Incongruity (aka The Pantsman Effect)

Remember “Pantsman”?

The worst idea ever to come out of The Apprentice.

I thought I’d forgotten him. Banished him to the dark side. But for reasons I’ll tell you anon, he’s popped back into my head.

Remember this?

The team was branding a brekkie cereal. And Philip, a surly estate agent with one brain cell on a timeshare, railroaded the others with his (crap) idea.

Concept: you wake up in the morning and you’re half asleep, and you come downstairs with your pants on over your trousers. So Pantsman wants you to eat his cereal and have a dance in your pants then put your trousers on over your pants because only Pantsman is allowed to wear his pants over his trousers.


I mean…quite apart from the flawed observation (the inverted trouser-pant mix-up is not even a thing)…the message is all over the place.

It’s incongruous.

Confusing, because it doesn’t hang together.

On the one hand, he’s telling you to have a dance in your pants…while on t’other, saying you’re not allowed to wear your pants that way unless you’re Pantsman.

He didn’t think it through.

And geeks like me might stay with it, to unravel the twisted logic. But regular customers, who have lives and stuff, ain’t gonna follow suit.

Hence that little ol’ rule in advertising: KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Don’t ask people to think!

Do not confuse.

And like I said above – it’s not just Pantsman. Here’s why he’s back in my head…

This month, the NHS is running a campaign called Pyjama Paralysis. And they’ve made the same mistake – albeit this time pants-free.

They want to encourage hospital patients to get up, get dressed and get active, instead of lying about in their PJs the whole day. So medical staff are getting involved…by doing stuff in their PJs.

See the pattern here?

Staff are doing funky things in their frilly night stuff. Climbing mountains, running races…you get the idea.

They’re trying to show you can be fit and active in your pyjamas…in an effort to say “Don’t wear your pyjamas!”

So again: Whaaaaat??

Does. Not. Compute.

Sure, it’s getting a load of publicity. But is it getting the point across? Not really.

Incongruity blocks it. The take-away message is lost. So ask any patient, they’ll say, “I think it’s something about pyjamas”.

And all because some branding nutjob wanted to be clever.

Stuff clever.

Clever is useless…stark staring futile…if it gets in the way of the big fat number one goal: CLARITY!

If you can’t get your main point across in a tiny bite-size chunk…so your reader gets it, without asking their brain to work up a sweat…your copy fails.

Pants or PJs, it’s all the same.

We’ve all got the same mission:

One idea. Simply stated. Pants inside the trousers, please.

Meet the Author

James Daniel

You might not know who James is...but you've probably read his copy. Through high street clients like Hidden Hearing, or big gun marketers like Jonathan Jay and Chris Cardell. His words are out there, pulling in new business every month. What else? Well his books, Do You Talk Like That at Home? and Direct Mail 101 will help you squeeze out more sales. Oh yeah - and his next book Before You JFDI will help you plan your next campaign. Get on the list for a free advance copy here.

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