Keep It Simple

Over the years I have launched hundreds of online marketing campaigns. I’ve tested, analyzed and optimized landing pages, ads and copy on billions of impressions and millions of clicks.

And the data always tells me the exact same thing.

Simple Always Wins.

“Think Small” was an advertising campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle, created by Helmut Krone at the Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) agency in 1959.

In the late 50s car companies sold cars using ad campaigns that provided an exhaustive amount of information about the features and benefits of their amazing machines.

Their key selling points were all the same: luxury, security and size.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 8.59.15 PM

1957 Ford Ad

Volkswagen did the exact opposite and created a string of simple little ads that called their cars small, ugly Lemons.

It became one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time.

Simple Volkswagon Ad

The best advertising campaign of the twentieth century: DDB (Volkswagen’s agency) had “simplicity in mind, contradicting the traditional association of automobiles with luxury”.

Don’t Be Fooled

Many people see a simple looking little ad campaign and think it’s being run by amateurs.

But these simple, often ugly little campaigns are more likely being run by data scientists who are printing money for themselves or their clients.

In my own experience, my biggest wins have come from ideas that took just a few minutes to come up with. And the projects that I spent the most time on performed the worst.

My First Campaign

I came into the online ad game with a heavy background in hi-end design. At my last day job I was the creative director for a design agency that did 6-7 figure websites for big brands.

So when I launched my first paid campaign on Adwords I did what I was used to doing. I spent about 3 days creating the most awesome design I could put together. It had flashy graphics, audio and ajax effects. When launch day came I was expecting to kill it with my hot design.

The results? 0% CTR. 

I’m not kidding. I was spending $50/day back then and on that first $50 I got zero click throughs. It was brutal. The next day I updated the page, making it even FANCIER and loaded up my $50 again and got zero clicks again.

It was an awful experience and went on for 3-4 days before I changed gears.

I finally got so frustrated I decided to just File > Save As the homepage of my blog that I had at the time, a crappy little WordPress theme. I pasted in the copy I was using for the campaign and launched it as a joke. The whole thing took about 10 minutes to create.

This simple little page got a 15% CTR (click through rate) and started getting conversions right away. I think I made about $250 on that $50 spend. I learned my lesson right then and there and have been making simple, ugly little pages ever since.

Simple Ad Copy

Simple works on copy and banner ads too. If you try to make your language too fancy, you’ll lose half your audience. I try to write copy for my ads that could be easily understood by anyone with a 7th to 8th grade reading level.

The U.S. Dеpartment of Education, Institute of Education Sciences has conducted large scale assessment of adult proficiency in 1992 and 2003  – and concluded that the “average” American reads at a 7th or 8th grade level.

A colleague mentioned just a few days ago that he recently made six figures in 60 days using the ad copy “Click here to Download XYZ” and direct linked to the offer’s download page.

This stuff can be real easy. Don’t overthink it.

What’s Your Ultimate Goal?

If you’re creating a brand and want it look as glossy as Coca-Cola, go for it.

But if you’re goal is to attain customers or sales at the lowest cost possible… Fire your designer and make something in Microsoft Paint (really) You may be shocked at the results.

That simple stupid idea that pops in your head that takes no time to make and almost no effort to write… That’s the one.

Keep it simple.

  • Ramo

    Love your blog Malan! I am saving money right now to invest in affiliate marketing. In the meantime I am reading your blog like a crazy. Thanks for all your great posts.

  • Tim L.

    Just the advice I need at this very moment, my ad & LP CTRs are in the gutter and I’ve been getting fancier and fancier with my designs, hoping to see a bump, and not seeing much improvement. I was just about to make some changes, and will now try going in the other direction and trying something simpler. Thanks Malan!

    • Malan Darras

      glad to hear it Tim. What I do is if I’m in the gutter and need a big change to get ROI positive I’ll make drastically different versions of LP or ads. I’ll split test small things after I find a winner but until then – I go for HUGE updates for each split test. Change it all around and throw some traffic at it. If it flops, try again.

      • fooder

        Love doing that with your AAB testing thing. Saved lots of testing budget when new versions flopped.

        • Malan Darras

          yeah fooder – AAB is a good thing. helps stop me make a choice too soon. ever notice how in the first 5 minutes of a split test things go nuts? seems like one LP always starts blowing the other one out, then 5000 clicks later, it’s losing haha

      • Tim L.

        Thanks! Just put a new and very different LP live, thats pretty basic, and waiting for enough data to come in to see. Spent a little too much time getting a rotation script working properly with Prosper, while passing the subids (ended up using you’re ‘track campaigns w/o tracking system’ php snippet as the base for the solution), and now have a little more php under my belt. Can’t wait to make some money and upgrade to CPVLabs.

  • Ramo

    Hey Malan
    I really love your awesome blog! ATM I am saving money to invest it into AM. In the meantime I am reading your blog like a crazy. Thanks for all the information you share! I already posted a comment but it got flagged because I linked to a song on Youtube which name is exactly the same as the title of this post. It is called Keep it Simple by Tommy Emmanuel. Great song to relax a little bit IMO!

    Thanks again!

    • Malan Darras

      thanks Ramo, yeah the filter is there because i don’t really want a bunch of youtube videos embedded on my posts. No biggie, glad you’re enjoying the posts man.

      • Ramo

        Ah I understand. Keep up the good work man! Everyday I am curious what the new post of the day is about! KUTGW!

        • Malan Darras

          “Everyday I am curious what the new post of the day is about! KUTGW!

          — me too 🙂

  • Zach

    Thanks, Malan. Really reassuring to hear that from you. I’ve been testing a bunch of copy on FB and keep getting rejected for “unlikely claims” and other ambiguous violations. So I’ve been running alot more: “Click Here For XYZ” as you stated above and it’s not only getting approved but outperforming the other stuff. Glad to hear you have same advice!

    • Malan Darras

      hey Zach, yes a lot of people forget you can make sales without making “unlikely claims”. I tend to start simple and then go more complex if I have to.

  • Gastón

    Hey Malan, thanks for reinforcing this idea. Sometimes I fall into the temptation of perfection also, I lose time and the results will not be compensated.

  • Reid Yamamoto

    Hi Malan, Another awesome post and good reminder that sometimes ugly and simple works better than beautiful and complex.

    • Malan Darras

      Thanks Reid, glad to see you

  • Jon Tam

    Thanks Malan for reiterating that simple message, but I’d like to know what some of the principles you abide by when making your landers such as putting the Unique Selling Point in the headline, etc. etc. It has to be ugly with a purpose right 🙂

    • Malan Darras

      of course. ugly wouldn’t sell if it didn’t serve the purpose. i’ll consider it for a future blog post. thanks Jon