How Bad Advertising Happens to Good Companies

From Nutrition Industry Executive, February 2006 Issue
By Jeff Hilton, Integrated Marketing Group, 2006

Whenever I have a few moments to spare, usually on an airplane, I look through industry trade and consumer magazines. Yes I read the articles, but often I just look at the ads. I consider myself to be a student of advertising, and I enjoy studying it from both a strategic and a creative perspective. So I pick out an ad and try to back into the creative strategy that the Client had in mind when they and/or their agency developed it. Sometimes it’s clear and the strategy is obvious. Other times the key selling message is confusing and clouded. And occasionally it seems impossible to decipher what the company was trying to communicate at all. Of course I realize that this process is subjective, but after 30 years of either being a Client or working with them, it has become increasingly clear to me how easy it is for company decision makers to get “too close” to the process and begin creating advertising that speaks primarily to themselves and not really to the target customer.

It happens. It’s easy to fall into it. And I’ve done it myself. But I have learned that there is a certain “detachment” that is required in the development of powerful and effective advertising. Good companies need a third party perspective to help separate hype from fact and identify what really moves the target audience to action. That objective voice can come from market research, from outside consultants, or your peers. But it is necessary in order to focus the creative strategy and develop clear and relevant messaging.

Allow me, if you will, to share several ideas which may help you to avoid becoming too myopic in the development of your advertising messages.

Ask Yourself Who Cares. When your salespeople go out to make a call, they have a short time in front of the prospect to make the sale. Your advertising works the same way, except you have even less time to get their attention. The average reader or viewer spends 2-3 seconds scanning your ad to determine potential interest. In that brief time you can entice them, bore them or scare them off. The key is to draw in your audience with a key selling proposition that is both important and relevant to them. Work hard to determine what that message is. I’m not talking about what matters to you, but rather what the customer wants. When you review advertising copy, ask yourself who cares about this. If the answer is just you, then start over.

Restrain Yourself. Most of us like to talk about ourselves. But make sure someone is listening. Just as your Uncle Tony went on and on about his kids at the Christmas party, your advertising can also drone on and on about your products and lose audience interest. It’s important to keep in mind what advertising is designed to accomplish, vis a vis other selling tools in your arsenal. Don’t expect an ad to accomplish what a brochure is intended to do. They are complimentary marketing tools that serve entirely different purposes. If your product story is long and involved, and requires extensive demonstration, consider the correct medium for that message. Maybe you need a magazine insert or an infomercial. Perhaps a sales brochure would be best. Advertising is most effective when used to create awareness and persuade through a single, focused selling proposition. Consider its strengths and use it accordingly.

Seek Out Third Party Perspective. Every company with market leadership aspirations should find a way to stay connected to the customer, whether through market research tools like internet surveys or focus groups,, or through established sales and distribution channels. This vital link provides a healthy distance from your day-to-day business and clearer perspective on what your marketing messages should communicate. This connection does not have to be expensive and can be informally structured, but it is critical to your success. Make sure someone besides you is providing input about advertising strategy and execution. Otherwise you may just end up talking to yourself.

Avoid Advertising by Committee. Does this sound like I am contradicting what I just said. Not really. Inviting input is vital, but then ultimately someone has to make the call on advertising copy and visuals. The problems occur when a group of individuals is asked to determine the final content of an ad. Usually everyone has suggestions, primarily because they were asked, and the result of including everyone’s input is a “dog’s breakfast” of strategies and messages that looks like parts of three or four different approaches. The point is for the team leader to listen and then evaluate and discern. Throw out the bad ideas and implement what is valuable. Ultimately, one person should have responsibility for advertising content and execution. That doesn’t mean they don’t gather feedback and listen to the marketplace. It just means that someone has to be accountable.

Case in Point. IMG recently worked on a trade advertising campaign for ForsLean®, the branded weight loss ingredient distributed through Sabinsa Corporation. The research and evidence demonstrated it’s unique ability to increase lean body mass while reducing stored body fat. Quite a departure from what their competitors were saying. The ad shown here effectively communicates in a graphic and memorable way the unique philosophy of ForsLean, and generated tremendous response for the Client. Todd Norton at Sabinsa guided this effort and let us take a risk that paid off.

Bad advertising can happen to good companies. Fortunately, it’s not a terminal condition. By inviting outside input and communicating what is both relevant and important to the customer, your advertising can reach new heights and generate increased response.

Integrated Marketing Group

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