I was, still am, terrible at maths, at school numbers put me to sleep.
Simple fractions were about as far as I could get.
That meant a little line with a small number above and a bigger number below.
So, 1 over 2 would mean a half, 3 over 4 would mean three quarters, basic stuff like that.
The number on top was called an enumerator, the number below was called a denominator.
If you wanted to add fractions together you had to multiply the bottom numbers until both sides had the same number at the bottom, a common denominator.
So a half plus three quarters would be 6 over 12 plus 9 over 12, which adds up to 15 over 12.
Simplified, that gives us one, plus 3 over 12.
Simplified further we can reduce the 3 over 12 to 1 over 4, which makes it one and a quarter.
The process of going from 3 over 12 to 1 over 4 by reducing the bottom number, the denominator, to the smallest we can get is called the Lowest Common Denominator.
That’s it in numbers, in general, everyday usage it’s come to mean something else.
It’s come to mean, ‘something that is deliberately simplified in order to be understood by the largest number of people’.
So it started off as a good thing, making something complicated accessible to everyone.
But where it’s gone wrong is in its misinterpretation where advertising is concerned.
Lowest Common Denominator has come to mean ‘something that is simplified until it’s impossible to be misunderstood by absolutely anyone, anywhere’.
In other words – Lowest Common Denominator has come to mean ‘dumbed down’.
It is now the job of the marketing department to find some way in which someone, somewhere (anyone, anywhere) could conceivably misinterpret the advertising, and it must be rewritten until that’s impossible.
So that becomes the driving force for our advertising, to make sure it can’t possibly be misinterpreted by a single person anywhere.
Of course, with that as the goal it’s no wonder we produce bland work that is so anodyne as to be invisible, especially given that everyone else is doing the same thing.
The goal is no longer to stand out, to be noticed, to be talked about.
To be ‘talked about’ could mean being controversial, and that could mean some people, however few, won’t like our ads.
So instead of weighing the number that will like the ads against the number that won’t, we let the possibility that someone won’t like the ads drive the entire process.
Our advertising runs and it’s considered a success if no one complains, even though no one complains because no one noticed it.
And advertising has become white noise.
White noise is defined as, ‘a noise that contains all frequencies across the spectrum of audible sound in equal measure’.
Just like static on the radio, because everything is the same it all merges into one big noise.
Which is what advertising has become, static in the background.
All identical, all safe, all dull, all merged into one big noise that’s there all the time so we don’t even hear it, a bit like traffic.
On Adam Morgan’s ‘Let’s Make This Interesting’ podcast, producer Maz Farrelly describes white noise as the one thing you don’t want your communication to be.
You actually want your communication to stand out from the white noise.
You want it to be different, because otherwise it won’t get noticed.
And if doesn’t get noticed what was the point of doing it?
All you’ve done is increased the amount of white noise that’s in the background.
Which is what most advertising is like, just constant static in the background.
And that’s why it’s such a relief when you turn it off.