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It Pays to Advertise (Sometimes)

February 1, 2010

By Jim Rhodes
I’m sure you can remember lots of ads and commercials. I have a few favorites. And also a few “unfavorites.” The fact is, for every memorable ad there are thousands that are happily forgotten – lost in the noise. And you know what? It costs just as much to buy space for a lousy ad as for a great one. It amazes me that so much money is wasted on poorly conceived and ill-executed advertising.

So what does it take to make a great ad? Creativity is certainly part of it. One of the great things about advertising is that it gives you virtually unlimited creative license – within the bounds of good taste, community values, legal constraints and certain ethical standards. You can shock, tantalize and tease to get your reader’s attention. You can frighten, cajole and entertain.

There’s always a danger, however, that your selling proposition may become lost in all the creativity. I can think of any number of highly creative ads that were failures at doing what they are supposed to do – deliver the selling proposition in an effective way.

I recommend to you the following guidelines, which I clipped several years ago from the popular “Copy Chasers” column in the (unhappily now defunct) magazine Business Marketing. I keep a copy of these guidelines beside my desk, and I refer to them often when evaluating creative ad concepts for our clients.

The successful ad:
1. Has a high degree of visual magnetism and should be constructed so that a single component dominates the area – not just the company name or the logo.

2. Selects the right audience and enables readers to identify it as a source of information relating to their job interests at first glance.

3. Invites the reader into the scene.

4. Promises a reward. Gives readers a reason to expect that if they continue on they will learn something of value.

5. Backs up the promise. To make a promise believable, the ad must provide evidence the claim is valid.

6. Presents the selling proposition in a logical sequence.

7. Talks person to person. Copy is persuasive when it speaks to the reader as if it were one friend telling another friend about a good thing.

8. Is easy to read. Text type should be no smaller than 9 points. It should appear black on white and stand clear of interference from other parts of the ad. Column width should not be more than half of the width of the ad.

9. Emphasizes the service, not the source. An ad should make readers want to buy before telling them where to buy.

10. Reflects the company’s character. A company’s advertising represents the best opportunity it has to portray the company’s personality – the things that will make the company liked, respected and admired.