Different But Not TOO Different by Rich

Different But Not TOO Different Different But Not TOO Different Different But Not TOO Different Different But Not TOO Different Different But Not TOO Different

Another very simple marketing concept. It can clarify and improve all your marketing efforts.

Marketers strive for uniqueness. They feel this is how they justify their paycheck.

Clients often don’t want to be too “out there.” Usually they run screaming away from controversy.

There is a complete spectrum from completely “old hat” and boring, to completely outrageous and unique.

You should always try to be somewhere in the middle.

Let me explain.


One of the basic principles of ANY communication. ANYTHING too weird will turn people off.

I’m sure you can think of numerous examples.

A new and different style of music is likely to be a subject of ridicule. People laughed at Elvis Presley.  If they didn’t laugh, they were scandalized by “Elvis the Pelvis”.  Or the Rolling Stones racy lyrics (they had to change the words when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. At least they were supposed to.)

That’s been going on forever. Someone wrote a book. It quotes the critics of the day talking about musical compositions being the ruin of civilization. The examples go back 500 years. The likes of Beethoven, Bach – the greatest composers of all time – were scandalous at some point in their careers.

The same can be said of painters, authors and philosophers. To this day, does anyone seriously claim to understand James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake?” You may have been forced to read it in college.

Socrates was put to death for being too radical in his ideas.

More recently, the British artist Damien Hirst put an ox skull under glass, flies and all. Accepting a top prize, he said “It’s amazing what you can do with an E in A-Level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw.”

Every one of the artists and philosophers I mentioned above achieved lasting fame, and in many cases, wealth. Hirst sold a diamond-encrusted platinum skull for $100 million (amazing, right?)

So clearly being different, even shockingly different, can be financially effective. Unless, that is, it results in death (see: Socrates).

Is it effective in the marketing world? Clearly many people think so. You continue to see attempts at strikingly different advertisements.

But beware “The Curse of the Cleo.” The Cleo is an advertising industry award. It is notorious that agencies win the Cleo (because they did something really creative) and then get fired (because it didn’t work).

The fact that something is attention grabbing, even award winning, doesn’t mean it is an effective marketing ploy.


Let’s look at the flip side of it. Certainly no one is going to be offended by routine, uncontroversial marketing that breaks no new ground. Unless, that is, they strenuously object to being bored to death.

Which, come to think of it, is an issue.

The fact is, a failure to be different enough is just as big a failing as being too different.

Just as big a failing, are you listening?

If you start to notice an ad or marketing item of some sort and it fails to interest you, that item is a complete failure. Worse, they’ll probably tune you out right away next time.

Why are you even bothering?

Think of all the time, money, effort that goes into creating the least flyer or web page.

If it doesn’t get noticed, doesn’t get interest, doesn’t get a message across. Doesn’t make people WANT to contact you – phone, email, chat, walk into your store or go to your website and purchase.

What a waste.

You can’t FORCE people to listen to your message. You can’t FORCE people to take action. You can only so interest them that they want to.


Criticism of outrageous or out-spoken communication teaches people to play it safe.

Nobody ever got rich playing it safe.

MOST people have a tendency to be too conservative in their marketing and sales communications.

There are exceptions. The natural-born PR personality exists. I knew a guy – he didn’t speak Japanese – who made a living selling books on the street with a monkey on his shoulder. In Tokyo.

But the PT Barnum type is the exception.

It would be worthwhile to examine if you have this conservative tendency yourself.


You can be too boring, or you can be too revolutionary in your marketing.

There is a vast gulf between “wake me up when the commercial is over”, and the peasants hitting the streets with pitchforks and torches in outrage over what you are doing.

How do you figure out where to position YOUR marketing, in this vast spectrum of possibilities?

You’ve rejected the idea of sending people into the street, naked with signboards.

A plain text ad (no pictures) describing the features of your product, using college-class English. It’s not going to sell any toaster ovens. Even if it worked pretty good 100 years ago.

Somewhere in between, but where?

The truth is, at this point, you are on your own, with your common sense and TESTING (you remember I wrote about testing).

When I design a marketing item, I always look/read it over again. If there’s nothing in there that makes me a little uncomfortable, I figure I’m being too conservative.

Almost always the tendency you have to fight is to be too timid.

Do you remember the (small amount of) outrage over the original Geico “caveman” commercials? There were claims of implied racism and other offenses.

Yet this is the commercial that completely transformed auto insurance advertising. That wasn’t because it was unsuccessful.

So you take your best shot and see how it goes. If you get one or two complaints – well, there are always one or two nut cases out there. The only important thing is PERFORMANCE. So as I’ve lectured, you test and measure. You try variations and try and make it work better and better.

Follow what I’ve laid out here. You’ll start closer to the finishing line, and hopefully, make a huge success out of it.  I hope you do!

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