Keep It Simple, Not Stupid

Richard Branson certainly doesn’t need more publicity or admiration, but when I read this Q&A article in Time Magazine, one of his answers caught my eye:

Has your dyslexia hindered you in the business world? —Skye O’Brien, Dartmouth, Mass.
Strangely, I think my dyslexia has helped. When I launch a new company, I need to understand the advertising. If I can understand it, then I believe anybody can. Virgin speaks in normal language instead of using phrases that nobody understands, like “financial-service industry.”

That’s an interesting argument for keeping ad copy simple and visually-oriented: the idea that folks such as dyslexics can understand it easily. It’s simplification, not dumbing-down, I suppose.
Does anyone have any experience with dyslexics or other people where comprehension played a role in whether the ads were successful or not?

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. no, but i work at an ad agency, and i am partially color blind, and feel that it has never hindered me

  2. trivia hostess says:

    colorblind people usually know some of this stuff, but sometimes not the general public.
    In 1990, after 37 years of service, Crayola products’ most senior crayon maker Emerson Moser retired after molding a record 1.4 billion crayons. It was not until his retirement that he revealed a very well kept secret — he was actually colorblind.
    also from a .doc file at the crayola media center website:
    In February, 1996, the 100 billionth Crayola crayon was made by Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The crayon was a once in a lifetime color — blue ribbon — of which one million special 100 Billionth commemorative crayons were made and sold in special commemorative boxes.
    Mr. Rogers was also colorblind.

  3. I’ve worked with many account people who appeared to be mentally deficient, requiring repeated explanations on concepts and strategies. A handful of clients too.
    And let’s not even discuss the alcoholic creative directors whose judgment and comprehension were only good for about 2 hours per day.

  4. Danny, there was a recent NYTimes article about dyslexia and how common it is among successful entrepreneurs. It’s here —
    It doesn’t focus on ads but it’s pretty interesting.

  5. TheshadowyCD says:

    What HighJive said above is right. But the reason is, most people cannot think conceptually and very abstractly. Most people don’t have a very rich imagination capable of bounding everywhere and then narrowing down to the simplest essence.
    But they think they do. And they get in the way of the few who have been tasked with coming up with ideas.
    Dyslexic or not – anybody who looks at things differently than the masses and and then can simplify ideas down into the most powerful and simplest form- is the most valuable. Unfortunately, 99% of people obfuscate and render ideas undecipherable or convoluted while in fact thinking they are doing what’s best for it.
    Exhibit 1: Typical ad agency.

  6. One more point: Oh, how the industry would benefit if everyone were colorblind. Then we wouldn’t have this nettlesome diversity dilemma. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  7. I have always found the Branson/Virgin story to be inspiring. His belief that dyslexia helped him see and promote Virgin with a simple and common touch also has merits.
    What I am having trouble with is combining this dyslexic screening, with the importance of good typography and copywriting for all things communication design, not just advertising. How does Branson’s method craft, or deal it, the power of the written word to communicate?

  8. Tom Messner says:

    Copy in sans serif reverse type makes everyone dyslexic.

  9. Can someone tell me if there are blind people who have reading disabilities with reading braille?
    Just a curious question to associate or disassociate things with visual centers of the brain?

  10. i see that this has been researched, by a simple internet search.
    Some possibilities include right left hand dominance, reversals and inverses, and also sequencing problems. (can I call this cause and effect and correlations shakeups)
    I might add and I didn’t google this yet…it’s sunday and there are beech trees falling in the forest that are calling me before falling in front of me.
    but anyway, I’ll probably be thinking about speech impediments in the nuculear scheme of things.

  11. footnote:
    if someone checks my personal permanent record, I’ve mentioned this speech stuff 6-7 years ago in a prominent news discussion on this fabric we choose to weave as a net.
    now if you can apply this to my typing skills, you probably got my mind mapped.

  12. I’m a dyslexic copywriter and everyone in my team knows it, too.
    My ideas are about visualizing USPs than ‘intellectualizing’ them. Check out the link. It’s a campaign for the new BMW 1 Series. I literally translated the global tagline ‘What is your idea of joy’ into a contest that encouraged people to visualize the tagline in words.
    I’ve learned to compensate for being dyslexic and most of the time, I can pick up on a “big idea” as fast as anyone else in the room. =)

  13. Sorry, Suffian, but that was a shameless plug for a mediocre website. And fyi, when people come across a site that automatically re-sizes their browser window, often times they immediately hit the back button and never return.

  14. Branson/Virgin is an incredible marketing story without any handicaps. With dyslexia it makes it even more of a success story. Does it also show that he built a great team around himself?

  15. High Jive, I’d live to hire more people of color in the creative department. Unfortunately, there just aren’t the books out there. I’m going to hire someone based on their work, period. I won’t give them a job just because I feel I have a quota.
    The best thing that could happen to is to create a larger talent pool. Please, if anything, promote that. Recruit more minorities into the ad schools. When I was in ad school, we had 3 black guys out of about 100 people. With odds like that, what will their books be like?
    Many people just ‘happen’ into advertising to begin with, so you really have to go out there and tell people about the business. Especially in the creative dept. But I wouldn’t just stop at ‘people of color.’ I’d say broadening the backgrounds is even more important. It seems most of who I work with comes from a middle or upper income demographic no matter what race they are.