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These days, brand teams seem to be so focused on breakthrough creativity that the fundamentals of great advertising are getting lost in the process. If your ads don’t drive specific, useful customer actions, the return on investment isn’t there and the time and money spent becomes a wasted investment.
In addition to the specific criteria I propose you use to evaluate advertising creative, there are some truly fundamental rules of the road that are too easy to overlook. You must have a clear impression or takeaway and you must drive the customer to a specific action that benefits both them and your business.
Unfortunately, many ads out there in the world don’t get the basics right. So, I’m including in this post some examples of these critical fundamentals—advertising tips worth refreshing for any brand manager or director.
THE TWO MOST COMMON MISTAKES IN ADVERTISING CREATIVE
Most brand/product advertisers do one of two things:
- They simply put a description of what they sell (what the product/service is)
- They put everything but the kitchen sink (about 5-10 different benefits)
Below is a fictitious example of typical advertising. I made up this example, but you can apply the concepts in this post to ads for just about any product or service.
Notice that the headline above is a simple description of the service (problem 1), and the advertising “copy” (marketing speak for the actual words, or “copywriting”) is a long list of features and benefits (problem 2).
The result is that the service sounds generic (like any other tax service), and there’s no single, memorable takeaway among the clutter of features/benefits listed.
GOOD ADVERTISING REQUIRES LASER-LIKE FOCUS
When done right, advertising can unlock new audiences and behaviors that help businesses grow. It just takes a little bit of understanding of what makes a good ad.
The most important underlying concept is to focus on something that’s very specific and relevant. Every piece of effective advertising meets the following requirements:
- The ad has one overall main idea, leaving the customer with a clear impression.
- The customer perceives that main idea as a valuable benefit. This means they get a result they want (not the product or service itself).
When creating an ad, you should start with only the most essential elements and build from there. Let’s walk through exactly how to make this happen.
THE TWO MOST ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF AN EFFECTIVE AD
There are two essential advertising tips, no matter how large or small the ad is:
- Benefit-driven Headline—The headline or selling line (a.k.a. tagline) should instantly communicate a single, relevant benefit.
- Call to Action (CTA)—Tell the reader/listener exactly what to do next.
Even the most bare-bones ad can be effective using only the above two components. But if one of them is missing, it’s a killer. There are some exceptions to this rule for brand-building campaigns—they may not have a specific CTA. But, again, that should be the exception and not the rule.
The following examples are not “finished” ads (i.e., not designed). They are merely to illustrate the advertising tips mentioned in this post.
Here’s the Mr. Moneybags ad, re-created as a minimal-yet-effective digital ad:
Notice that the headline has changed from a simple service description to a specific and relevant benefit: get your money back. And, the previously long list of random features is replaced by a single call to action: click here to start.
GO BEYOND THE BASIC ADVERTISING TIPS TO REINFORCE THE MESSAGE
If the basic advertising tips are in place, you can expand to include additional information to help convince the customer to take action. But only do this if space allows, and any new information should not confuse by adding more benefits. Instead, all information in the ad should directly support the original benefit in the headline/selling line.
Here are the two other types of information. These should not replace the headline or call to action. They are in addition to:
- The problem—You can highlight the problem that the product or service resolves for the customer.
The proof—You can provide information that helps prove the benefit to be true. It’s the reason why they should believe what you say. Some examples include data, features and testimonials.
Again, any additional information should support the single, main idea (benefit) you chose in your headline. Here’s the Mr. Moneybags example again, but now expanded to a slightly longer format that could be used as a full-page ad in a print publication:
PRIORITY OF COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Obviously these tips apply to formats where space/time is limited. That includes digital banner, print, shorter TV, etc. If you are creating a long-form ad (e.g., sales page, long-form DRTV, etc.) then you have more flexibility.
I don’t intend to pigeon-hole you into a super-specific ad format that eliminates all creativity. The point is that you need to prioritize clarity of message and customer action. These are fundamental priorities.
It’s great to be creative and have breakthrough ideas, but you still need a screamingly-clear point and takeaway that creates a specific customer action. Without that, you are simply a team of marketers talking to themselves.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow/connect with Kevin on LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.