Creating Advertising That Does a Better Job of Selling

03/02/2015 01:38 pm ET | Updated May 02, 2015
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When you look at the data, you find that much of the advertising that is done is not just mediocre ¬- it doesn't work. When I make this statement to my clients and students at the beginning of an engagement or course, they don't believe me. They can't believe that companies - especially the big well-known ones - would spend so much money on a business activity that is not effective. They assume that high-paid marketing executives....

  1. Know how to create or approve effective ad content,
  2. Are able to determine what is good and bad,
  3. Have mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of their marketing communications.

Unfortunately, when you peel back the onion, you find that these assumptions are too often wrong.

Some data

According to a study by Insights One as reported by Media Post's Center for Media Research, "Americans Are Fed Up With Bad Ads (with) 87 percent of American adults 18 and over are putting their foot down on the number of irrelevant ads they are willing to see before they ignore a company completely." This latest data is not a vote of confidence for ad performance.

What about Super Bowl Ads?

Companies spent $4.5 million for a 30-second commercial on the 2015 Super Bowl. Surely, they have to be effective. They reach an audience of about 110 million, and a lot of resources are spent on them. Year after year, the data shows that they are not effective in selling the products advertised. In fact, many cannot even remember the products advertised.

CMO tenure is half that of CEOs

While the average tenure of CMOs has trended upward from 23.2 months in 2006 45 months in 2014, it still quite low - only half that of the average for the CEO. As those who have been in executive positions know, it often takes that long to figure out if their marketing campaigns are working. And the available data shows us that they are not working very well. Additionally, the reasons for the upward trend since 2006 are not related to better ad content, but to (1) the economic downturn in 2008 and the (2) increased complexity of marketing programs that incorporate social and digital media (which most executives admit they still don't understand). In other words, these became good excuses for giving CMOs some more slack.

Measuring ad performance is still wanting

In his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy (the adman that many claim is the model for the Don Draper character in Mad Men) quoted Stanley Resor, the head of J. Walter Thompson for 45 years as saying,

"Every year we spend hundreds of millions of dollars of our clients' money. At the end of it, what do we know? Nothing."

Not much has changed since then. Most marketing content is void of mechanisms for measuring performance. Just look at any ad in a magazine or commercial on TV. Few if any have any mechanism or code to attempt to measure the effectiveness of the communication. As an ad agency executive told me, "Our focus is on selling clients to hire and retain us - not on selling their products." Everyone has been talking about ad metrics for eons, but the direct and digital marketers seem to be the only ones that are incorporating performance metrics in any meaningful and comprehensive way.

Seven steps for creating a more successful marketing communication

During the Golden Age of advertising, there were a good number of people in the marketing business that knew what they were doing. Some of them had an innate understanding of the triggers that sell people, such as Shirley Polykoff and Bill Bernbach. Others, such as David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves and John Caples, developed a methodology and catalogued what works and what doesn't. To create advertising that sells, the following steps are bound to help.

  1. Headline. On average, five times as many people (83.3%) read the headlines as read the body copy. Therefore the main points, expressed as benefits, should be in the headline. To help insure that the target audience reads the headline and finds out where they can buy the product, the headline should also "hook" or grab the reader so they do not turn the page, click the next link, or switch channels.
  2. Body Text. The Body Text should provide more information and details for those that are interested to find out more about the product and company. Since only 16.7%, on average, get to this point, marketers should not rely on people reading the body text. Even if most people do not read the body text, it is important because it makes the product seem more important, and it helps to pre-sell the benefits of product to those that bother to read it.
  3. Close. The Close should (1) Solicit a Buying Action (i.e. visit a Web site, return a business reply card, come in for a test drive), (2) Tie-in with the Headline (repeat the benefits), (3) End the communication, and (4) Contain a Marketing Information System code so the success of the communication can be measured when people respond (unique URL for Web visitors, unique phone extension for callers, and other unique code for those that visit a store or return a business reply card).
  4. Photo and Graphic Elements. These should help to communicate the main unique benefits, be visually compelling, show the product looking as good as possible, sometimes function as a size reference, help to break up the Body Text into bite-sized pieces, and show before and after examples if appropriate.
  5. Format. The Format should make it easy for busy or lazy members of the target audience to pick out and remember the main unique benefits of the communication without forcing them to read, listen to, or watch the entire communication.
  6. Signature. The Signature (which typically includes the name, logo and slogan) should brand the communication and further the relationship between the target audience, the product, and the company so the prospect is more comfortable buying.
  7. Everything Else. Good models have no more than 7 elements so this section includes the other considerations that may be important to your communication, such as design, color, fonts, size, shapes, selling psychology, empirical results, and putting the "WOW" into the communication so it will be better remembered and sell more effectively.

To give you an idea how this model can be applied to creating marketing communications, I have included a couple of successful communications I created for clients. The first is an ad I did for Qiagen (a former client in Germany) that won a response award from Science Magazine. The second is an ad I did for the security software division of Hewlett-Packard.

How might you apply this model to creating successful marketing communications for your organization?

When good ads will outnumber the bad

In the increasingly complex world of marketing and business, two major things have to happen for more ads to be good than bad. Marketers have to do a better job of knowing what they are doing and selling their bosses that they know what they are doing. And, CEOs have to do a better job of understanding marketing and how important it is to the success of the business in order to properly hire, evaluate, and promote the marketers in their organization. When that happens I can retire.