To Increase American Circulation The Economist Stoops To Use Of Puns

[via New York Times]

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. They’ve been doing these ads since 1988 when David Abbot created the campaign in London.
    It’s in the NYC article.

  2. “Leader’s digest” a play on words yes, but why is that necessarily a bad thing. there have been lots of great puns in the economist campaign.
    PS: i was in london when the “management trainee age 42” poster went up. people literally gathered around it and laughed.

  3. Hi veedub.
    The managment trainee age 42 isn’t anywhere close to a pun. It was built off an intelligent strategy. It was a message that spoke to anyone with a Master’s and a brain.
    I loathe puns like nobody’s business. Puns are just clever for clever’s sake. It doesn’t draw up any real selling proposition, or insight. Puns worked during the early nineties when nobody knew better. But there’s so much (too much) advertising out there that consumers can call BS on a pun in a millisecond.
    Peace out.

  4. 46 don’t have a real job for the last 20 some years. YET: too intelligent to be trained!
    Below is what i wrote ealier this morning but decided not to send, but then decided to send now.
    Laughing stock!
    Yea, I can see why they would laugh at that and be crappin’ in their pants at the same time. I could bet that a stay at home parent/ a stay at home poet/ a stay at home artist who got a business degree 20 years prior, and then went into work to be “trained” 20 years later could teach management so much that they would have to vomit what they can’t digest. You’d have the laughing stock of the neighborhood with that trianee application. Or they’d be laughing to hide the fear they posess.
    As for the puns and Britain.
    It’s second nature that they don’t know how not to do it. They invented this crazy language, (twilight zone music)
    or did they?

    Later guys and gals. It’s the annual rite of spring snow discovery in Columbus.
    go do some snowangels.

  5. Carl LaFong says:

    I’m afraid I must disagree, Jay. I know it’s fashionable in creative circles to consider puns to be, as someone once put it, the lowest form of wit. But why is this so? Who makes the rules? Are puns to be disdained merely because, say, Jeff Goodby or Dan Weiden says so?
    (The only time most creatives will admit to liking a pun is when they come up with one themselves. I recall reading a book where some esteemed creative from years past — I think it was Roy Grace — was saying how much he hated puns — except for the ones in his agency’s J&B campaign. Gotta love those double standards. But I digress. . .)
    A verbal or visual pun that eschews the glib and obvious in favor of the fresh and clever is certainly no less valid than, say, yet another variation on the old “I am so intrigued by this product that I don’t even notice my leg is on fire” ploy which appears with such alarming frequency in the CA annuals.
    Just because we’re sick of puns doesn’t mean that consumers are. Do you honestly believe that the average person will reject “The Economist” advert as “BS” simply because it’s a play on words? As puns go, I don’t think it’s half bad. It manages to communicate the essence of the magazine in just two simple words. Yes, it may not resonate as deeply as “Management Trainee Age 42.” But very few ads do.
    It’s funny how a business with so many self-styled iconoclasts such as ours adheres to such arbitrary rules. I remember some years ago, when foolishly shopping my book around in a futile attempt to land a job in San Francisco, I met with this guy who has gone on to achieve some renown in this industry. He seized upon the one ad in my portfolio with a play on words in the headline and said solemnly, “Write a pun, go to jail.”
    I took his words to heart. So much so that, to this day, I have the same knee-jerk reaction against puns that everyone else does. In fact, I recently criticized the initial VW print campaign in part because it relied on so heavily on the kind of puns (“Faster Than Schnell”) that Fallon would have done 25 years ago. I still think the wordplay is a bit creaky, but I was wrong to reject the campaign simply because they employed a couple of puns.
    Here I am chiding others for being lemmings, for not thinking for themselves, for giving the opinions of others more credence than they give their own, and I turn around and do the very same thing. Hoisted by my petard.
    The only rule in this business should be that there are no rules. Whatever works, works.

  6. Puns draw attention to how clever the ad/copywriter is. Generally, this detracts from the product’s benefit, and therefore is a total waste. In the case before us, the pun does serve up the product benefit, so it’s a good pun. But it’s still a pun. Also, I’m not sure I’d borrow equity from such a lowbrow periodical as Reader’s Digest. Particularly since many Americans don’t even know what the Economist offers.

  7. Carl LaFong says:

    It’s true, David, that a good pun is still just a pun. Then again, a good ad is still just an ad. I think a case could be made that most of the ads cluttering the award show annuals are to some degree drawing attention to how clever the people who made them are.
    I’m not sure how a witty pun “detracts” from a brand’s positioning or a product’s benefit. If it’s both clever and relevant, how is it a “total waste?”
    In the example of “The Economist,” your point about the pitfalls of linking such a prestigious publication with the “lowbrow” “Reader’s Digest” is a valid one. But I could argue that is precisely what makes it effective; They are drawing a clear distinction between what the plebes (a term I use ironically, not literally) read and what leaders read.
    God knows I’m not advocating a return to advertising’s pun-filled past. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t be so dogmatic as to dismiss an ad merely because it relies on a pun to get its message across.
    You and Jay are certainly entitled to hate puns. But that is a personal preference which may or may not be shared by the audience you are trying to reach.
    In my case, I recognize that my negative reaction to puns comes not from an innate aversion but from trying to be “trendy.” I made the same mistake I have criticized others for: namely, creating ads to impress other creatives rather than to reach consumers.

  8. A creative director I used to work for said, “smart always trumps clever.” It’s something I remember, and a maxim I try to live by.
    No matter how on point a given pun is, I don’t think a pun can ever rise above clever.

  9. C’mon tell me what happens in a brainstorming session of a new campaign. You guys have a blinking marquis that flashes:
    I bet half the time you’d never get started without them //and snickers//. Puns are like warmup exercises. And sometimes you just go with that and forget the sweaty workout cause, hey, it works.

  10. Carl LaFong says:

    Touche, David. However, I would counter that a good pun — if it is fresh, witty and “on point” — is both smart and clever.
    Since as usual I’ve made far too many posts that rambled on for far too long, I shall refrain from any further comment on the matter. (Pauses for the applause of a grateful nation.) While I don’t completely agree with what you and Jay had to say, you both gave me plenty of food for thought.