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Thursday, May. 17, 2007 at 10:29 am

The Difference Between Edgy and Creative

By Holly Buchanan
May 17th, 2007

Don't cut yourself...I think we can all agree on the problem. Customers are tuning out marketing messages. They’re ignoring them. It’s getting harder and harder to get their attention. Hmm… didn’t I just read a book about that??

Differences arise, however, when we discuss ways to “break through the clutter” to get that attention.

There’s a great article in Ad Age by DJ O’Neil called “There’s No Need to Be So Sensitive.” I agree 100% with O’Neil’s point that we’re becoming desensitized. And I somewhat agree that offending customers is getting harder.

As advertisers, our biggest fear shouldn’t have anything to do with offending these people. It should have everything to do with being ignored by them.

Well, yes, being ignored by customers isn’t fun. O’Neil gives examples where “edgy” (my word, not his) advertising that could’ve offended customers drew minimal or no complaints.

We once ran a half-page ad for a client, Slingbox, in USA Today. The headline boasted that Slingbox was “the best thing to happen to the business traveler since pay-per-view porn.”

Another time, we developed outdoor creative for a San Francisco radio station, Energy 92.7. We jokingly presented one concept with a headline that read, “Clubbing is no longer just for seals.” (Energy plays club music.)

Can I see how some people would find these ads funny? Sure. Would I have complained to the advertisers about either of those ads? No, I wouldn’t have wasted the time. I simply wouldn’t buy the product or listen to the radio station. Was I offended by the ads? Well, slightly by the seal clubbing, but I certainly wasn’t offended by the porn ad.

To each his own. What the Slingbox ad said to me was “this isn’t a product for you.” Okay, fine, that’s cool – maybe I”m not the target audience. I’m a business traveler, but whatever they’re offering, it probably isn’t for me.

As for the radio station ad, I love club music but that’s a powerful mental image. Every time I listen to that music, do I want the mental image of a bloody baby seal being bludgeoned? I don’t think so.

I’ll just listen to my iPod. Would I bother complaining? Nah. O’Neil is right; I’ve become so desensitized, what I would have complained about even a few years ago isn’t worth complaining about now.

If we hamstring ourselves with an overblown fear of offending the consumer, we’re truly screwed. The consumer, unlike my skin, is not nearly as sensitive as we think.

Great creative needs to be unexpected to connect emotionally with the consumer. And if we can’t push to the edges, we’ll be stuck in the middle. And that’s not very unexpected.

Here’s where I’d change the wording to make more sense: “Great creative needs to be unexpected to get the consumer’s attention.” Great creative needs to be relevant to connect emotionally with the consumer. (Just curious, is correlating dance music with dead seals creating an emotional connection with the consumer?)

Edgy vs. Creative

Here’s one example from my marketing to women research. There are two big discount designer apparel companies: Bluefly & TJ Maxx. Bluefly has gone with “edgy” marketing creating TV commercials and print ads featuring naked women surrounded by fully clothed people. “That’s why I Bluefly.” It gets your attention, that’s for sure. But for the women I polled, it didn’t connect with them emotionally. Reactions ranged from “I wanted to put a blanket over her shoulders” to “That’s my worst nightmare.”

TJ Maxx created TV Commercials that I’d term “creative.” The Maxx Moments feature women sharing spontaneous displays of joy brought on by finding designer fashion at discount prices. (I have to admit prejudice here. This commercial makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.)

Did I complain to Bluefly about their ad campaign? No. I simply stopped shopping there. I’m now a die-hard TJ Maxx fan.

So, please: DO be unexpected. DO stop using cliches and marketing hype. But don’t push the envelope just to push the envelope. Getting attention is a great thing, but make sure your message is relevant so you DO make an emotional connection with your consumer.

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Comments (7)

  1. [...] The Difference Between Edgy and Creative [...]

  2. I think this is an excellent conversation in the failure of modern advertising.

    In comparing the ads, the Blue Fly ad did get my attention, but did it make me want to go to the site? No. TJ Max however made me want to click because I can relate to the overwhelming feeling of joy when I find something fabulous. Not just at discount prices.

    TJ Maxx uses age old marketing tactics, connect with your customer so they will buy your stuff, not just be entertained.

  3. [...] the difference between edgy and creative? It isn’t necessary to push the envelope just to push the [...]

  4. I’ve long been a TJ Maxx shopper – and have seldom seen (or cared about) their ads. However, they have really stepped up the creativity which reinforces my loyalty (Gee, maybe they’ll become as cool as Tarzhee!)

    Bluefly made me roll my eyes and switch the channel (Oh, please, trying waaayyyy too hard.)

    (Sigh, if only Filene’s Basement hadn’t over-expanded…now, that was a place for great deals! I’m getting misty just thinking about it ;-)

  5. [...] There’s No Need to Be So Sensitive. (Via Holly Buchanan of The Future Now, writing on The Difference Between Edgy and Creative) If we hamstring ourselves with an overblown fear of offending the consumer, we’re truly [...]

  6. [...] There’s No Need to Be So Sensitive. (Via Holly Buchanan of The Future Now, writing on The Difference Between Edgy and Creative) If we hamstring ourselves with an overblown fear of offending the consumer, we’re truly [...]

  7. when u r bombarded with ads its hard to pay attention

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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