Have you ever questioned what to do on Google’s home page? Probably not. When you visit the site, you see a big logo and a field to type your search criteria. The message is clear: Welcome to Google. Type your search here.
Crafting content for a piece of advertising is easy. Say what you want to sell. Name the product. Set a price. Add a “regular” price to illustrate how good of a deal it is. Put any exclusions or disclaimers at the bottom, if necessary. Add your catchy tagline that commands our audience’s ever-shortening attention span to stop and read. Add some call to action aaaand you’re done! Legions of clients enjoy this as a perk of being the owner/decision maker and many are suited for it. Some, not so much.
Messages can take many forms. Some sail, make the reader or viewer feel like this is something they needed but never knew it before now. Some can make the reader relate through a well-executed series of images and words that tell an endearing anecdote. They can also be a clever turn of phrase, crafted with a double meaning. Some can align with your immediate needs, like an auto dealership having a weekend sale. They can simply be relevant to the reader. Or, some say it with no words at all. Messages are what you make them, and are the most critical part of the creative endeavor.
In the two decades I’ve been making advertising there have been many messages passed across my laminate-surfaced desk. Some great, some not.
What everyone wants is a dynamic, fruitful, always-interesting series of advertising. Its excitement garners the viewers’ attention and sets in their mind your business as a place to stop next time they venture out of the house. Whatever the trade or product, a clear well-crafted message is essential.
So what’s the trick? How does a business advertise its wares effectively?
Less is more, I say.
There are many good articles out there on the subject, like this one from Mike Coleman where he makes a case for using less content to focus on the message. Readers spend very little time on any given ad so you need to create a place for them to stop. To accomplish this you will need to use more than words:
Colors. This gets overlooked or worse, completely misunderstood. Colors can be used to create the mood of the piece. Again, let’s use a car dealer as an example. They want excitement and motivation and commonly use primary colors like reds and yellows in their ads. The colors will be used in spectacular fashion, splashing in the background or jumping at you in bursts. These colors used together will generate a sense of action in the reader. Going the other direction, a lawn and landscaping company would use more organic hues, olives, oranges, burgundies and pale yellows to generate a more “garden” feeling. Flowers could be used as a kinder, gentler substitute for a burst, etc. You get the picture.
Fonts. Sometimes a no-brainer, but the right selection is no less important in crafting a message. You wouldn’t use a cutting-edge modern font for a Wild West Review, right? Right?
Images. The right image can compel the reader to see the relevance. The right image can tell the story, allowing the copy to convey the deeper meaning and making the entire package powerful. Proper image selection is your best chance at creating a stopping point for the reader.
Ads are not cargo ships
Above all, your advertising message has to make sense as a package. What I haven’t mentioned up ‘til now is white space. Effective use of white space will win out over the same space being filled to the bursting point. Why? White space is easier to read. It’s that simple. Have you ever driven by a construction site and wondered what’s being built there? Then, seeing the sign you still didn’t know because you couldn’t read all of it in time? It’s the same principle. It’s essential advertisers understand their audience or readers will pass them by. Many ads get over-stuffed in hopes of “getting their money’s worth” out of the ad or, for fear of missing that one sale because something was left out of the ad. It’s easy to make this mistake. Many will try to explain everything about their product or service because they believe in it. Ultimately, the message gets muddled. What are they saying? We got all this stuff for sale! The reader’s answer is clear too. Yeah, so? Ads are not spaces to load copy like cargo. Unlike a cargo ship, treating ad space like this will not take you anywhere.
Creating effective advertising messages. Some good points to follow:
- Be original and clear. In today’s world we’re overloaded with messages. Yours does not have to be part of the cacophony of noise out in the markets today. New trends are tempting and may drive sales in the short run but not all are good matches for your brand and your consumers.
- Be relevant. Know your audience and craft your message to resonate with them.
- Be open to new ideas. Creative teams are paid for this very thing. It’s their job to know your audience and give you a fresh take on how your brand can reach consumers. Listen to them.
- Fully disclose the costs. Coming out of the recession, people are mindful of how much they’re spending and what they’re buying. ‘Transparent’ advertising can deliver a message of value and build trust.
- Be consistent and flexible in delivering your message across a variety of ad mediums. So many times we see clients who have ‘a guy’ for web ads and another for print, with no creative connection to each other. It’s best to work with an organization that can deliver consistency across all the mediums you need to be in.
- Break the rules. What you did yesterday has a tendency to become the rule. Don’t make rules for the message. Build guidelines, but cast rules aside. They won’t help your company or brand grow.
"The secret to our enduring brand lies in delivering an experience rather than just a collection of products and services." — Harley-Davidson Annual Report