The Snowy Truth of Advertising

Posted by on July 22, 2013

Beagle_ReindeerEvery employee has opinions about the advertising that represents their company. This is natural I suppose because those ads, by extension, represent the employee as well. And so they tell the boss what they think, “and all of our customers think that, too.”

But if the development of successful advertising were as instinctive as most people believe, a higher percentage of ads would be successful.

Most business owners trust their instincts and personal preferences in the creation of their advertising. Others empower a “creative” family member, an “artistic” employee, or worse, a group of employees who “studied advertising in college” to craft their messages and select the media that will move their businesses to the next level.

And the results of these ad campaigns are nearly always disappointing.

Philip Stanhope addressed this situation when he said, “Every young man thinks himself wise enough, just as every drunk man thinks himself sober enough.”

Joss Whedon, too, might easily have been talking about writing ad copy when he said, “Remember to always be yourself. Unless you suck.”

But no one ever thinks they suck. No one considers their own company to be boring or their own product to be average. Each of us is from Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

We look in the mirror and assume that everyone sees what we see. And then we “hold these truths to be self-evident” in our advertising.

But does anyone ever see us the way we see ourselves?

Most people have an opinion when it comes to advertising. And they feel certain they know what would work. But it’s only when you’re allowed to play with live ammunition – real dollars – that you begin to feel the slip of the ice beneath you and draw the sharp air of reality into your lungs.

The amateur believes an ad will be successful if it captures an aspect of the business that is unique and beautiful.

But every business is unique and beautiful, just like every snowflake in a snowbank.

When you have walked on that snow and slipped and fallen again and again and left the stain of your blood on the whiteness, you learn some hard truths that are not self-evident:

1. The world of advertising is noisier and more crowded than you ever dreamed possible.
2. Even though you are paying money to reach them, prospective customers are not required to give you their attention.
3. Until you win the customer’s attention, your message does not exist.
4. People turn their attention – moment by moment – to whatever is most interesting.
5. It is hard to make ads interesting.
6. The message contained in your ad must be relevant.
7. The message contained in your ad must be credible.
8. True isn’t always credible. And credible isn’t always true. Competitors know this.
9. Ads soft enough not to repel anyone are also too weak to attract anyone.
10. If you evaluate each ad by asking, “Who might this offend?” you will never craft an ad sharp enough to pierce the clutter.
11. Every brand attracts a different set of core values in the hearts of its customers. The strategy that grew Apple computers into a worldwide brand won’t work for J.C. Penney. Just ask Ron Johnson.
12. The best ads contain entertainment, information, and hope.

The hardest part of my job as an ad man is telling my clients how to respond to people they care about when those people begin telling them how they should advertise.

When you’re held accountable for the performance of real ad dollars, you spend your formative years experimenting with a lot of ideas that make perfect sense and absolutely should work.

They just don’t.

But every amateur thinks they will.

Roy H. Williams

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