For those of you who know me personally or if you follow me at deskchef, you know that I like cooking vegetarian and vegan food. One of my biggest inspirations happens to be the gals at The Post-Punk Kitchen. In their print cookbook, “Veganomicon,” they write about the KISS method of cooking. If you haven’t heard of it, KISS stands for “Keep it Simple, Stupid,” which is a technique they largely embrace in many of their recipes.
The KISS method is not a new one, however, nor is it exclusive to cooking technique. A quick Google search for KISS brings back several results, including a historical account that claims it originated as a concept in the 1960s for Navy officers who felt keeping flight plans simple would ultimately produce the best results. Much like a simple yet robust marinara requires less than five ingredients, apparently smart Naval strategy is also simple yet well-planned. I think that’s pretty smart.
As a copywriter for a large health care entity, I often receive elaborate, overly complicated brand strategies that outline key messages in a way that is about as useful as a map without cardinal directions. It’s a case of clients and stakeholders wanting to do too much with very little. Have you ever seen a movie preview that’s so detailed it left you feeling like you already saw the movie? Or what about “that girl” who wears so much makeup she probably has to chisel her foundation off with a mallet and ice pick?
These are unfortunate cases that likely would benefit from simplification. As a cardinal rule when it comes to branding and messaging, KISS is also an invaluable method. Good, effective ad copywriting, whether it’s print, radio, television or digital, is always simple, with even the most unnavigable strategy stripped down to the fundamentals. For new and veteran writers, knowing how to KISS is part of the challenge – and fun – of writing for advertising. But how does it work, and what can you do to get better at simplifying complex messaging?
1. Cook up different ways to present complicated strategy with simple messaging. Write down the recipe. Cook it. Chew on the meat. Spit out the fat. You’ll be left with a leaner message that’s simple, clean and effective.
2. Study billboards. A major rule to billboard writing, of course, is that you have less than three seconds to get your message across to passing vehicles. I suggest studying billboards because of this. They’re the leanest messaging medium when they are executed smartly. Before you stick your knife into it, remember that your call to action will likely take up half your allotted messaging space. It’s like the starch portion of your meal: filling yet nutritionally important.
3. Read poetry. I may have a particular affinity for this creative medium since I have a master’s in poetry, but working in this genre taught me to choose the best, most refined words for expression and effect. In particular, I’d suggest Emily Dickinson for her crafty simplicity. Metaphor at its chewiest.
4. Ask for the recipe. Brand managers know the clients likely more than you will as the writer on a campaign, especially if you’re not part of important strategic planning. Of course it’s always valuable to have the ad writer at certain planning meetings with clients, it’s not always possible and is often an unfortunate oversight. If you ask for the key message “recipe,” whether it’s notes from a meeting or a quick huddle with the brand strategist, knowing the ingredients that became part of the overall recipe will provide you with great context as you begin to cook down the messaging.
5. Let it simmer. But don’t overcook. There’s a reason the Italians cook their pasta al dente. Al dente pasta is always firmer, tastier and chewier than overcooked noodles. Knowing when your message is ready for consumption comes with practice. Simply by working in different media will teach you when your writing has reached the right consistency.
Of course, a lot of the rules seem a little obvious once you chew on them for a while. But isn’t that the goal of learning how to KISS? Just like kissing in real life: the first one is always awkward and you’re not sure you’re doing it right. But after a little practice, it begins to feel natural and oh so tasty!