You Gotta See It To Believe It!
First the good news: Advertising works.
It really, really does. And yes, I know that's an affront to all thinking people everywhere. Not to mention a rude awakening for those rugged individualists who believe they are immune to the blandishments of a temporal world. You are more affected than you know.
Which is why you buy shirts with little polo players on them and eat potato chips that stack neatly on top of one another. It's why Coke and Pepsi charge you much more than generic cola. (And you pay it.) It's why nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. It's why your BMW dealer knows he's no longer competing with Buick for your business once you walk into his showroom.
Oh yes, advertising works. But there is a catch. It only works if people see it.
I mention this (to me) obvious fact because it seems pretty clear from some of the advertising out there that a lot of people think all you have to do is buy space in newspapers and magazines. As for what you put in that space, gee, almost any old thing will do. How about a picture of a handshake? A happy group of yuppies working together around a computer? Or a thoughtful executive with a furrowed brow? That's always fresh.
Nope. Sorry. All of these tired, overused clichés make horrible ads. And they're not even the worst offenders. The worst ones are the quietly beautiful, content-free, design ads that are subtle, multi-tonal... and invisible. Advertising is about impact. The best ads command the reader's attention and won't take no for an answer. Everything else is wallpaper.
So, how do you create impact? Start with an arresting visual. Because the first thing you need to do is stop the reader's eye. Unusual or paradoxical visuals work well. Why does that pig have wings? Why does that man have a banana in his ear? See, you'd look at those ads. Back when the world was young, David Ogilvy put an eye patch on the guy in his Hathaway Shirt ads. He became the Man in the Hathaway Shirt, mysterious, dashing, unique. Sold a ton of shirts.
Just to confuse matters a bit, an arresting visual can also be a stark, punchy headline. BULL! You'd read that ad. It's a verbal concept. But it's a visual ad.
So, that's it? An arresting visual. Are we done here? Nope. Now, you've got to provide value. You have to create need. You have to persuade. That's where the rubber meets the road.
Why does that woman have signal bars dancing over her head? So AT&T can tell you how they improved their wireless network. Why does that headline look like a ransom note? So the Spy Museum can entice you with its new exhibit. Why are those two pedestrians carrying an inverted bathtub over their heads? So Anthem can get you to read about their health coverage. (Get it?)
I had to browse through three different newspapers to glean these three examples, which should give you some idea of the state of things out there. How did our standards drop so low?
When I think of advertising impact, I immediately think of a public-service ad that ran more than 30 years ago. It was about inner-city living conditions. It had a life-size (which is to say, enormous) photo of a city rat surrounded by a dotted line. The headline said: "Cut this out and put it next to your child's crib." Try ignoring that.
Seeing is believing. It's true in life. It's true in advertising.
© 2009 The Thomas Simmons Agency represents clients in consumer, business-to-business and emerging technology sectors. For information, call 540-882-4418 or e-mailTom@thomassimmonsagency.com.