Advertising, Persuasion

Dear client, no one is really reading your ads.

There. I’ve said it. Sorry.

Before we go on, let me clarify:

I’m talking about the copy, not the headline

And, I admit I’m exaggerating a little.

The copywriter who wrote it has read it, obviously. And our proofreader has checked it for spelling mistakes.

The person who commissioned the ad at your end has read it (and usually re-written it several times too!)

A few of your sales guys and gals have read it (and have pointed out that they would have written it rather differently).

But that’s about it.

So don’t put anything you need people to remember in it, please.

Ads don’t work that way.

They are absorbed, not read.

The copy is there to reassure the viewer (yes, they’re viewers NOT readers) that – were they to feel inclined to read it (which they’re not) – they would find there all the information they need to rationally justify the proposition in the headline that they’ve already absorbed.

Even if it’s a real corker, the headline and concept will usually only sink in gradually, over repeat viewings.

Your proposition will be trusted by a factor of how familiar it is to your audience and how trusted your brand is already.

Key to effective print advertising is a strong creative concept that

a)    Stands out from everything else

b)    Can be unmistakeably attributed to your brand alone

Without these two criteria, your proposition can never save you.

I hope you can nod along to what I’m telling you armed only with your personal experience of interacting with prints ads yourself. If not, we have plenty of data to prove it to you.

So do us all a favour. Try to encourage your people (as we do) to spend slightly more time creating well-branded ideas that really stand out, and slightly less time jamming twenty-seven proof points into the larger and larger copy section.

(NB. People commissioning classified ads, or direct response ads with coupons can ignore all of the above, because different rules apply. So too can people commissioning tube cards or any other print spaces in which your audience can be forced to stare at your ad for ages, because the battery on their electronic hand-held device of choice has run out.)

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Behavioural Economics, Marketing Strategy, Persuasion

When did you stop beating your customers?

I don’t for a moment imagine that the clever and experienced marketing people employed by Britain’s banks have failed to keep up with the latest thinking in behavioural economics. I know quite a few of them and they’re all super sharp cookies.

So I’m really scratching my swede as to why they’re all spending so much money reminding us how shabbily they’ve behaved for the last umpteen years.

 “We’ve changed,” they’re all shouting.

“We’re on your side now,” they’re all bleating.

“We’ll make things simple for you,” they’re all promising.

Virgin Money – who I never really lumped in with the “really-evils” anyway – are promising me “Banking you can see through”.

“I’ve always been able to see through it, matey,” I mutter to myself.

Every penny they spend reminds me about the problem. Every ad they issue makes me question (again) their motives.

And – as is usual in financial services – they’re all doing and saying the same things, reaching for the same solutions, exploiting the same insights, gleaned from the same customers, in the same focus groups, through the same research companies.

And they’re reminding me that banks are all still the same: still shit and still wishing they weren’t.

If you can’t be bothered to read “Thinking Fast & Slow”, I’ll give you something easier to absorb:

  1. Telling people you’ve changed just reminds them what a monster you used to be (people in advertising used to have a name for this phenomenon called, “When did you stop beating your wife?”)
  2. If you must advertise, find something you’re actually good at (perhaps even a little better at than others?) and try and make that thing desirable to the people you’re trying to attract (You may not succeed with everyone, but at least they won’t hate you for standing up for what you do best and trying to have a go)
  3. If there is literally nothing even potentially desirable about the things you do and the people you are, keep your head down, rather than flushing even more of your customers’ and your shareholders’ money down the bog.

As my hero Tom Lehrer once said, “I feel if a person can’t communicate, the very least they can do is to shut up”.

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