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The art of the unsaid in advertising

Last updated: 05-21-2019

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The art of the unsaid in advertising

It was a few weeks into jury service when I realised that barristers have a hell of a lot in common with advertisers.

They are wily communicators, ducking and diving each other’s evidential uppercuts.

They act as the interface between the public and their client.

They seek to create certainty in the minds of their audience.

Certainty is a beguiling drug. Advertisers have been mainlining data smack via intravenous dashboard for some time now. We are obsessed with our solution being the only solution. It has distracted us from the power of uncertainty in our communications.

A recently published study in the International Journal of Advertising draws a line between the ‘positive uncertainty’ one feels when shown a movie teaser trailer or offered a draw in a lucky dip - the thrill of the unknown - and the power of doubt in communications more broadly.

In fact, the study shows that “uncertainty offers consumers the opportunity to imagine and speculate on a product’s or experience’s potentially positive characteristics” and that consumers may even “prefer ‘uncertain’ to ‘certain’ products and services.”

The legal wizards in wigs get this, too.

The barrister for the prosecution closed his case with these words: “Often the truth lies more in what you are not told, rather than what you are told.” In other words, he evoked uncertainty at the point at which he most needed to impress certainty upon us.

In fact, that gap between what the jury are told and what they are duty-bound to decide are the facts sits at the core of our legal system. This is part of what gives it legitimacy.

Similarly, an ECD of mine once said that “great advertising exists in the gap between that which we spell out to the viewer and that which they decode for themselves.”

In this age of politicians clubbing each other over the head with hyperbole and advertisers worldwide feverishly over-glittering turds, we should take heart from this parallel.

We have always known that simplicity works, but now we can start to prove that uncertainty can be its bedfellow. More than that: it is a demonstrably effective pairing.

Perhaps now is the time for our industry to push for a resurgence in the elegance a truth realised together. More subtlety, less screaming.

Perhaps this could even trump our increasingly unconvincing acts of overcompensation.

Perhaps we need to rediscover the power and the art of the unsaid.

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