Clever? Yes. Effective? Probably not.

Advertising professionals operate under the myth that they need to be clever. Don’t follow their lead. The point of advertising is not to entertain or to be clever. The point of advertising is to be effective. This following billboard is wrong and a waste of money, because it tried to be clever.

(Tarleton State University is a four-year university located in Stephenville, Texas with satellite programs throughout the state)

I’m sure it seemed like a good idea in the creative meeting. Do you get it? The play on words, “Teaching words of wisdom” is a reference to The Beatles’ 1970 classic Let it Be. The reference is to a song that was released 21 years prior to the birth of this year’s class of graduating high school seniors. Virtually none of them will catch the clever reference. Then there’s the lack of branding connection. This billboard is in no way indicative of the personality of the university.

If you happen to read everything on this billboard while driving past it at 65 mph on the interstate, and if you happen to remember the web address, here is the banner graphic you will see upon your arrival to the website:


The above graphic is more indicative of the Tarleton experience. It’s a Texas school with a laid-back, Texas atmosphere that lets Texas kids get a higher education without breaking the bank. My wife has a master’s degree from Tarleton. It’s a good school. But it has nothing to do with the Beatles. Tarleton would be better served playing up its “Texaness.” Their team mascot is even The Texans.

This is not meant to be a rag on the team that created this ad. Unfortunately, this type of advertising is the norm, rather than the exception. Trying to be clever instead of effective rarely gets results. Tarleton would have been better served telling the story of their school and advertising their brand. And you would too.

UPDATE – Review of the new Tarleton State Billboard, six months later:
Billboard Rewind – Still clever, or more effective?

For more information on advertising effectively:

There’s Your Ad
How to Buy Advertising on Local Media
Weekend Marketing Project: Intentional Congruence

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  1. […] Texas. My opinion was that while the billboard was clever, it was probably not effective (See: Clever? Yes. Effective? Probably Not). My main beef with the board was that it told me nothing about the Tarleton State brand. What is […]

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