Category Archives: Art direction & design

Sometimes a whisper is louder than a scream

It seems that, in order to be heard above the mindless racket that passes for TV adverting these days, advertisers are becoming more and more hysterical in their approach.

The grotesque “You’re so Money Supermarket” dancers and the once slightly wittier but now just brash and crass “Go Compare” executions are just two examples of what their creators would no-doubt declare as ‘ironic’ advertising. Actually, it’s just boorish shouting.

What is actually ironic, is that often you get more attention on the telly when you whisper instead of scream.

There was a striking black and white ad for Adele’s latest outing just before christmas, for example. In virtual silence, it focused on her eyes, which then opened to striking and memorable effect. It stood out like a sore thumb amongst the stampede of not-funny, screeching nonsense that surrounded it.

And now there’s another example of a TV ad that stops you in your tracks, grabs your attention and keeps it for the duration of its sell. (You know, the stuff ads are supposed to do.)

It’s basically just a still screen showing text messages popping up on a mobile. The only sound is the gentle beep as the latest message arrives. You have to read each one. No voice over to help you.

It’s utterly captivating and, like the Adele ad, is an oasis of communicative calm in the maelstrom of nonsense we’re so used to being assaulted by.

So, well done

The same principle applies in press and online too. Shout loudly “I AM AN AD PLEASE READ ME”, and you’re actually saying “I AM AN AD. YOU SHOULD IGNORE ME IMMEDIATELY”.

Make your ad look like editorial, however, and you’ll get that extra nano-second of attention that allows your message (if it’s clear enough, and offers a benefit) to be more clocked by your target. Suddenly your ad starts to do its job.

There’s a reason that so many online advertisers use those tacky click-bait executions (universally sneered at by hipster, bearded advertising types) rather than ‘creative’ banners. They test one against the other.

And the editorial-style click-bait ones work better. Simple.

Why Apple’s 2015 website feels like a classic 50s direct response letter

1930s Man Newspaper Reporter Wearing Hat Typing Smoking Cigar

I was chatting to Paul Lindsell, Creative Director of the excellent Space01 agency, yesterday and he was telling me how he’s banned his website team from using Lorem Ipsum when they’re putting a new site together. (Lorem Ipsum is the pretend latin type that we use to show where words go on a rough layout.)

Why? Because if they’re using Lorem Ipsum  it means the team aren’t focusing on the site’s messaging. They’re only focusing on the design. So he insists they use real customer-facing copy propositions at all times to ensure that the communications hierarchy is in place right from the start. The don’t have to insert finally crafted headlines at this stage, but they have to be in the ballpark.

This is a great idea.

Far too many sites are driven by design and technological or navigation considerations rather than by the clients’ marketing and communications objectives. Let’s have a slider, they’re groovy! Let’s have the main navigation at the side rather than the top! Cool! What are the headlines going to say? Who cares! It’s just content! Woohoo!

I really, really wish I was exaggerating here.

And it’s this aspect of website creation, more than anything else, that separates the men from the boys in the digital world.

The real smart operators understand that a website is no different from any other marketing medium.

It has to offer the visitor a clear hierarchy of benefits from the moment they land – be useful, solve problems, offer a deal, give advice. And so on.

And that’s one of the reasons that, quite remarkably, the most successful websites are starting to resemble old-fashioned direct response marketing pieces. No, really…

The Apple site is a perfect example.

I was reading up on their new Photos app, that’s replacing its current iPhoto offering (hooray!). The page is put together in a way that’s spookily reminiscent of a classic direct mail letter that could have been written in the 1950s…

It starts with a clear benefit-led headline and follows up with paragraph after paragraph leading with secondary benefits, supported by explanatory copy, relevant pictures and live interactive examples. All there on the page. No links away.

They even use what I call classic ‘You can…’ headlines:

Make an edit

Perfect your best shots

Take control of the finest details

What’s more, because everyone with a proper direct response background knows that the worst thing you can do is make your marketing look like advertising, the page is designed to look and feel like editorial.

Because there are no links away, you start at the top and read to the end; convinced you want the product. And, guess what, there’s the call to action, right at the bottom, just like on that 50s DM letter. Complete with Act Right Now message – Start using Photos on your Mac today –  and the only link on the page, naturally taking you to the App Store.

Warms the cockles of a direct response copywriter’s heart.

Here’s the page: Apple Photos

 

Why you shouldn’t have a black and white website.

bw3

I keep seeing them. Business to business websites that exclusively use black and white photography.

