of clichés in advertising

Our guest author cautions against “clichés rolled in glitter that sound flippant and annoying at best, or confusing and uncreative at worst”.

French poet Gérard de Nerval said, “The first man who compared a woman to a rose was a poet. The second, an imbecile.”

Red roses are such a cliché.

Recently, Bloom & Wild, a D2C flower brand, flipped that and made a radical decision not to sell any red roses on Valentine’s Day. That decision gave them their most successful Valentine’s Day.

A large part of the advertising world is a cacophony of clichés. You look at an ad and feel déjà vu: Cars driving through highways and sunsets, happy family on a beach vacation, co-workers fist-bumping each other… Either the message conveyed is the same, or the setting is similar and you think you have seen it before.

It’s hard to completely avoid clichés.

It feels safe. Others have done it (or, we did it before). So, ‘why fix if it ain’t broken’. (pardon the cliché!)

The advertising industry loves clichés.

If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve probably heard these in boardrooms and seen in presentation slides:

“The world is more divided than ever.”

“People make choices that make every day easier and better.”

“The young generation need a platform to express freely and showcase their talents.”

Clichés rolled in glitter that sound flippant and annoying at best, or confusing and uncreative at worst.

I will never forget what my former boss used to call these.


‘Blinding Glimpses of the Obvious’.

I must have even talked about ‘BGOs’ to some ex-colleagues outside India, where I worked.

Simply put, these are overused ‘insights’ (if I took the liberty of calling them) well past their expiry date, having lost their creativity and impact, and need to retire with immediate effect.

BGOs are the equivalent of junk food in our industry.

Some crave for it.

For others, it’s best avoided.

I've been guilty of the odd few in the past. But every time I hear them now, they get under my skin in the same way that nails get on a chalkboard.

Here are some of my favourite (or, least favourite?) BGOs that deserve a ‘Wall of Shame’:

1. “Mothers trust value and quality over price.”

2. “Youth love brands that have a purpose.”

3. “People prefer healthy snacking.”

4. “Technology is accelerating the world."

5. And, a recent cringe-worthy delight: “Amid the pandemic, staying connected is more important than ever.”

Trouble is, most of these are not even insightful.

Our understanding of insights has often been ill-informed and poorly applied.

It begins, like for most strategy presentations or creative briefings, with the 'we need the start deck in six hours', or during the 'give me a fresh insight’ at creative briefings.

That’s where the trouble starts.

Leading to an easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy way to communicate some meaning without the effort of credibility.

There is, hence, a stronger need, now more than ever, for people in the industry to understand the difference between a fact, or an observation versus an insight.

Facts are what we read – the data, the truth.

Observations are what we see – verbal and non-verbal reactions.

Insights are those little secrets hidden beneath the surface that explain the 'Whys' – the underlying behaviours, motivations, pain points and emotions. Your consumers may not even be able to explain the insight until you play it back to them. You want them to say, “Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel” and you want others in the room to say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”.

A good way to differentiate between a fact, or an observation and insights is through two simple words – 'So what?'.

Try it sometime. When reading a report, article or reviewing a presentation, ask the proverbial, “So what?”.

Does it deliver any value? How does it improve your business?

So, the next time you hear a redundant, superfluous and unnecessary statement from Captain Obvious of the Department of the Bleeding Obvious, make it a point to ask, “So what?”.

If there is no outcome, then it deserves to be added in the ‘BGOs Wall of Shame’ at meeting rooms.

(The author is an advertising professional, currently a partner with An Idea Consulting, a marketing consulting firm.)