The One-Minute Advertising Expert:
How to judge good advertising from bad.

By Keith Warne
President, Warne Marketing & Communications

Some 90% of advertisements are underachievers, according to the United States Institute of Marketing. In fact, "less than 10% of all the advertising appearing in the media are producing close to 40% of the accountable responses" according to Robert C. Steckel, President of the Institute.

The reason according to Whit Hobbes ¹, is that "Too often, there isn't a point. There isn't a direction. Too often advertising…is a habit. Too often the advertisements are there merely to take up space"… or time. "No advertisement should run", Whit said, "unless it has something to say…which means that half the advertising that runs, shouldn't run."

What is advertising?
Actually, good advertising is simply an effective sales presentation. Both depend on the same basic principles. The person who said it best was Fairfax M. Cone in a commentary that first ran in Printer's Ink way back in 1966. (The comments in parentheses are mine).

Headed "Advertising: What Is It?" the commentary stated.

"Advertising is the business, or the art, if you please, of telling someone something that should be important to him. It is substitute for talking to someone. It is the primary requirement of advertising to be clear, clear as to exactly what the proposition is. If it isn't clear, and clear at a glance or a whisper, very few people will take the time or the effort to try to figure it out. The second essential of advertising is that what must be clear must also be important. The proposition must have value. Third, the proposition (the promise) that is both clear and important must also have a personal appeal. It should be beamed at its logical prospects, no one else matters. Fourth, the distinction in good advertising is that it expresses the personality of the advertiser; for a promise is only as good as it maker. (and that's the company - not the account executive, copywriter, or the sales manager). Finally, a good advertisement demands action. It asks for an order, or it exacts a mental pledge. Altogether, these things define a desirable advertisement as one that will command attention but never be offensive. It will be reasonable, but never dull. It will be original, but never self-conscious. It will be imaginative, but never misleading. And because of what it is and what it is not, a properly prepared advertisement will always be convincing and it will make people act."

So now you know the criteria. How do you apply them?
On an individual advertisement basis you first put yourself in the position of your prospect. You judge whether the proposition is direct, clear and important to you, the prospect. Then, reverting to your regular role you determine whether the proposition is presented as your company wants to be presented. Plus whether the advertisement asks for the order. It'' that simple.

Copy research can help if you're in any doubt about how the prospect will respond. It doesn't have to be extensive. As Lasker said: "You don't need a sample of 1,000 to prove that donkeys have two ears. A sample of six will do."

With the adhesives people we listed the five criteria down the side of the page and seven TV commercials across the page. In the grids we asked the representatives to score each commercial from 1 to 10 on the clarity, importance and direct appeal of the commercial, how well it reflected the personality of the company, and how well it asked for the order.

The adhesives folks had no problem rating the commercials.

We asked the swimming pool builders to score 12 advertisements from an issue of Time magazine, on the same criteria. Then we compared scores on a group basis and discussed the scoring. The exercise was far more effective than lecturing them on advertising or showing a bunch of slides. They did indeed become "one-minute advertising experts."

What is advertising?
None of the Cone commentary addresses technique. Obviously, good technique or graphics, supports the presentation of a clear and direct message of importance. If the graphics interfere with the message, reject the advertising.

Following Cone's basic points is no barrier to original, imaginative and effective advertising. As Whit Hobbes said, "There was never an excuse for being dull. Properly targeted advertising has every reason in the world not to be dull, because it is selective. It doesn't try to please everybody…it can be specific; it can be something special to someone special."

"Helpful, informative advertising wins friends," Mr. Hobbes noted. To do so, of course, "it has to loosen up a little…and be friendly. In order to win friends, you have to be friendly", Hobbes concluded. That's something every person knows. Just as they know when a sales presentation is clear and effective. There's nothing different in preparing advertising that sells.

Effective advertising is:

  • Clear as to exactly what the selling proposition is
  • Important to the prospects.
  • Personal in appeal to its logical prospects
  • Commanding of attention.
  • Demanding of action.

¹Whit Hobbes. From a luncheon speech to the Business Marketing Association, when he was Senior Vice-President of Creative Services at Benton and Bowes, New York.

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