Bad website designers do it because they think it’s business innit, so it’s, oh, you know, serious.

(Forgive them, they know no better.)

So they use wishy-washy black and white images. Often library shots of cityscapes, or implausibly beautiful models sitting in glass-filled meeting rooms and wearing designer glasses that are meant to signify “I am a business person”. Or moody shots of clouds.

What these shots actually say is:  “I am not a real person. This is not our office. We couldn’t be bothered to get some decent shots of our own people or premises.”

The designer then compounds the error by siting these terrible shots on pale blue backgrounds with grey type.

And, my god, are they dull.

And they’re everywhere. Please don’t do it.

The rules for designing a B2B website aren’t any different from those for a consumer website. Some folks, who measure this stuff, reckon you have around 8 seconds to hook your visitor into staying. And that means you need compelling headlines, beautifully persuasive and engaging copy, and attractive eye-catching imagery.

Whatever it is you’re selling.

Yonks ago, when I was Promotion Director for The Reader’s Digest, we used to test everything. Not just the promotion end of things where we literally tested a change of sentence in body copy, a change of word in terms and conditions.

But in product development too. If a new book was on the cards, for example, we’d test dozens of covers, titles, page layouts, prices…you name it.

And what we saw, time after time, is that ordinary punters hate black and white pictures. They see it as cheap. And boring.

Designers often see it as edgy. Or slick. And sometimes it is if you really know what you’re doing, and you use the Very Best photographers.

But most of the time it’s just plain old dull-as-dishwater.

As cold and uninviting as a dead halibut in a city gutter.

 

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

dalipic

A picture, so it’s said, paints a thousand words. And certainly, in some contexts, this is true. In particular, a powerful news image can tell you a story instantly. In a film or tv drama, the whole purpose of the exercise is, as any screenwriter will tell you, to tell a story using pictures.

But is it true in marketing and advertising?

Take a look at the average website and you’d certainly think so. Big images, big sliders, hardly any copy. (And often the copy is small, discreet, pale grey reversed out of red or something.) They often look amazingly cool and groovy and are often produced by amazingly cool and groovy people in amazingly cool and groovy offices.

But do they work to sell your stuff?

Mention the word ‘sell’ to a typical web designer and you’ll see a look of utter incomprehension enter his eyes. You’ll hear a sharp intake of breath at the very suggestion that his art might be sullied for mere commercial gain.

I exaggerate of course. But, in my experience, the truth is closer to this than many marketeers and company owners might like to think.

So let’s just remind ourselves what websites, edm and all the rest are really for.

They’re to get people to want to buy your products or services. Or, at the very least, to get people to find out about your products or services and move them a little way towards a buying decision.

Now I realise at this point that some of you (and maybe a lot of you) will be saying “Oh no, it’s to build our brand”.

That’s because, to repeat myself from previous posts, there is a very odd and utterly misguided viewpoint that’s very current amongst many marketing folk. And that’s the belief that ‘you build a brand and then people will try your products’.

This is utter tosh. The truth is actually almost the complete opposite: getting people to try your products is what builds your brand.

And you get people to try your product by telling them how great it is. And giving them all sorts of practical and emotional REASONS why they should try it. Once they engage with your product they’ll form a view about your brand.

This is really, really important.

There are small design groups (and big expensive agencies) all over the world who have completely lost track of this most basic marketing truth.

If nobody buys your stuff you don’t HAVE a brand. You have a corporate ID. A nice logo and some whizzy graphics. (And a website that’s all cool and groovy images.)

You might call that a brand, but it’s a long, long way from being a brand. A brand is created in your customer’s mind, not on a designer’s Mac.

It’s created by her experience of everything about your product. The price, your service, how well your product meets her needs, whether it’s trendy and so on, and so on.

Sadly, building a whizzy website with cool photography and whizzy graphics is far, far easier than creating a powerful marketing and advertising strategy that goes to the heart of your target audience’s practical needs and emotional mindset.

There’s real graft involved in tearing your marketplace to shreds to identify your real USP. There’s lots of time involved in researching your customers until you’re sick of listening to them.

It takes clever creative people to write engaging and dramatic headlines that will stop customers in their tracks and pull them into the detail.

This is why your website needs to be driven by a coherent marketing and communications strategy. It needs, just like a tv ad, to be utterly clear about what unique benefits you’re offering your customers. It needs to give them lots of reasons why they should give your product or try.

