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Years ago, the owner of a New York department store said that half of the advertising dollars he spent annually were wasted. He said his problem was that he didn’t know which half. The following video tells you more about the basics of advertising:

Today there is good reason to believe the wasted portion is what a company spends on the creation and production of advertising. We Americans, exposed to millions of dollars worth of advertising daily, hardly remember even the most recent ad we’ve seen.

National audience research annually lists a “Top Ten” of stand-out ads – consigning all the others to unmemorable oblivion. In other words, good ads are one in a million.

Is it that bad? Why does advertising clutter the landscape and abuse our eyes and ears like a pack of screaming monkeys?

We think it is because there is, in place, all across the country, from local media and agencies to New York and Los Angeles conglomerates, a generation of advertising professionals that neglected to learn the basic structure of salesmanship and storytelling in advertising.

We believe there is a classical structure to the successful ad. This has nothing to do with layout or design or production technique but is common to all successful advertising for TV, radio, newspaper, direct mail – all of it. Check out also my review of the book Getting Things Done.

It is possible to make a great ad with a classical structure whether or not you are working with the best agency, the best artist, the best photographer, or the best videographer. However, you can work with the best people in the world and, if your ad has no structure, your ad won’t work and if your relationship doesn’t have any commitment, chances are you won’t be working in the right direction as well.

The classical structure of a successful ad is comparable to a good book, movie or story with an exciting beginning, a compelling middle, and a satisfying ending. For this analogy, we are indebted to Robert McKee, an educator well-versed in the story structure conclusions of Aristotle.
There are three equal pieces of the successful ad structure pie, just as there can be three acts to a Broadway play or a Hollywood movie.

    • Act 1: The Objective. The creator of an ad knows that the advertiser has a product or service to sell that will fulfill the needs of a certain segment of the audience, especially in B2B.
    • Act 2: The Conflict. The creator of an ad knows that there is a value placed on the product or service that will overcome consumer objections to the time, effort and distance required to make a purchase.
    • Act 3: The Ending. The creator of an ad must resolve the conflict and request the appropriate response.

What is important to note here is that this classical structure works precisely because the audience instinctively expects it; anything else confuses the audience and results in less effective advertising that doesn’t sell anything. Many ad developers are self-employed (often not the easiest way to make a decent income) which means their basic interests may be their own rather than yours.

Years ago a journalist asked avant-garde filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, “Surely you agree that a film must have a beginning, middle and an end?” The director of surrealist films replied, “Yes, but not necessarily in that order.”

You’ll note that Godard is today revered as a great artist and not a terrific product pitch craftsman.

But that is exactly the deal. Producing good advertising is a craft, not an art. Like all crafts, there is a set of agreed-upon facts that lead to a successful production. Though there are surely more principles than we will list, herewith are ten ways to be sure your advertising works:

  1. Every ad has a protagonist – that is, someone who is in charge. The ad’s audience already knows that the advertiser wishes to provoke a favorable response. In an ad, the protagonist-advertiser is in charge of the sales effort. No outside force can come between the protagonist-advertiser and the audience. Therefore, only the advertiser can affect the audience’s comprehension of the message.
  2. Every good ad features an advertiser presenting a conflict to the audience. Advertising conflicts include price against value, convenience against distance, and consumer loyalty to another brand against consumer desire for change. This is the Power of Reflection. Advertisers naturally face competition in the marketplace. The volume and quality of the audience that decides to turn into purchasers are wholly dependent upon how the advertiser deals with competition (aggressively, or, less successfully, passively or reactively).
  3. Brevity is everything. Extraneous words and activity (visual or otherwise) are absolute dead ends that the audience will rebel against by changing channels, turning the page, or worse, developing a bad opinion of the advertiser.
  4. Never lie. Ever. Why? Because, as Richard Nixon famously said, it’s wrong, that’s for sure. Read also: Self-acceptance vs Self-improvement.
  5. Respect the audience. Audiences understand that complexity can be a good thing but that complications are not. Overcoming audience objections about the difficulty you are presenting – getting out of the chair and purchasing – is hard work. Fortunately, most audiences today are pretty sophisticated and want to know how things work. If you are selling cookies, show someone enjoying a cookie. The audience will appreciate it.
  6. If you are creating an ad for an advertiser, get to know the advertiser as well as you know yourself. So how do you spot Native Advertising?
  7. As stated previously, good ads have a beginning, middle, and end. The audience wants to know why they should pay attention to your ad, and so you must offer an exciting reason right at the beginning. As your ad progresses, you must reassure the audience with a compelling reason why their time is being well spent. By the time your audience finishes with your ad, they should be fully aware of the subsequent actions you expect from them and pleased that they took the time to pay attention. It’s about technology ventures and media.
  8. Every good ad has subtext. This is one of the most important – and usually forfeited – aspects of good advertising. There is something behind every good ad that brings out shared emotions in the audience. This is called subtext. It’s the purely irrational, emotional connection between the advertiser and the audience. It comes to the creator of the ad by knowing the advertiser inside and out.
  9. Nothing improves an ad better than the constant questioning of its meaning at every stage of its development.
  10. Finally, every good ad ends by asking for the sale. Then it asks again. Then it begs. Remember not to micromanage your creativity!

If, as the philosopher Norman Douglas said, you can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements, it is possible that the great audience out there understands the ideals of advertisers through the ads we make. When it comes to social media and business, the rules haven’t changed, also not for small business entrepreneurs who think they may need an MBA to be successful. Employing classic structure, creators of advertising can increase response and sales by making advertisers’ ideas, ideals and objectives resonate.