The Drum launches Cliché Killers film series tackling the most hackneyed advertising clichés

The Drum‘s new 12-part satirical video series Cliché Killers, produced in association with Stein IAS, examines some of the biggest clichés in advertising. Here we take a look at some of the worst offenders.

Everyone hates a cliché and when it comes to B2B advertising, the sector is littered with them. In a business that purports to be ‘creative‘ and ‘innovative‘ the same old worn-out ‘ideas‘ have been rolled out for decades — just think how many times you’ve seen a jigsaw puzzle with one missing piece used to represent the business consultancy that will fix a company‘s problems, or indeed the handshake that tells the story of deals being made.

Such use of imagery in advertising is the opposite of ingenuity; it simply smacks of laziness and a complete lack of creative vigor.

Here we look at three of the most worn out clichés advertising is most guilty of and examine the issues in using them today.

The lightbulb

Arguably the biggest culprit when it comes to overused clichés is the lightbulb to showcase an ‘idea‘ or the moment of inspiration. Can there be anyone in the marketing services industry who is not familiar with this imagery and who doesn‘t groan whenever they see it?

The ‘idea’ has been around pretty much since Thomas Edison first invented the lightbulb, appearing in silent cartoons such as Felix the Cat when the need to visualize everything for the viewer was necessary to convey narrative.

“So what is a business trying to say here? That you can turn innovation on and off like a lightbulb?” asks Stein IAS chief executive Tom Stein.

“It’s an insult to anyone who is involved in the process of developing ideas, one of whom was Edison who invented the lightbulb and spent a fortune trying to get it to work. He fought naysayers every step of the way, but he got it to work and that took a lot of work. Innovation does!”

The tape measure

Using this fashion measurement tool within a B2B campaign typically aims to suggest is that a company is able to offer a tailored service, made to measure for your business.

“It covers everything you need and nothing is measured. Because nothing fits bespoke like a tired, worn-out, one size fits all, cliché,” says web psychologist Nathalie Nahai.

Adobe‘s David Burnand adds: “A tape measure is the symbol of tailored solutions, but who doesn‘t tailor solutions in business these days? If you don‘t tailor you lose, so you don‘t actually need a tape measure.”


There is nothing quite like the idea of being the entity that comes to the rescue of an ailing party, and the symbolism of the superhero goes back centuries to the Greek gods who also held special powers not known to man. And, when used in B2B marketing, it indicates that the advertiser is here to save the day.

“Digital has given people a power they never had before — the power to communicate with anyone instantly, the power to buy things with just the flick of your finger if you need it or not, and the ability to stalk former partners in a socially acceptable way. But digital has not given people the power to come up with better analogies than this!”, says Google‘s Nishma Robb.

Reuben Webb, executive creative director at Stein IAS chimes in: “Wouldn‘t it be great if we all had the super power of mega creativity? But all I want is a little bit of pride in your work and then we wouldn’t get terrible ideas like this, would we?”

These are just some of the subjects covered in The Drum‘s satirical video series examining the biggest clichés in advertising. Inspired by 101 Clichés, a book on the topic by Reuben Webb, creative director EMEA at Stein IAS, the ‘Cliché Killers‘ 12-part video series brings together an array of marketers to tackle some of the worst motifs that the industry is persistently guilty of trotting out.

Featured individuals include:

  • Tom Stein, Stein IAS

  • Reuben Webb, Stein IAS

  • David Burnand, Adobe

  • Kesah Trowell, Dixons Carphone

  • Nishma Robb, Google

  • Nathalie Nahai, web psychologist

  • Dave Birss, editor-at-large, The Drum

The series will be available to view on The Drum‘s YouTube channel. The first screening of Cliché Killers will take place at 9pm on June 2 at The Atwood Restaurant in The Burnham Hotel, Chicago after the Millennium Park BMA party. Reserve a place now.