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  • Writer's pictureDr. Gary Witt

Tips From Advertising Pros

Pictures often grab attention, but fail in their other duties to the ad.

Marketing Psychology, Inc.

Marketing and Sales From the Inside Out

Gary Witt, Ph.D.

Most companies advertise, but many ads are launched on a wing and a prayer, with little idea of how well they will pull in customers. That’s true whether you do it yourself or use an agency, although your odds are better with professional help.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get some advice about your ads from the pros who are icons in the advertising industry, those folks whose ideas are still studied in college advertising classrooms worldwide?

While many of them are retired or no longer living, their books and interviews remain a constant source of good ideas. A summary of their advice might read, “Advertising is selling, not entertainment. Have something good to sell,and sell it well.” Of course, it’s the execution that counts, so let’s look at some of their good advice and how you can use it to sell well.


“Advertising says to people, ‘Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it.” – Leo Burnett.

Too often ads will nail the first and third parts of Mr. Burnett’s advice, but be woefully lacking on the second. People buy to satisfy some personal motivations. An ad should tell customers what the features will do for them. Every ad must answer the reader’s underlying question: “What’s in it for me?”

“If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.” – William Bernbach

Company executives are constantly focused on their products so it is easy to unconsciously overestimate the inherent interest their products have to the buying public. Think how much more interested a new parent is in showing you her baby’s pictures than you are in seeing 20 of them!

Every day customers’ eyeballs skip right by hundreds of ad that company executives were sure would grab their attention! We all pause momentarily at dozens of ads, but move on when they give us no immediate reason to stay. Staying power is found in the ad’s picture and headline.

The headline is the most important element of an ad. It must offer a promise to the reader of a believable benefit. And it must be phrased in a way to give it memory value.” -- Morris Hite

People almost always look at a picture before reading a headline, so a great picture is critical – if it will push people into reading your headline. A good headline will grab attention, suggest a benefit readers want, create a memorable idea, and lead them to read the rest of the ad. But if the picture does not stop them, they’ll never even read the headline. And if the headline is not strong, they won’t read the body copy.

Baby clothing manufacturer HealthTex ran a great print ad of a smiling baby under the headline “When you’re bald and toothless, you’d better wear cute clothes.” The baby grabbed readers’ attention, then the headline made them smile while promising something all new parents want, so they read the ad copy.

Whatever you do, don’t neglect your headline. Some research shows that a change in headline alone can boost return rates from five to ten times!

“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.” -- David Ogilvy

Advertisers are often caught in a dilemma. They must grab attention, but the product itself is not very interesting. So they try to create a beautiful ad to attract attention, or turn the ad into a mini-film with a storyline.

Sometimes these work, like Nestle, which sold more instant coffee after two attractive apartment singles on a series of TV ads met while borrowing Tasters Choice. Others don’t. Like Miller Brewing Company’s series of creative, off-the-wall TV ads by a fictitious advertiser named Dick which actually led to a decline in sales despite millions spent on the ads (don’t remember it? See?)

A good rule of thumb for small advertisers is that 80% of the ad should be focused on what you’re selling, how it will benefit customers, and where to find it. Entertainment in the service of sales is fine, but keep in mind that singing squirrels don’t sell widgets unless they’re singing about benefits! Remember the great Alka Seltzer song lyric, “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, Oh, what a relief it is!”? Focus your ad’s entertainment on product benefits, not just on making people smile.

We’ll close with quotations from two famous Englishmen outside advertising that put all this in a human perspective.

Winston Churchill wrote, “Advertising nourishes the consuming power of men. It sets up before a man a goal of a better home, better clothing, better food for himself and his family. It spurs individual exertion and greater production."

And Samuel Johnson concluded, “Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.”

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