A writing professor in college taught me that when I want hot, “write cold.” His theory was that it’s much more resonant to downplay an emotion than to flood the reader with overstated and unnecessary description. I think he’s right.
Something about minimalism holds a sort of cloaked grandeur about it. While looking at a very simple, upfront product, description, whatever, we crave to see what’s behind it – what it’s all about. In the 60s and 70s, minimalistic architecture blew up. Why were people intrigued? Well, they were amazed by the things that weren’t there. (Consider plugging in a picture of one of those super minimalist, retro 70s/80s houses). I can’t remember who said it, if anyone, but there is meaning in the void.
Business and marketing is moving toward a more minimally influenced set of aesthetics. Customers are looking to become involved with a company that operates out of the void. They might not know it, consciously, but it’s true.
Businesses need to back off a bit. Let your pitches breath a bit so your customers can get some fresh air for once. Doing so when marketing your product will make the consumer feel like your product is a total gem – that they only stumbled across it by some weird twist of fate or because they cashed in all their karma from helping that old man find the pie crusts for his wife at the supermarket.
I think Pinterest is a pretty great example of this. It’s not directly selling anything for profit, but people are effectively selling their boards with each pin they choose to post and re-post. The picture is the tell-all. Just one, simple picture that explains exactly what it’s all about. Category is equally, if not more, important. A pegboard holding spools of thread shouts organization. A half painted garden gnome shows us that we are about to embark upon a journey of home garden crafts. A sketch of a bird feeder layout tells us we’re about to break out the hammer and nails. Categorizing anything in business shows that you know your market and that you care enough to put it in its place. Doing it with ease and simplicity shows that you know how to do it right.
Apple does a pretty good job of this too. The majority of ads I see on TV that involve Apple products are phone carriers who boast that they carry the iPhone. Apple does have a few commercials for their other products, but they’re usually pretty dang memorable and fun to watch. They’re refreshing when we see them. Why? Because they aren’t spamming our Pandora ad breaks, they’re not making us wait to watch our favorite YouTube videos or bashing their competitors on every TV timeout of March Madness. They give us just a dash of what they have to offer, a quick little dose that hooks us and makes us want more. They other guys, the ones whose commercials and ads we see every other commercial, billboard, radio promo, all they’re doing is helping Apple’s products look even more appealing.
When you’re not marketing to the general public, you’re targeting some very specific demographic or audience. Maybe this is an age group, an income bracket, a play at a group of resources. Whatever it is, you need to remember that we live in a specialist society. Everyone’s an expert these days. Why else would I be writing this?
It’s a lot like our love for Mad Men. With its authentic props and wardrobe, its surreal setting, we have an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia for that time. We think that it was easier in the 50s and 60s, that life was simpler, and maybe a bit more enjoyable too. That may not be entirely true, given the status of war, social inequality, medical knowledge, and technology during that time. But we glorify it. We want it because it’s different.
Mad Men is appealing because it gives us a weekly dose of a time that is so different and unique from the right-now. This is the epitome of the void. It gives us exactly the kind of life, clothing, drama, and feel that we don’t, can’t have. They’re quite literally selling us the void. And we eat it right up. Whether you’re trying to get more repins of a post on Pinterest, exploiting another company’s over-advertising, or making a hit series on TV, you need to give people what they don’t have – what no one else is giving them.
Be exactly enough. Keep it simple.