'Ad industry has to be reminded to take an objective look at itself,' Stein IAS creative director says as video series on cliches debuts

By Laurie Fullerton | Freelance Writer

June 2, 2016 | 5 min read

Fresh ideas and creativity are one of the most valuable commodities in advertising and in the digital age a visual logo is a great way to tell a story, entice a reader, engage with a brand, target an audience or simply set oneself apart.

Reuben Webb Stein IAS

And, with all of the creative drive and ideas that go behind branding, marketing and creative service, what about presenting the final product with the placement of a visual cliché like a light bulb logo to best illustrate this bright idea? Or how about a puzzle piece, crystal ball, stopwatch or a handshake logo? These will clearly explain and illustrate how a creative idea can be presented and appreciated. But proceed at your own risk.

If visual images like the shot of the open road, the tape measure, a happy employee pose, or the glassed in conference room strike a familiar chord, than there is a grave possibility that your agency or creative department is falling into a deep visual cliché hole of logo laziness that they must climb out of. To help you decide, Reuben Webb, author of “101 clichés – B2B’s most notorious creative clichés” and creative director at the creative agency Stein IAS and The Drum have teamed up to look at the worst visual clichés in the business.

With the debut of the 12-part video series set for this coming summer, a mini film that aired this past week for participants who were attending the ANA/BMA16: Masters of B2B Marketing conference in Chicago and additional ongoing stories offering a fun look at the worst offenders in what Webb calls ‘logo land’ and will be a battle cry to continue the fight against visual clichés. Additionally, Webb and the Stein IAS team will continue a series of lectures in an attempt to rout out the worst offenders going forward.

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“Fundamentally, an industry has to be reminded to take an objective look at itself in such a digitally driven world. It’s so data driven now but we must remember that original and innovative thinking was the foundation of our industry,” Webb said.

One reason why Webb believes it is important to maintain the integrity of the advertising industry and rout out visual clichés is that “our young talent is being recruited away from us. Facebook, Google are still considered to be way more sexy places to work. We mustn’t end up giving the young people a reason to move away from our industry.”

As a younger creative staring out two decades ago, Webb explained he was asked by a past employer to use the tape measure logo and use it in a direct mail campaign.

“I hated it but I did it although I did not stay at that particular job very long. I had wondered aloud why they needed a creative person if they were going to use tired clichés.”

In 2008, when Webb published his book, it hit a nerve throughout the industry. Many creative agencies took it on board and it is a testament to the concept of getting away from these visual clichés.

“As an industry, the clichés are depressing for anyone who wants to do something innovative yet at the same time our industry has a love hate relationship with this. We need to raise the standards; we shouldn’t be doing this because we know it’s bad. The film and series will be a mildly embarrassing look at it with a much anticipated naming and shaming of the visual clichés of the ad industry.”

Webb points out a few of the worst offenders all over 'logo land' and says that the most overused one is the light bulb – which is meant to represent the bright idea and the jigsaw piece – which is trying to say ‘we complete you. In Webb’s opinion the holy mother of them all is ‘the handshake.’ Webb also dislikes the visual cliché of the ‘dynamic team standing around the computer’ or the hipster dynamic of the perennial cool team lounging in the conference room like they are thinking while lying down.

“The key part of our job is to be creative at the end of the day. I think that we will have to remember that again soon and be less involved in analyzing data. We now have the technology to make things happen and it now has to be as beautiful and creative as a craft can be," Webb said. "The film and series will definitely be laughing at ourselves but taking it to heart. We hope to follow this up with more discussions as we are big on the solutions as well.”

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