Too Clever by Half

The title of this post comes from a British expressions that means, according to the Cambridge International Dictionary of idioms:

To be too confident of your own intelligence in a way that annoys other people. At school he had a reputation for arrogance. ‘Too clever by half’ was how one former teacher described him.

This expression also describes some marketers. One common thread emerging from my posts is that too many marketers try to be clever at the expense of selling products.

  • “There’s an ad with nuts arranged in the shape of a human arm. How clever.”
  • “How clever. Skyscrapers coming out of a waterfall.”
  • “A woman is wearing a red dress. But it’s not a dress, it’s a sheet. But we can’t tell it’s a sheet, so it’s a dress. How clever.”

Too clever by half.

Being clever might get an advertising executive a raise, an award, or a pat on the back. But nine out of ten times, clever doesn’t sell anything.

 Here’s an excerpt from the book Permission Marketing by Seth Godin:

The…thing that gets in the way of most marketers is that they spend too much time running popularity contests regarding the creative content of the ads they run. They show them around the office, quiz the janitor, and frame the ads and put them on the walls. Instead of focusing on ads that work, they focus on ads that are cool.

I never bought a product because an ad was clever. I have bought products whose ads showed me something I perceived that I needed and then gave me a good reason to buy it.


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