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September 30, 2012

No one wants to to read your ad.

by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

No one wants to read, watch or listen to your advert. No, really they don’t. Apart from the yellow pages, when last did you see a publication entirely made up of ads, or a radio station that broadcasts no music or talk, just ‘commercial breaks’? You don’t. Okay, there is the shopping channel but even that tries to entertain. So how do you get someone to notice and hopefully be influenced by your advert?

The hook

You need a ‘hook’ to attract readers, listeners or viewers and pull them from the media they intended consuming, into interacting with your advert. This could be an intriguing headline, provocative image, interesting fact or the promise of getting something special.

Basically it’s a trade. You need to give something back in return for interrupting peoples’ viewing or reading pleasure. It could be information, a laugh, art, the-hint-of-sex, a special deal. Get this right and you are likely to get high “liking” for your ads – the basis of building a positive impact on your market.

The type of hook varies with the type of product, or intention of the advert. Information-rich adverts might work well for a new, complicated, just-launched product. Considering buying that new hover-board? You will want to know all about how it works, safety issues and maintenance costs. Buying peri-peri chicken on the other hand? Information about the nutritional value of a hot wing is unlikely to break through the clutter. Perhaps a good laugh would work better – a tactic well used by Nando’s.

Howard Fox Chartered Marketer with Peter Matlare CEO Tiger Brands

Howard Fox with Peter Matlare CEO of Tiger Brands at a GIBS Forum

Lights, camera, action!

Adverts are premised on the basis that you are trying to get people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do. It’s called the “call to action” and it’s where a lot of ads go wrong – with either a weak or confusing call to action. Remember without a call to action an advert just becomes a story, which is more in the realm of “PR”.

Having enticed your target into watching, listening to or reading your advert, be clear about what exactly they should do next. It might not be a hard sell to buy right away. It might be to take a test drive or go to a website to get more information. However, not giving any direction leaves readers confused and somewhat annoyed as they think why did I bother?

Get to the point. Stay on point

Having interrupted, it is important to get to the point quickly. Headlines should be short, simple as possible and clear. In the case of billboards, normally read by drivers passing at high speed, I was taught you should have a maximum of seven elements on the billboard’s face. This could for instance be made up of an image, five words and a logo. (Few, however, pass this test.)

Recognise that in print adverts, most readers will glance at the image and headline and not read the rest of the more detailed “body copy”. You still need to make an impact on readers such as this, trying to entice them into reading further, or at a minimum building some awareness of your product or brand.

Adverts work best when they have “a single minded value proposition” – they focus on a single thought or product attribute. It is tempting to add additional concepts into ads to try and make them work harder, but in reality, they just become confusing and reduce in impact.

Batting for the other side

Advertising’s dirty little secret is that often, even if consumers interact with and even like your ad, they may well not correctly remember which supplier it refers to. This is more prevalent in commoditised products which have little perceived differentiation in consumers minds. In the worst-case scenario, consumers see your ad and remember it as referring to a competitor. (Technically called “low brand-linkage”.) How do you prevent this?

1) Ensure you have a differentiated product or brand in the first place. If you don’t it doesn’t really matter what you do in your advert, you are in trouble. You will know you have this problem when your ad agency suggests singing about your product (the old stand-in when there is absolutely nothing worth saying in an ad.)

2) Make the logo bigger. Your creative folk (that would be the flamboyant types in hats) frown upon the crass commercialism of overt branding all over your adverts, because it diminishes their ‘art’. Your shareholders disagree. They want a clearly branded ad, ideally with liberal use of the corporate colour. Think MTN vs Vodacom. If you see yellow, you think…

3) Be consistent in your advertising. Once you have trained the market on what your ads look like, stick with it. Marketers are inclined to have lower attention spans than their target consumers, because marketers see their ads virtually every day. Unless you have the budget of the two teleco’s just mentioned, your audience certainly don’t.

Proof is in the pudding

Recognise that sophisticated markets are cynical about advertisers. They know you have bought the media and can do (within the bounds of law and the Advertising Standards Authority) what you like with it. As a consequence offering proof of what you say offers weight and credibility. Independent tests, testimonials, reference to scientific works, evidence of long history of successful products, help overcome this cynicism. The more sophisticated the market the more subtle such proof should ideally be.

How creative should my ad be?

Like a number of things in marketing, it depends… Marketers love highly creative ads and they can multiply impact significantly, perhaps even ‘going viral’, but in my view some ads are just too creative that they lose their audience.

Remember you are not creating an ad you like, but rather one which effectively communicates to your market. Sometimes (perhaps as a new entrant) an ad, which fulfils all the category norms, might work best by making your product appear ‘established’ and ‘part of the club’. High risk, serious products – hospitals say, or corporate professional services firms might also benefit from tempering overtly creative ads.

Some specifics

Telephone numbers don’t work well on radio, especially during drive time. Listeners just can’t remember them or jot them down.

Context is important. Adverts about erm, male issues, might best be deployed on ‘over urinal’ media.

Avoid offending religious and other interest groups, particularly with frivolous quips. What might seem funny around your boardroom table doesn’t seem so when you are explaining yourself at the ASA.

Humour should be universal and good-natured. Powerful when it is done right, it easily goes wrong as it is culturally, language and age-specific.

Comparative ads aren’t permitted in South Africa(and aren’t always a good idea). However, if it is a strategic fit you can have the same outcome while remaining legal – just think of Steve from Bleep! Bank.

This article was first published on Entrepreneur Magazine’s website.

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