Your fly is open.
I am in labour.
My house is burning.
If it only takes four words to convey a clear and urgent message, why then is advertising so tricky? Why does it take weeks for teams of brilliant people to come up with an advertising campaign? The answer is that it is really difficult to communicate meaningfully in a way that will reach them and make them respond.
We are bombarded with messages every day. Radio spots and TV commercials. Online, newspaper, magazine and grocery store-buggy ads. They trail behind planes, fill building walls and stretch across T-shirts. They are in our faces at rush hour, at the movies and on the backs of sales receipts. In a million different ways, ads say: "Look, Try, Buy!" So why do we linger on some and not others? You can answer that yourself. Think about this copy of Business Edge. Did you notice any ads? What do you remember about them? What attracted you?
If you were able to remember one or more ads, and can recall a name, look, logo or slogan, then those ads were successful. You probably paid more attention because a) something really grabbed you, or b) you are interested in or shopping for the products or services offered.
You are attracted to an ad by its words and/or its pictures and graphics. They work as a cohesive unit to convey a clear, focused, compelling message. The pictures must support the words and vice-versa.
Some ad words are known to work better than others. We are mesmerized by the words "free" and "sex," for instance, especially if they are together. "Sale" and "save" also pique attention. But putting "grabbing" words in an ad is not enough to make it stand out.
Screaming "sale" and "save" directly is tiresome. I think some of the most boring advertising is done by car dealerships. And with few exceptions (some luxury imports), car manufacturers aren't much better.
There are a few dealer ads, however, that are memorable. They are the ones that use subtle, intelligent humour. Clever or funny lines stick with us, so ads that use humour stand out from the crowd in a positive way.
Ken Shaw Lexus in Toronto consistently runs ads with zingy headlines. "Our cure for performance anxiety" refers to their sporty IS250 (of course), but tweaked guffaws from men, who all worry about their (vehicle's) performance. Women got it, too.
Using humour, then, conveys a message in a subtle but compelling way using cleverness. But funny can be hard to understand, so does not work in all markets. It is important to know your audience in order to reach them.
Another Ken Shaw Lexus ad in a Jewish publication connected with readers and made them smile. "For shopping, chauffeuring and schlepping" outlined the uses for their RX330 (SUV) very effectively.
People linger over headlines that speak directly to them and make them smile, and that makes ads more effective.
But words work best when combined with pictures.
Photographs or illustrations can be the focal point of an ad as they often are on billboards, when the occupants of a whizzing car have only seconds to absorb a message. Billboards are the hardest ads to execute because the essence of the message has to be communicated in a glance. That's why we seldom see really terrific ones. And sometimes see terrible examples.
Copperhead Pilsner (Steelback Breweries) launched its beer with a photo of a snake slithering up a glass of beer in billboard advertising. The connection between "snake" and "beer" was immediate. But unfortunately, the message did not get through because of a number of mistakes.
First, somebody assumed that beer drinkers would immediately recognize the snake as a copperhead and make the connection. Well, most of us would not know one if we stepped on it, so the snake-beer association was meaningless.
Next, the explanation name "Copperhead Pilsner" was not obvious. Lastly, the can with the name "Steelback" was featured, but the packaging design did not lend itself to quick name recognition, so the name was not apparent. A great shot of a thirsty snake could not carry the message because we didn't know what beer the ad was about.
On a billboard then, a telling picture with a short message (no more than four to six words in total including the product/company name) works best. And the words have to be big and visible. Tucking them neatly on the bottom or in a corner is like leaving them off. Few billboard designs are really effective because it is extremely challenging to communicate in a glance. Check them out next time you are in the car.
Although billboards are a special challenge, all ads should communicate as effectively. In a magazine or newspaper, an ad has only a moment to impress, so it had better be good.
Use a picture to stand out in a crowd on a page. Richmond Hill Toyota scored during World Cup soccer on a calendar page with a simple banner ad by using a photo of a woman's legs from the knees down, wearing high heels and balancing a soccer ball. The caption said "Supporting soccer moms and dads everywhere.”
The ad was the first thing you noticed on the page because it was so different.
Pictures or illustrations can be product shots, labels or store displays - anything that relates to the message. Just make sure the image is impressive. Faces work extremely well in ads - generic, smiling people. Our eyes are naturally attracted to faces, so seeing one in an ad makes us linger longer.
A commercial for a new mop could just show us the product, but instead it is introduced by a smiling, sexy man who has just finished cleaning ... sorry, that was my imagination working overtime - our smiling mop face is usually that of a woman.
This mop makes her life so much easier and it disinfects, too, so the (close up of cooing, smiley) baby won't get sick. You're gagging, but that stuff works. Ever watch afternoon TV?
Faces are used to sell everything from hair products and credit cards to exercise equipment and cottages. Cute monkey, dog, piggy and chameleon faces sell cellphones. In so much advertising, the eyes have it!
So, getting an advertising message across is not as easy as telling somebody that they are flying low. You can understand why effective advertising takes time and talent to develop.
And sometimes fails in spite of a big effort.
(Brenda McMillan can be reached at email@example.com)