Get out all the ads you ran last year. Go ahead. Tear them out of your magazines or
newspapers (if you're lucky enough to have proof sheets, so much the better). Tear
out your competitor's ads too--as many as you can get your hands on. Next, fold
the company names, addresses and logos out of view. If the company names are in
the headlines block them off with paper and tape. Now tape them up to the wall,
putting yours on top, your competitors' below. Now back off, at least five feet.
We're going to gradually close in on the most effective ad in the group (hopefully
one of yours).
The "Eye Test" View
First, and this is very important, don't read any of them. Instead give them a quick,
visual once over--what I call the "Eye Test." Do your ads stand out? Or do they
dissolve into the mush of sameness? Remember, your audience will see your ad, not
in a vacuum but with dozens of competitive ads in the same or similar magazines or
newspapers. If your ads stand out, you're ahead by a length.
Step in, Feel the Image
Now move in a little closer to your ads. Close enough to get the feel or image they
project Like a new salesperson who walks through the door, the first thing people
react to is the overall image he or she projects. It's the same with advertising. The
colors, the design, the typeface should be consistent with the image of your
company. A tennis shoe salesperson can wear a referee shirt and a whistle around
his or her neck, a medical sales rep can't. If your ads are in sync with the image of
your company, you're a step closer to your audience--and a sale.
Are You Projecting a Consistent Look?
Next comes an equally important aspect: consistency. All your ads should project
the same image. No, they don't have to have the same visual or the same headline.
They should, however, look like they all come from the same company. After all, this
image is your "familiar face" in the crowd. It's also something you worked very hard
to create. And it's uniquely yours, no one else's. Just like a good salesperson who
finally got in the door to make that first sale. You wouldn't dream of switching
salespeople after that. If your ads look like they came from several different
companies, your audience might assume your product does. If your ads pass this
test, effective advertising is within your reach. Which is exactly where you need to
be for the next step.
Arm's Length for Positioning
An arm's length away from your favorite campaign of ads. The object of this test is
to see how well you've positioned yourself. Yes, you can now read your ads, but not
for details. How you position yourself should be fairly evident by the time you finish
the first paragraph. Positioning is basically how your audience perceives your
product, service or company. For example, businessmen, engineers and students all
need computers, yet each has a different idea of what computers can do for them.
Advertise a computer to a businessman and you might do better to position it a
management or accounting tool. Students might respond better to an ad showing
computers as a writing and study aid. And engineers would be better persuaded to
buy a computer if you positioned it as a design or research tool. In each case, the
products are the same but the positioning generates the unique appeal for any
given market. And the greater the appeal, the greater the sales. If you've done your
research, your positioning should bring the reader a little closer to your ad and your
Move in to One Ad
We're now going to concentrate on one ad. So pick your favorite one and move in
close enough to read it in comfort. The headline and visual should answer the
question "what's in it for me." If it doesn't do that quickly and effectively, your
audience may gloss over it without ever bothering to read it. Some of the best
salesmen in the world start their pitch with a direct customer benefit--even before
they introduce the product. They've learned that customers want to know right off
what the product can do for them--the big benefit. If your product's benefit is
buried in the body and your main visual is an un-involving product shot or a photo
of earth floating in space, your ad won't go the distance. And the sale will go to
The Revealing Close-up
Ok, time for the close-up: the body copy. It should "payoff' or back up the claim you
made in the headline by forcefully and effectively communicating your product's key
benefits. In essence, you still have to answer the Question "what's in it for me," but
now you have more room to do it. You can be flowery, you can be humorous, you
can even get technical. But you must convince the reader that there is a strong
benefit to be gained in choosing your product over the rest. If you've done a good
job, your ad goes the distance. What's left is what all good salesmen do before they
Close in and Ask for the Order!
For this, you'll have to get in close to the bottom of your ad. Close enough to read
your call to action, which should be short and direct, leaving no doubt in the
reader's mind what to do after reading the ad--call, clip a coupon, circle a bingo
card. It should also be clear as to what the reader can expect to receive--more
information, arrange a demo, have a salesperson call, get a trial sample. The reader
shouldn't have to get too close to read this either (don't put this or your phone
number in fine print). Remember, when a salesperson asks for the order or gives his
or her phone number, it's always loud and confident, never a whisper.
There are obviously many market, demographic and personal factors we haven't
considered. But if you meet the key objectives we've introduced, your audience can't
help but close in on your ad--and your product. And that's what effective
advertising is all about.