We all attempt to avoid clichés when we’re writing. Old, tired phrases and idioms lead to ideas going unnoticed; the thought is so familiar it is glossed over, its content ignored.
Ahh, but those wonderful exceptions. If you can take a well-known phrase, and rely on its very familiarity to more quickly make your point, then it can work very well. Years (decades) ago, I used this technique for a campaign for General Mills’ Total breakfast cereal. There was an expression going around at that time, “Today is the first day of your life.” To which I just added, “Start it right with Total.” So the thought became, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Start it right with Total.” Instead of being hindered by the commonality of the philosophy, by associating it with the healthful qualities of the cereal the message and implied benefit was more quickly understood.
Which I believe is the case with this campaign for New York Institute of Technology. Everyone knows the cautionary warning that without the proper education, you may be forced to make your living working at a fast food restaurant, inquiring whether the customer “Wants fries with that?” (Not, of course there is anything wrong with that occupation, but the implication is that with a better education you can qualify for a higher paying job.) The same with the low end of the salary scale promised by “Would you like that gift wrapped?”
This is validated by a statistic citing that “87% of NYIT graduates get jobs in their chosen fields within 6 months.” (Yes, the rationale behind the statistic is certainly open to closer scrutiny, but that is a question for someone else’s blog.)
So, never use a cliché as a lazy substitute for a good idea. But if there is some phrase or graphic going around that you can capitalize on, something that will make your idea work harder by being more easily grasped, then go for it. Because when it works it is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, although looks are only skin deep and you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Got the idea?