And unless you’re selling fashion items where the picture does most of the work, or you’re a pure online retailer like Amazon where people simply go to buy at the best price, this means writing some great copy.

Some powerful, benefit driven headlines. Some well-crafted engaging body copy that draws the reader in, drives her towards a sale.

And perhaps a little video that lets you explain and perhaps demonstrate what your product or service is all about. (Plus, of course, great pics of your products or service or your team or your customers. Don’t use library shots if you can possibly avoid it.)

Remember, any advertising, be it your website, your radio ads or your 48 sheet poster, is only there because you can’t talk to all your customers face to face. 

PS I have deliberately avoided the topic of search engine optimisation in this post. It goes without saying that your customer has to find your site before she can read it. Don’t be misled, however, into thinking your web developer’s job is done just because your new site has leapt up the Google rankings. It’s a common, and dangerous, error.

 

 

 

And now everybody scrolls

monkey

You have to laugh.

This blog is entitled Nobody Scrolls as an ironic reference to the fact that when I started it, everyone who claimed to be an internet marketing expert told you that Nobody Scrolls.

This was a couple of years ago. But now, these same, ahem, experts will tell you that you have to use the latest, ahem ahem, ‘best practice’ website structure which is entirely based on the concept of scrolling.

You’re doubtless familiar with the current fashion. It involves a large image section at the top of the page, often with two or three ‘sliders’ which sometimes change this image automatically. (I find these very annoying, personally. You may not.)

Below this, you find a succession of pages stacked on top of each other which you are obliged to scroll down. Sometimes these go on for several feet. Scrolltastic!

Launchbar is a small add-on application for Apple’s Mavericks operating system and is a perfect example of this kind of website. It actually works quite well.  Have a look when you’ve finished reading this post. http://www.obdev.at/products/launchbar/index.html

(Note how I didn’t include a  link here. Links make people leave your page. Two years ago every self-styled web expert would say nobody scrolls, fill your site with links.)

So clearly something has changed out there, to make all the gurus change their tune completely?

And of course the thing that has changed is not our web-browsing habits, it’s not the way the world uses its computers. It’s not that we’ve all suddenly fallen in love with scrolling (because we all loved scrolling already).

What has changed is the technology used to build the pages. The propellorheads who are still mostly in control of web design and development have now decided that this format is the way to go, so everyone is following sheep-like with big sliders, stacked pages and, bless-em, parallax scrolling (where a layer of type or imagery moves in relation to the background as you scroll).

And this technology-driven shift is post-rationalised as being driven by communications considerations.

It ain’t. It’s nothing but fashion, folks.

And until web design and edm management is dragged into the hands of properly trained designers and copywriters, fashion will continue to drive how our websites and edm look.

Having said that, the new ‘rules’ are a lot better than the old rules and many sites are now doing a pretty good job, like the site mentioned above. Apple continues to be a paragon of clarity. And the BBC.

Naturally, if you’re trying to sell direct off your site, you learn really quickly what works and what doesn’t. Amazon and John Lewis are perfect examples. It’s no coincidence they’re massively successful.

But until the rest of the world wakes up and sees web design as a words-driven medium, as Apple, BBC and Amazon do, just like any other form of marketing communication, we’re stuck with silly over-designed sites that simply follow the flavour-of-the-month formats which are based entirely on how pretty they look.

And not at all on how effectively they tell your story.

 

 

Sometimes it’s clever not to be clever

I love the John Lewis press ads. They’re a perfect demonstration of my mantra that ‘what you say is always more important than how you say it’.

They simply state the offer, in ordinary, everyday words. They show a beautiful photo of the product concerned and rely on elegant typography and a standard layout format to carry the John Lewis brand message.

They don’t try and do a clever headline to impress their mates or try and win awards. If the proposition is ‘Get three years’ free guarantee on all Apple Macs if you buy before June 31′, that’s what the headline says.

I’m sure many advertising creatives would consider these ads ‘uncreative’ for being so straight forward. And many clients think that they’re not getting their money’s worth from their agency unless each ad has a pun and ‘an idea’.

They’re both wrong.

The creators (and brave client) responsible for these ads know that, as with editorial, it’s the content of your message that counts, not the typeface it’s written in. And that’s what makes these ads miles cleverer than the rest of the dross that passes for advertising these days.

Inserts: It doesn’t matter what your message is if nobody can read it.

