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May 29, 2013    Uncategorized

How Advertising Taught Me to Be Irrational


One of my more lasting moments of self-realization came from a college class on German literature. I questioned the logic of a Goethe quote and the professor’s response was that I was “too rational.”

Whatever, I thought, there’s no such thing as being too rational. But from then on I started to notice every instance of when I was being too rational. And the first time I became aware of this as a character flaw was when I got my first internship in the creative department of an ad agency.

The first time I was asked to write ad copy, I made a couple amateur mistakes. I always used proper grammar: full sentences, correct use of punctuation, everything a professor would want to see in a paper on King Lear. My biggest mistake was appealing to people’s rationality: “X product is better for Y reason, so you can do Z better.” The likelihood of someone responding to or remembering an ad like that is about the same as someone choosing to read a college student’s paper on King Lear of their own free will.

So what does irrationality in ad copywriting look like? Here’s a recent example:

The most literal version of this headline would read: “You have to feed your children so take them to a place where they won’t be bored.” The final result above expresses that message to most English speakers, and the fact that it breaks the rules makes it even more memorable. “Don’t boredom” is not a sentence, as boredom is not a verb. Spock wouldn’t know what the hell this headline means.

The fact is that the best things in life are utterly irrational: jumping out of an airplane, hanging a photo on your wall, eating a hamburger and milkshake, shooting rockets into the sky just so that we can watch them explode on certain holidays. Even going to the moon was irrational – but it was totally worth it.

So if you still haven’t learned to be irrational, get to figuring it out. It’s worth it.

Let Your Curiosity Take Control