I was looking through a recent issue of Better Homes and Gardens last night, and I was shocked. Usually I'm shocked these days when I see a good ad. Last night I was shocked to see so many bad ones.
When I critique ads in my classes, students ask why I don't show more good ones. Truth is, I find that you can learn a lot more from weak ads, because it soon becomes clear how to strengthen them.
Here, in my opinion, honed by years of making the same mistakes everyone else does, is my idea of what it takes to make a good advertisement, on television, online, or in print:
1. It has to be good for the customer. If it doesn't help her, tickle her, or interest her in some other way, all is lost. Great writing and great photography won't save you.
2. It has respect the audience. Viewers aren't dumb, or numb. Your mom is in the audience, and so is your dad --- and so is that brainy person you date. And your brother and your sister Sue. If your ad shouts at them or talks down to them, they won't give you the time of day.
3. It has to be involving. Years ago, Pepsi ran a campaign telling people to "Say Pepsi, please". A non-idea, to be sure. People kept on saying "Coke, please". When Pepsi woke up and discovered there were young people who were not yet loyal to Coke, the "Pepsi Generation" campaign was born, "for those who think young". People identified with Cindy Crawford and Michael J. Fox, and wanted to know how the stories in the commercials turned out. Big difference.
4. Relying on "sure things" is a sure way to get a ho-hum reaction. People like to look at dogs and babies and babes. But if they're just there to get your attention and have nothing to do with what you're selling, they are borrowed interest, distractions that take people's attention away from the product.
5, Yes, salesmanship is still the other name for advertising. Salesmanship in the media. Ever hear the expression "it isn't creative unless it sells"? That's Procter and Gamble, one of the biggest advertisers in the world, speaking. You have to promise something different, important and believable, and then you have to deliver.
Maybe you should print this page and tape it to your computer. I don't have to. It's already etched in my brain.