Parity products

The Cleverest Advertising is About Nothing

Advertising is a simple business.

We persuade people to buy goods and services.

We do it by pointing out a product’s benefits and giving them a reason to buy.

And when we do our jobs convincingly, they do buy.

And when we perform at the highest level, people form emotional attachments to brands.

This may not happen very often, but when it does the results are remarkable.

Think of the Apple cult at its height.

500 people lining up overnight to buy the latest gadget.

In 2001, the latest gadget was the iPod.


This is the original ad and it’s excellent.

It’s as close to a product demo as you can get in print.

The ad doesn’t need to be clever, because it’s advertising a product with revolutionary benefits.

So it simply states what the product does.

And it worked, millions of people bought iPods.

But revolutionary products are the exception.

The majority of products aren’t that clever.

The majority of products are actually, or virtually, parity products.

Like toothpaste, or toilet paper, or detergent.

These products are the antithesis of clever.

They don’t have real competitive advantages, in spite of what the agency brief may proclaim.

No one is lining up overnight to buy toilet paper.

If you’re like me, you buy whatever name brand is on special, because it doesn’t matter.

So how do you make it matter?

How do you get people to care about toilet paper, or dish soap, or whatever?

How do you make the unremarkable remarkable?

How do you distinguish the indistinguishable?

How do you sell parity products?

By being clever, that’s how.

Advertising needs to be clever in inverse proportion to the cleverness of the product.

Truly clever products don’t require clever advertising.

They require advertising that clearly communicates why they’re clever—and then they’ll sell themselves.

That’s why the cleverest advertising is about nothing.

It’s because the degree of difficulty is higher.

Like Olympic diving where the difficulty of the dive is factored into the final score.

Doing an easy dive perfectly can score fewer points than doing a hard one imperfectly.

It’s harder to advertise toilet paper than sexy new technology.

Here’s a great ad that says absolutely nothing about the product.


It says nothing, but we understand a lot.

That’s pure creativity.

And according to the awards show Eurobest, it  increased sales by 130%.

That’s the power of saying nothing brilliantly.

Advertising is a simple business, but simple is not the same as easy.

Thinking cleverly is rarely that.