The Power of Simplicity

I recently wrote a new book about the secrets of advertising. "Ok, ok" you say, "nuf about that, what's with the power of simplicity then?" you ask. Well, the two go hand in hand. But first a little history.

Victor Hugo finished his masterpiece Les Misérables in 1862. That summer, he was anxious about how the public would receive his work. Twenty years in the conception and execution, Les Misérables was first published in France and Belgium while Hugo was living in exile from his beloved France.

Enemies and admirers throughout the world devoured his works -- poetry, political tracts, and fiction -- and the effect of these works upon the public was always sensational. On the morning of 15 May, a mob filled the streets around Pagnerre's book shop, eyeing the stacks of copies of Les Misérables that stretched between floor and ceiling. A few hours later, every single book -- thousands of books--had been sold. Hugo's critics were quick to condemn him for making money by dramatizing the misery of the poor, while the poor themselves bought, read, and discussed his book in unprecedented numbers.

Before the publishing of his book, Hugo sent a letter to his agent. The letter reached his agent in Paris and inside the page carried one single symbol, one solitary punctuation mark: "?"

True to Hugo's political stance, he had written a book about the people that was for the people, a book that demanded a change in society's judgment of its citizens. And as a result, the book's reception by the French and Belgium public was a major success.

Hugo's agent responded to the letter with one single symbol: "!"

In today's multi-layered marketing programs, I wonder whether the power of simple messaging is too simplistic or perhaps much needed. The distillation of an idea to its very core, was the art and science of the advertising and marketing trade for many years. It was perhaps best exemplified by the master-strokes of Helmut Krone, an art director who is considered to be a pioneer of modern advertising and a stickler for the powerfully concise message.

Is the simple message, in a sea of noise the right approach? Is it multiplication through subtraction? Or not? What do you think?