It’s Complicated.

What works better, simplicity or complexity?

Marketing is all about ‘cutting through the clutter’, being different, and grabbing the attention of the customer. Probably my favourite slogan that practically encompasses the ideology of marketing into five basic words is the one that drives the creative culture of agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) – “When the world zigs, zag” 

In essence, do different. Do unique. Do what isn’t being done. Therefore in answering the question ‘simplicity or complexity?’, we must first ask – what is being done?

Digital marketing today integrates the real and digital worlds to create spectacular yet efficient campaigns. But are they becoming too complex? Depends on the definition of complexity, and the point at which an ad becomes so complex that it doesn’t effectively serve its purpose any longer. defines complex as “so complicated or intricate as to be hard to understand or deal with.”

At the end of the day, it is up to perception. My perception of what is complex is different to yours. I may find certain ads extremely simple whilst you find them complicated. That’s because the knowledge, experience, and understanding of certain topics vary from person to person – and that’s what determines our perception of simplicity and complexity.

Here are two digital campaigns of which in my perception, one is simple and one is complex:

1. Volvo Trucks – Van Damme

Van Damme is best known for his martial arts. He is flexible. The Volvo trucks are able to determine their direction of travel so precisely that it maintains Van Damme’s split. Simple.

What about someone that doesn’t know who Van Damme is? What relevance does he have to the ad? And what about someone who isn’t familiar with automotive technology trends and who doesn’t realize or appreciate the precision of the truck? Complex.

2. The Dark Knight Rises – Viral Marketing Campaign

A marketing campaign / alternate reality game in which you must work with people online to find clues and hints around the world and solve a mystery. You must complete tasks that include painting your face to look like a clown, dialing a random secret phone number and buying a rigged cake just to dig your hands into the middle of it to find a classic Nokia with a clue that steers you to do other awkward tasks. Complex.

What about passionate Batman fans who know the story of the legend like the back of their hand and own a collection of comics and games that surround the superhero? And what about people who attend Comic-Con and immerse themselves in the fantasy world of good vs. evil by dressing up and behaving like their favourite character? The game is an interactive, enjoyable, social, immersive and unique way of getting them excited about the upcoming movie. And they love it. Simple.

Ultimately it’s up to you to decide whether an ad is simple or complex. If you’re interested in the topic, know lots about it and interact with the brand often, the most complicated campaigns may seem like a piece of cake (a delicious Nokia-free Red Velvet) to understand. If not, the most interactive, fun and vibrant campaigns may repel you from the brand or product category even further than you already were.

It’s important for brands to consider their target audience and the depth of their knowledge and understanding of the product when tailoring a creative campaign.

Creating something complex is perfectly simple. Creating perfectly simple is something complex.


  • What’s one ad you found too complicated to understand?
  • What do you think works better today, simplicity or complexity?
  • Red Velvet or Black Forest?