Connect with us


Stand-Out Brands Need Stand-Out Ads

Creating a good ad that customers will respond to.

Howard Fox




No one wants to read, watch or listen to your advert. No, really they don’t. Apart from the yellow pages, when last did you see a publication entirely made up of ads, or a radio station that broadcasts no music or talk, just ‘commercial breaks’? You don’t. Okay, there is the shopping channel but even that tries to entertain. So how do you get someone to notice and hopefully be influenced by your advert?

The hook

You need a ‘hook’ to attract readers, listeners or viewers and pull them from the media they intended consuming, into interacting with your advert. This could be an intriguing headline, provocative image, interesting fact or the promise of getting something special.

Basically it’s a trade. You need to give something back in return for interrupting peoples’ viewing or reading pleasure. It could be information, a laugh, art, the-hint-of-sex, a special deal. Get this right and you are likely to get high “liking” for your ads – the basis of building a positive impact on your market.

The type of hook varies with the type of product, or intention of the advert. Information-rich adverts might work well for a new, complicated, just-launched product. Considering buying that new hover-board? You will want to know all about how it works, safety issues and maintenance costs. Buying peri-peri chicken on the other hand? Information about the nutritional value of a hot wing is unlikely to break through the clutter. Perhaps a good laugh would work better – a tactic well used by Nando’s.

Lights, camera, action!

Adverts are premised on the basis that you are trying to get people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do. It’s called the “call to action” and it’s where a lot of ads go wrong – with either a weak or confusing call to action. Remember without a call to action an advert just becomes a story, which is more in the realm of “PR”.

Having enticed your target into watching, listening to or reading your advert, be clear about what exactly they should do next. It might not be a hard sell to buy right away. It might be to take a test drive or go to a website to get more information. However, not giving any direction leaves readers confused and somewhat annoyed as they think why did I bother?

Get to the point. Stay on point

Having interrupted, it is important to get to the point quickly. Headlines should be short, simple as possible and clear. In the case of billboards, normally read by drivers passing at high speed, I was taught you should have a maximum of seven elements on the billboard’s face. This could for instance be made up of an image, five words and a logo. (Few, however, pass this test.)

Recognise that in print adverts, most readers will glance at the image and headline and not read the rest of the more detailed “body copy”. You still need to make an impact on readers such as this, trying to entice them into reading further, or at a minimum building some awareness of your product or brand.

Adverts work best when they have “a single minded value proposition” – they focus on a single thought or product attribute. It is tempting to add additional concepts into ads to try and make them work harder, but in reality, they just become confusing and reduce in impact.

Batting for the other side

Advertising’s dirty little secret is that often, even if consumers interact with and even like your ad, they may well not correctly remember which supplier it refers to. This is more prevalent in commoditised products which have little perceived differentiation in consumers minds. In the worst-case scenario, consumers see your ad and remember it as referring to a competitor. (Technically called “low brand-linkage”.) How do you prevent this?

1) Ensure you have a differentiated product or brand in the first place. If you don’t it doesn’t really matter what you do in your advert, you are in trouble. You will know you have this problem when your ad agency suggests singing about your product (the old stand-in when there is absolutely nothing worth saying in an ad.)

2) Make the logo bigger. Your creative folk (that would be the flamboyant types in hats) frown upon the crass commercialism of overt branding all over your adverts, because it diminishes their ‘art’. Your shareholders disagree. They want a clearly branded ad, ideally with liberal use of the corporate colour. Think MTN vs Vodacom. If you see yellow, you think…

3) Be consistent in your advertising. Once you have trained the market on what your ads look like, stick with it. Marketers are inclined to have lower attention spans than their target consumers, because marketers see their ads virtually every day. Unless you have the budget of the two teleco’s just mentioned, your audience certainly don’t.

Proof is in the pudding

Recognise that sophisticated markets are cynical about advertisers. They know you have bought the media and can do (within the bounds of law and the Advertising Standards Authority) what you like with it. As a consequence offering proof of what you say offers weight and credibility. Independent tests, testimonials, reference to scientific works, evidence of long history of successful products, help overcome this cynicism. The more sophisticated the market the more subtle such proof should ideally be.

How creative should my ad be?

