Don’t Be Too Clever

Don’t Be Too Clever

Don’t Be Too Clever

By: Bob Morand

President and Managing Partner

As a former advertising executive, I must say that clever almost always sold…be it Wendy’s “Where’s the beef!” TV spot starring 80-something-year-old character actress Clara Peller in the 1980s or, more recently, the “Discount Double Check” State Farm spots featuring the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the cheeky insurance consumers who rip off his touchdown move.

As an improv actor in Chicago for a number of years, I also admired –and worked toward- how clever often could be the result of a well-played scene based solely on a one-word suggestion from the audience. The biggest compliment an improv actor can receive after a show is when an audience member approaches and asks, with sincere incredulity, “That was hilarious…how can you do that without a script?”

But, when clever is forced, in any medium or situation…it becomes anything but clever.

Maybe you’ve seen “forced clever” in a particular company’s advertising, which didn’t have the benefit of the creative teams that put the aforementioned Peller and Rodgers to such good use. To set itself apart from its competition and sell its goods and/or services, a company might try an outlandish approach in its communications…the old hit the other guy with the rubber chicken act. In too many instances, though, going outlandish means going away from getting the message of your company’s value proposition across to your audience. You risk looking foolish and, worse, you jeopardize your credibility within your industry. (But, hey, it was a rubber chicken!!! That counts for something, right?!)

I also believe that one should apply the philosophy of not forcing clever in his/her own personal branding, especially in an interview setting. We prep Actuaries and related Analytics professionals to be themselves in an interview – which means not only being professional but also displaying the positive traits that make him/her an interesting individual and thus a strong candidate.

If, for example, Mr. Interviewer were to ask you, “Say, Joe, are you a baseball fan?” (and you see a Boston Red Sox pennant hanging behind the interviewer’s desk). And, you, Joe, are not a baseball fan. Would it be clever to say, {A} “Why, yes, I follow baseball somewhat,” hoping that you’re ingratiating yourself with the man who has the job you want? Or, would it be more clever to say something like, {B} “I’m not much of a baseball fan, Mr. Interviewer, as I do a lot of sailing over the summer months.” (assuming the sailing part is true)?

The clever response would be {B} because it’s based in truth. If you went the route of {A}, Mr. Interviewer probably would have probed your baseball prowess further and you would have been exposed as a shallow fraud. You would end up leaving the interview embarrassed and disappointed in yourself…and probably feeling like you just hit yourself with a rubber chicken.

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