You talkin’ to me?

Not counting those cheesy “Private Eyes Gentlemen’s Club” ads slapped on top of yellow cabs, most ads your average New Yorker sees are on the bus or in the subway.  And this, despite the fact that targeted digital advertising is the new black art getting the most trade press.

So here’s a tip for marketers:  New York City is different.  Here are the top 10 classic mistakes you should avoid.

Mistake Number One: Assuming that everyone reading your ad really hates being in New York and would rather be anywhere else right now.

As I matter of fact, I DO have a problem with that.

Seven Eleven?  I’m looking at you.   When it’s 7:00 am and I’m on the train going to work, I’m pretty cranky anyway.   When my eyes fasten onto an ad proclaiming 7-11 serves “coffee that’s as hot and steamy as this subway car!”  or, “Coffee that’s hotter than the radiator your landlord won’t fix!”, I get offended.  Personally offended.  Why not just go for  “You don’t have fresh air in that horrible hellhole you call home, but at least you can get fresh muffins at 7-11!”   So, 7-11, here’s a website that might help you understand my message.

I think the word you’re looking for is “tasteless”.

Mistake Number Two:  Not being clever enough

Tagline:  “Last night’s cheesy slice on the dishes is tough.  Dawn is tougher. New York Tough.”

“Finger painting playdates in east village apartments are tough.  Bounty is tougher.  New York Tough.”

Jesus Christ people!  You’re getting the words in the right order, but frankly I’d rather paint my tits blue and panhandle in Times Square.  Are you dissing my city?  Please refer back to Mistake Number One.

Tagline:  KMart.  Who Knew?

This is the perfect tagline for New York.  It speaks volumes in three words.  It says “We know you think Kmart is some kind of suburban low-rent phenomenon that is so far from your psyche that you’d never even consider setting foot in the place.  But maybe, just maybe, you’re wrong about that!”  I’m not, but I really did appreciate the ad.

Mistake Number Three: Being too clever

OK, I admit it.  I like some of those Manhattan Mini Storage ads.  Others are incomprehensible.  And most of them get a chuckle the first time, but after that I have to avert my eyes because they are like that amusing guy who is the life of the party, but then everyone else goes home and now he’s drunk on your sofa and you’re the captive audience.  You just know that he’s going to start crying about his horrible relationships and then pass out.


Mistake Number Four: Si!  Yo hablo Espanol!

No, you don’t.

Here’s how I can tell:  if I can understand it, you screwed up.

A while ago, Preparation H (a fine product by the way, and one that me and many of my friends have had recourse to every now and again) did a campaign in English depicting hard-working New York stiffs touting the advantages.

Tagline:  “I drive a cab 12 hours a day.  The last thing I need is hemorrhoids!”

That, my friends, is what is called an idiom.  An idiom is something that you use all the time and never think about, but that has absolutely no meaning in any other language.  That is why, when you whip out the well-thumbed Google Translate app, and you get back “lo último que necesito es los hemmoroides” you will provide endless mirth to those you thought you were impressing.  That is because, in Spanish, “last thing I need”  means exactly what it says. I drive a cab for 12 hours.  At the start of the day, the first thing I need is my coffee and a doughnut.  At the end of the day, the last thing I need is my bedroom slippers, a nice cup of tea, and my trusty hemorrhoids.

Tagline:  Ya se armó

This was such a good, slick Bud Lite campaign with great photography and sexy models in action shots that I googled it.  The fact it was perplexing lots of American beer drinkers meant it must be a good tagline.  In the end, I had to ask The Hub what it means.  Turns out it translates roughly as “ready to go”, but lots cooler.

Tagline: Ugly Betty.  Tan fea que la hicimos en ingles.

Ugly Betty was a TV show.  This Spanish tagline  appeared in bus ads side by side with the English slogan  “Ugly is the new beautiful”  I never watched the show, but once I figured out that the Spanish version translates as “so ugly we did it in English”, I laughed long and hard.  Kudos to you.  For those of you not in the know, Spanish speakers view English in the same light that English speakers often view German (“it’s so harsh!  Not a musical language at all!”)


Mistake Number Five:  being over exposed.

I hate the Kars4Kids jingle so much I actually twisted my ankle lunging for the volume control on my morning shower-radio.  And you know what?  It was worth it.  Because that whiney-ass jingle with the guitar and the guy and the kid is an earworm of the worst sort.  One comment (“the sports hernia”) got it spot-on when s/he wrote “The Kars 4 Kids radio jingle makes me want to set my hair on fire. It’s the most annoying song in the world, and it plays on the radio non-stop. If I could find the person who wrote that, I would shoot them with a harpoon gun”

Even when they updated the ad a bit, it was still so grating and annoying that I went and looked them up at work (note to potential future clients:  that was a one-off.  I never do anything but work.  At work.  For you.)  Turns out, Kars4Kids is actually kind of a scam.


Mistake Number Six

Not being able to count to 10.


  1. For those of you not in the know, the direct translation of “together, we make a difference” has no meaning in Spanish. It would translate as “Together, we can construct some kind of physical object called a difference”.

  2. omg, I changed my mind from my last post – this is stand up material. Get you to a comedy club!!! I would pay to hear all of this stuff. You are funny!!

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