Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why ads are too long but Harry Potter isn't.

         In class after class, with both my advertising and my fashion marketing students, the complaints seem to be the same.

         "That ad is too long."

         "Nobody's going to read all that."

         "Put words in a fashion ad? That would cheapen the clothes!"

         I wonder how these people got through all those volumes of Harry Potter a few years back. They were probably at the bookstore at midnight to get their copies and read all night. These days, three paragraphs pose an overwhelming barrier. What's changed?

        I think I know. For one thing, Harry Potter was fascinating. Most ads are hopelessly dull and banal. That's one of the reasons some people hate commercials and love Tivo.

        We only read and watch things that are interesting to us --- helpful, relevant, sometimes silly, often funny, hopefully useful. Most ads aren't, so why should we pay attention to them?

         When I was a young, $15,000-a-year copywriter, I made the mistake of telling my supervisor that the product he assigned to me, Delco shock absorbers, was dull. He made it clear: there were no dull products, only dull writers. He was right. Good shock absorbers make your car more comfortable, can help other parts last longer, and under some circumstances, could even save your life. Suddenly, they're not so dull anymore.

         Some people blame MTV for our lack of attention. All those quick cuts and fabulous visuals and music that we were brought up with. Other people blame all the new media, Facebook et al.

         I blame copywriters and art directors if people aren't reading ads today. The principles of advertising are the same. Research has shown that only about 20% of the people who see an ad read the text. But those are the people who are most likely to buy the product.

         My simple point: if the ad is dull, it's always wrong. If it's interesting, it can be as long as Harry Potter.

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