Friday, December 2, 2011

A Rant About Advertising Copy and Design

I’ve spend a good portion of my career in advertising. I was inspired by my father early on. He owned and operated a successful design studio. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some tremendous creative talent in New York, LA, Miami, Raleigh and St. Louis. Along the way, I’ve been a part of efforts to effectively communicate on behalf of cars, toys, frozen food, electronics and more. So I am perhaps more persnickety than most when it comes to evaluating advertising executions.

To give you an idea how I look at the art and craft of advertising allow me to share a critique of a real ad I encountered. It doesn’t matter what the product is – because it is in my judgment an utter failure as a piece of communication. It illustrates a bunch of violations to my own advertising sensibilities.

For starters:
The headline: “ABSOLUTELY THE BEST...PERIOD!” is meaningless puffery with ALL CAPS and Exclamation point! This empty claim in all capital letters with an exclamation point suggests that the speaker is screaming something urgent or important. The capital letters and the punctuation do nothing to reinforce a position, a brand promise or even a reason to read further. I hate ellipses - especially in a headline. It means something is going unsaid. When a copywriter starts using the exclamation point as a crutch, he usually can't stop. Sure enough in this particular ad a lame tag line is offered: “Home of the Brands You Trust!” The tagline has caps too but fewer. Should we assume the speaker is still screaming at us but not as loudly? Is this unsupported puffery less important that the headline puffery?

The body copy: The body copy is not body copy at all, it's catalogue copy. It just describes physical attributes and contents of the product. The copy begins with “Introducing” which is one of my least favorite words in ad copy. If the product is new and exciting you don’t need a drum roll. Phrases that begin "And Now," and "For extreme safety" are poorly structured. (Extreme safety? Really?) Advertising is supposed to offer information and help a prospective consumer differentiate a product. This ad fails again and again.

Logos and Marks: Companies sometimes become overwhelmed by legal issues, such as trade mark infringement and patent encroachments. It can sometimes result in wrecking the chances of telling a story. In the ad, we see no less than 13 registered trademarks. It has no less than nine logos. It might make the lawyers happy, but a page with that many logos and trademarks, is a communication that is crowded with client-directed mandatory elements. It reduces chances of getting a message across. To make matters worse, do we really need the five year warranty mark stamped in the sky?

The ad unit: The ad has too much going on. Most of it offers the reader nothing. Trade publication ads run into thousands of dollars invested. The creative team should be the first to beg for a smarter use of the space.

Product Photography: In this ad the product is shown in a static tabletop shot displaying the parts and pieces. The layout gets further cramped as it looks like the advertiser required an additional image of the product in use (an application shot). The product is for metalworking and offers dramatic sparks while in use. It could have been so much more engaging and dramatic. Unfortunately, the art direction is now completely hopeless. This ad is the quintessential attempt to “put ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag.” Of course, the toll free 800 number and website are included. (Will the people who answer the phone be ready and trained? Will the website really offer added value? Will the communications in those channels be a jumbled as this ad? I wonder.)

So many of these problems would have been avoided with a better process of thinking about the strategy and communication up-front. Responsible creative direction and respect for the reader are keys. The problems are a pretty good indicator that the advertiser is just going through the motions. The agency is just taking directives from the client. There is no fun, no passion and no energy. It’s no wonder advertising is getting a bad rap. It is no wonder that companies are not challenging there agencies to do breakthrough work. It is a shame and a waste of money. Fire the agency. Fire the product manager. Fire the stakeholders. Is everyone is asleep?

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