Yeah. Maybe you’re trying too hard.

Most of us have the innate need to fit in and be accepted by those around us. Its an evolutionary trait that helped lead to humanity’s first tribes, villages, and now suburban communities. We see it start when a child is introduced to her first play group and it lasts until our last days longing to be surrounded by family. Just as much as this trait is hardwired into us, the ability to spot someone who doesn’t belong in the group, no matter how hard they try, is just as powerful. It’s also a key reason why many advertising ideas fail to connect with their intended targets.

In full transparency, I have been called out for trying too hard to fit in a few times in my life. The worst had to be my first week of 8th grade in public school after being in private school every year prior. Up to that point my private school class had always been with the same 25 other kids who all wore the same uniforms of white or powder blue button down shirts and navy blue corduroy pants. After my parents split and we moved across the county and private school was no longer in the cards. Along with the dread of attending a new school was the fear that I had no idea how to dress like a normal kid so I tried to emulate those I saw on mid-80’s TV. Needless to say, popping the collar on my Polo shirt and wearing plaid “jams” style shorts didn’t work and I got picked on at a level that would today be considered an act of terrorism. Only after I stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t did the other kids see that I was pretty normal and eventually accepted me as one of them.

Those popped collar polos and plaid jam shorts come screaming back into my consciousness every time I see ads for a brand, big or small, that is desperately trying to appeal to demo where they would like to see growth. Take for instance the April 2017 ad (and assumed campaign that would have followed) for Pepsi featuring Kendall Jenner and their take on solving serious social issues by handing a police officer a soda. Beyond the idea of a Pepsi being able to bring peace to a tense situation I couldn’t help but notice how the ad was cast with a horde of happy, dancing, perfect looking, multicultural people under 25 years old (Bet you can’t guess who they were targeting) and how real people in their demo range have been the most vocally outraged over this ad.

While Pepsi isn’t the first to try this they definitely won’t be the last. The advice I give most to clients is this: Before resorting to hyper-creativity make sure the message in your ads will resonate as honest and real by the potential customers. If you’re trying to portray an emotion besides humor then it had better be one that is legitimately experienced in unison with the product. And, if you feel like you may be trying too hard to be something you aren’t in your ads (including humorous) just imagine how your potential customers will react.

Also, I offer up the advice to never pop the collar on your teal colored polo shirt while wearing plaid jams. Seriously…that’s almost as hard to live down as trying to claim that a soda can ease social tensions.