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This Economist Ad Makes You Think, But How Clever is Too Clever?

First, a confession: we love the simplicity of this outdoor advertisement from The Economist. The in-your-face red color catches the attention of passers-by (a visual tactic that HSBC and Virgin use to great effect), and the two-tone design is sharp and modern.

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But there’s a problem: there’s no immediately apparent connection made with The Economist, international affairs, politics, or even intelligence. Without a time consuming examination by the viewer, this could be mistaken for an advertisement for an electrical supplier, and there’s no guarantee viewers will take the time to read the “Get a world view” tagline.

Of course, once the penny drops and the message sinks in, this is, no doubt, a clever ad for the thinking man. The different plug shapes symbolize different countries and opinions, and invite the viewer to “plug in”. But good advertising should never require mental processing time – it should hit home hard and hit home viscerally, without placing the burden of forging a ¬†connection on the viewer. In other words, you can’t expect your public to stop in the middle of a busy walkway and work out the riddle of your campaign, because they won’t. Positioning needs to be instant, and while this ad is clever, the positioning here takes too much effort. It might have worked if the multi-pronged plug and tag line were larger.

The Economist has made a name for itself over the years with its smart advertising, but ¬†as it is we think this piece asks too much of the busy, high-powered reader they’re ultimately targeting.