Famous Last Words: Fire the Agency—Now!
Readers over the years know that I am a nutcase when it comes to rules. Do not break them unless a very good reason exists. The full-page ad ran a number of times in The New York Times and presumably other publications in the early fall.
A brief description of the ad: solid black background with all-caps headline and subheads in serif type. All text is in a sans serif font reversed out of the black background. There are two footnote indicators in the body copy. These footnotes are printed in two lines of six-point sans serif type running vertically three-quarters of the way up the page in the left margin, virtually guaranteed to be unnoticed by the naked eye and unreadable sans magnifying glass.
What was the point of the ad? Following an 18 percent drop in revenue and a 48 percent plunge in profits for American Express in the second quarter of 2009, Vice President of Global Advertising Deborah Curtis said, "Coming out of these tough economic times, we need to refocus on our customers and give them a sense of greater control."
American Express is trumpeting its charge card as the best deal in terms of rewards and protecting you from fraud. Covered purchases are protected from damage and theft, and you can pay it off in full each month.
The designers broke every rule in the book. Let me count the ways:
• Black background. Isn't black the color most associated with death?
• "Set your headline, and indeed your whole advertisement, in upper-lowercase. CAPITAL LETTERS ARE MUCH HARDER TO READ, PROBABLY BECAUSE WE LEARN TO READ in lowercase. People read all their books, newspapers and magazines in lowercase."—David Ogilvy
• "Never set your copy in reverse (white type on a black background), and never set it over a gray or colored tint. The old school of art directors believed that these devices forced people to read the copy; we now know that they make reading physically impossible." —David Ogilvy