The most effective ad isn’t about the company placing it – It’s actually about the person reading it. People read copy which promises to deliver something that they want or need. So the best ad positions a customer-focused value-proposition – the want or need it promises to fulfill – prominently and succinctly enough to be absorbed at a glance.
That value proposition is then “anchored” to your brand. The “particulars” including the features of a product, the list of services offered or the credentials of the company are provided only “in support of” the value proposition, and must not be allowed to compromise its impact. Most people have no problem agreeing with this simple principle. We can observe the truth of it by noting our own consumer behavior. And yet when it comes time to create an ad, many people have terrific difficulty observing it in practice. Crowding excessive bullet-point copy, multiple 3rd-party logos (professional-affiliations, co-op suppliers and memberships) with cliché, say-nothing “slogans” into a small display ad nearly guarantees that the value proposition you’re trying to substantiate will be obscured entirely!
The most powerful tool we can bring to the effort of writing effective ad-copy is empathy. Empathizing with an audience of people who don’t yet have any personal experience with you or your company but DO have a realized or unrealized need for your offering will focus your message on that which serves to advance your value proposition – and keep it centered on the prospective customer’s needs. Extraneous material such as family photos, your hobbies and interests, self-focused slogans, acronym-infested jargon with which your audience is unfamiliar are all distractions from your value proposition.
In today’s Facebook culture of narcissism, excessive self-disclosure can find its way into our print-ads under the ostensible guise of “personalizing” our message. It’s a costly error. Extraneous material distracts – and distractions kill impact! But just as distracting are multiple logos depicting professional affiliations, memberships or brands represented. (It’s terrific to get half an ad paid for by co-op, but not if you loose the benefit of the half you’re paying for!) Insure that co-op or other logos don’t undermine the strength of your own message. Unless they are central to the customer-focused value proposition, they probably do more to distract than to support your effort.
In the 23 years I’ve been running ads for small businesses I’ve been obliged to run ads containing all of these unfortunate distractions, many of which have omitted a customer-focused value proposition altogether! In nearly all of these cases, the ad under-performs and is therefore not renewed. So you see, I have a genuine, self-serving interest in helping my advertisers create more effective ad pieces!
Here’s a strategy for creating more effective ads: Picture a member of the audience for this ad sitting in front of you. Frame up his need or want in a way that conveys your full appreciation of what it feels like to have that need or want. (Have you noticed that when you feel a person fully understands a problem you’re facing, you are suddenly more inclined to trust that person to help you with it?) Then tell him in as few words as possible that you can help him meet his need or want. Notice, that when you frame this up as a human interaction, you instinctively follow certain “rules:” You refrain from screaming. You likely refrain from being self-centered in your focus. You convey concern for and understanding of this person’s need. Naturally, you do that first. Then you present your value proposition in a professional manner – one that builds confidence.
All this is quite natural, isn’t it? It should be. Humans are hard-wired to interact appropriately with each other most of the time. So why loose the benefit of eons of instinct when creating something for print? When we approach our print-ads with this same human, customer-focused tone, we create more effective ads. The key is to keep the scope of your print-media display-ad to its primary purpose: To associate a strong, customer-focused value proposition to your brand.