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Six Reasons Your Advertising Doesn’t Work

Advertising can be expensive. It can be more expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing, and even more costly if you don’t do any at all. So since you have to do it, let’s make sure that you’re doing it right.

1. Stop trying to be everything to everyone. Quit trying to make shit that everyone likes. You know that one thing you’re selling (if not, read this), you know who your ideal customer is (if not, read this), now make sure that you’re speaking the language of that customer. Focus on pain points – location, customer service, deep expertise – and make the ad mean something to that specific group. Don’t try to appeal to everyone; if you go broad, you’ll fall flat.

 2. Get to the point with what you want. Don’t beat around the bush, because you’re not afforded the luxury of more than a skim of the eyeballs before they’re off to something else. Chances are, you want 1) to show the reader that you’re there to ease their woes, and 2) to provide an exclusive offer to help get those woes eased. Make both of them unmistakenly clear.

3. Make it memorable. There’s nothing more disappointing than some boring stock photo taking up space in an ad. For the ad to work, you MUST evoke emotion. If your headline is boring or generic we won’t remember it. We are drowning in advertising overload so be clever – hell, even polarizing. Your art should get the reader to instantly think “I want to try that!” or “They think like I do – they must now how to help!” And once again, make damn sure it connects ONLY to those you want to attract.

4. Tell the reader why they should choose you over anyone else. Don’t tell me what you offer, where you’re located, or who you are until you’ve told me WHY I should buy from you. McDonald’s famous (and effective) campaign, “You deserve a break today” wasn’t about food. It was aimed at moms – they deserve a break today, so get up and get away – to McDonald’s. The most successful tourism campaign, perhaps in North American history, is Las Vegas’ “What happens here, stays here.” It’s not about what they have (entertainment, gambling) but WHY you would go there over other places.

If McDonald’s had told us, “You deserve a break, so consider heading to McDonald’s sometime,” the ad would have fallen flat. But by telling us, “You deserve a break TODAY (right now), so GET UP AND GET AWAY” (call to action), it became one of the most successful ads in company history. Nothing is worse than “The Best Law Firm in [location]” as the header, then a generic photo (or collage of photos) and then just a website address or phone number. There is no call to action.

5. Neglecting your call to action. Always finish your ad with what you want people to do: “Hurry, this offer ends [date],” or “Visit our website now for…”. People tend to forget about things, even right after they’ve read them. If you’re giving them an immediate next step, your message survives and that reader has come one step closer to reaching out to you.

6. Be persistent. I’ve been preaching this for close to twenty years, but I still see a slew of one-off ads on websites and magazines. Companies that place these one-hit ads have two choices: 1) go ahead and consider it a loss as soon as you send over the artwork, or 2) build some repetition. You’re getting in front of people that have no idea who you are, and no reason to care about who you are. It’s only through repetition that you’re able to become familiar, and only through familiarity that someone will feel the level of comfort in reaching out.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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