Because I’m in the business of writing and designing inserts, amongst other things, I look at inserts.  Whereas most normal people shake them straight into the bin.

Which is why an insert has to be very, very eye-catching: very instant with its messaging. It needs to say STOP! LOOK AT ME! DON’T BIN ME I’VE GOT SOMETHING INTERESTING FOR YOU! Arguably even more than the regular advertising in the paper it comes in.

An insert flopped out of my newspaper on Saturday.

It was green. Very green. It was an A5 single page flyer, printed both sides. Green all over.  A sort of appley mid-green. There were some line illustrations on the front which were white (reversed-out is the jargon phrase).  And therefore very hard to see.

The main headline was also white. And therefore also virtually invisible. (Perhaps just as well as we’ll see in a second, it was so terrible.)

On the back was the body copy. White. In a sans face. Utterly impossible to read.

The whole thing was so recessive, so technically incompetent that it made me angry for the poor client who bought this appalling example of design.

The client was something called Mylawyer.co.uk. So let’s look at what mylawyer.co.uk had to say.

Main headline: Everyday legal services – what you don’t need.

Question one, pens ready please. What the hell is an everyday legal service? Who uses legal services every day apart from the police? You use legal services once in a blue moon when you’re buying a house, writing a will, divorcing your husband.

Question two: why are you telling me what I DON’T need? You’ve got a nano-second to tell me why I should read this green monstrosity. So tell me what you’re offering me! And just in case I don’t know what ‘outrageous hourly fees’ means you show me a picture of clock. Apparently I don’t need expensive premises either. So you show me a picture of, er, a picture.

Onto the back. The headline is: What you do need. Now, one of the tried and tested techniques for inserts is to make sure that the main proposition, the main offer, is clearly visible front and back because you don’t know which way it will fall out of the publication.

This one fails in this respect because if it lands backside-up I’ve no idea what’s being offered to me. I’m told I need a Computer. Some tea/coffee (Optional). Be still my quaking sides. And a Phone. But not what I might need them for.

The body copy starts with “If you’re shopping for everyday legal services…” Finally, a bit of a clue. (But of course most people will not have got this far.) The authors clearly love this phrase. The fact that we have no idea what it means has whizzed over their bewigged heads.

After much waffling, no sub-heads to help us, it gets to the point. “We’re an online service which means you don’t even have to leave home to deal with legal matters such as wills, powers of attorney and a wide range of other issues which we can’t be bothered to mention.” (I made that last bit up.)

So it’s actually quite an interesting service. Cheap lawyers online for your less complicated legal needs like wills. But the vast majority of people will never know what they’re missing because the instrument of communication, as a lawyer would probably call an insert, is such a disaster of copy and design in every conceivable way.

 

 

A phone number isn’t a call to action

Art directors are the chaps (and chapesses) in advertising agencies who design the ads—in other words, they’re the ones in charge of deciding what stuff looks like—whether it’s telly, press, online or dm.

Art directors like their designs to be clean, elegant, beautiful, balanced. (They went to art college, you see, not selling school.)

This means in a press ad, for example, they’re always asking their copywriter to cut the body copy, remove what they consider extraneous words, shorten the headline and generally remove all the stuff that might, with a fair wind behind it, actually persuade somebody, somewhere, to buy something.

I’ll cover the subject of long copy vs short copy in another blog, but one of the things an art direction driven culture does is emasculate the power of The Call To Action.

The Call to Action (CTA) is the bit on your ad, website, newsletter, flyer which demands that the reader respond in some way. By calling you, by clicking through, by buying.

Anyone trained in a direct response/direct marketing or sales environment, like yours truly, knows that if you want someone to respond in some way, you have to tell them do so.

We know this because we’ve tested again and again and again the difference in response that you get with and without.

So you have to say CALL. Or CLICK. Or RETURN THE COUPON. Please. (You should also give them a reason to do it NOW, if you can. Tell them when the lines are open, too, if you’re asking for a call and explain what will happen when they do. I’ll go into more detail about all this in another blog.)

But many art directors don’t like to say ‘CALL US NOW FREE ON 0800 123 1234 Lines open 8am-7pm Mon-Sat’. They just want the number.

Elegant, clean, beautiful. Utterly wrong.

This insanity is now even spreading to DRTV  (direct response television advertising) where the client is spending a bloody fortune specifically to get calls! And then not getting the response he needed simply because the agency is putting art before sales.

Because, as any nine year old will tell you, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.