Monthly Archives: May 2013

Now that’s what I call a great headline

When did a piece of advertising of any sort actually stop you in your tracks? When did you last see a headline that was so compelling, so shocking, that your jaw dropped and you had no choice but to read the ad?

This happened to me yesterday with a small press ad, black and white, cheap left-hand page space.

I Wish My Son Had Cancer

There’s no way anyone could turn the page once their eye has been caught by a headline like that. Certainly not anyone with kids. Certainly not me.

Perhaps you’ve seen it?

The ad was for a charity promoting awareness of a condition called duchenne muscular dystrophy. The point of the ad was simple and very moving. A father of a young boy wished his son had cancer rather than duchenne MD. Because cancer is often curable and DMD isn’t. So his son was condemned to an early death.

Brutal, sure, but a sentiment any parent can readily identify with.

Naturally there’s been a lot of huffing and puffing by Outraged of Welwyn Garden City about the ad. But it did its job. It made me aware of the condition. It made me feel sorry for the little boy and his family.

(And of course it generated lots of PR too, an excellent and beneficial side effect to maximise the effectiveness of the media spend. Maybe deliberately. Good for them.)

Amid all the self-congratulatory, trendy and utterly invisible rubbish that advertising agencies pour into our media today, this little ad stands out as a blazing beacon of what powerful, memorable advertising is all about. Finding a genuinely compelling story and stating it simply and clearly.


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 So let’s look at what 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.



Does your online ad need a logo?

I was browsing some of the so-called classic press ads from days of yore recently and something suddenly struck me. Something that, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never noticed in all my years of rattling the stick in the swill bucket.

The old ads didn’t have a logo.

Even the famous Ogilvy Rolls-Royce clock one. No logo.  Why was this? Surely the whole point of the advertising was to get the brand name into the public consciousness as swiftly and effectively as possible?

But, of course, anyone who’s worked in proper direct response advertising will tell you instantly why the ads didn’t have a logo.

Because they were designed to look like editorial.

Direct Response experts always make their ads look like the editorial matter that surrounds them. So the customer is tricked into looking at the ad for that tiny nano-second longer.  He thinks, for a split second, that it’s editorial and therefore interesting so he glances at it. Whereas, if it looks like advertising, he will instinctively ignore it.

This is one of the key reasons why you still see many direct response press ads that have lots of copy, laid out in editorial-style columns with a squared-up picture at the top and an editorial-style headline.

We did the same thing at the Reader’s Digest with envelopes for DM. You make your envelope look like a bill, a parcel, a tax demand…anything but a piece of advertising. Just so, for that tiny moment, the customer engages with it just a little bit longer. And in the scheme of things, where every percentage point counts, that’s enough.

We now see the same principles at work online. We ignore the banner ads and do our best to ignore the Google adwords ads too.

But the online ads that actually work are the ones that look like editorial. Bournemouth granny reveals secret of wrinkle-free old-age. The weight-loss trick that doctors hate. Why vegetarian sausages can add 20 years to your dog’s life.

These get under your radar simply because, unlike most online promotion, they don’t scream I AM A BANNER AD PLEASE IGNORE ME. And without exception, they don’t have a logo.