Like a number of things in marketing, it depends… Marketers love highly creative ads and they can multiply impact significantly, perhaps even ‘going viral’, but in my view some ads are just too creative that they lose their audience.

Remember you are not creating an ad you like, but rather one which effectively communicates to your market. Sometimes (perhaps as a new entrant) an ad, which fulfils all the category norms, might work best by making your product appear ‘established’ and ‘part of the club’. High risk, serious products – hospitals say, or corporate professional services firms might also benefit from tempering overtly creative ads.

Some specifics

Telephone numbers don’t work well on radio, especially during drive time. Listeners just can’t remember them or jot them down.

Context is important. Adverts about erm, male issues, might best be deployed on ‘over urinal’ media.

Avoid offending religious and other interest groups, particularly with frivolous quips. What might seem funny around your boardroom table doesn’t seem so when you are explaining yourself at the ASA.

Humour should be universal and good-natured. Powerful when it is done right, it easily goes wrong as it is culturally, language and age-specific.

Comparative ads aren’t permitted in South Africa(and aren’t always a good idea). However, if it is a strategic fit you can have the same outcome while remaining legal – just think of Steve from Bleep! Bank.

Howard Fox is the marketing director of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). He has 25 years’ marketing experience. Having started his career as a professional photographer, his experience ranges from marketing commodity chemicals through financial services, to advertising. He is a Chartered Marketer (SA) and sits on the board of the Marketing Association of South Africa. Howard holds a Masters degree in Marketing and an MBA. Linked In: Twitter: Blog:

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply


Consumers Don’t Have An Attention Problem. It’s Just That Your Advertising Isn’t Very Good

With so much media available to consume, quality matters more than ever for ads.

Brendan Gahan




If a brand releases an ad and no one sees it, is it still called “advertising”?

People have more tools than ever before to skip out on ads entirely. More than three-fourths of the people in North America engage in automated ad-blocking, and 10 percent of them block ads across four kinds of media or more, according to Deloitte. Much like the question of trees falling in forests, what good is a brand’s message at a time when people generally don’t want to hear its sound?

Ad units are shrinking in the wake of ad-blocking technology, but human attention span remains unchanged. Today’s consumers are surely more distracted than any previous generation, so they guard their attention spans more mercilessly. When advertisers can successfully command that attention for a minute or two, it means the consumer is watching an ad for the same reason he or she binge-watches Stranger Things on Netflix: The ad has managed to present itself as relevant or vital to the viewer. It wins every time.

Just 10 years ago, Gillette dominated the razor blade market. Its ads were comfortable, predictable 30-second units that reminded everyone of something they already knew: You need razor blades on the regular, so you might as well buy Gillette.

Related: Advertising Consulting Business Plan

But, the market had to reorganise itself with the appearance of Dollar Shave Club and its distinctly off-the-wall messaging. The notorious startup used quirky 90-second ads to spread its word online, presenting itself as unignorable by comparison to the competition. Even though we live in a time when people can skip ads, block ads and avoid ads, Dollar Shave Club’s marketing won major viral attention. It didn’t exactly kill Gillette’s Goliath, but it sure made Goliath sweat.

The lesson here is that people don’t hate all ads, they just hate the crappy ones. The bar for perceived quality in advertising is so low these days that many choose not to engage with anything on principle alone. People even close web pages they want to visit when the page auto-plays a video ad. When job number one of the advertiser is to interest consumers, it’s never been easier to annoy them.

Far from the rise of the six-second ad unit, there’s strong evidence that people generally want long-form content.

Ooyala reports that long-form video content consumption is up 30 percent from last year. Instagram used to be all about sharing individual photos and short videos, but now with the launch of IGTV supports 60-minute videos. The most widely subscribed YouTuber, PewDiePie, regularly posts 20-minute-long videos to a community of millions of fans. Joe Rogan’s podcast blends comedy, politics and philosophy for two to three hours at a stretch, and is one of the most popular podcasts on the internet.

People can, of course, handle stories and follow them over time. It’s one of the defining characteristics of humanity. But, there are so many stories competing for our attention nowadays that we are extremely selective about which ones we let into our lives. If any of these opt-in narratives will come from advertising, those ads must first run the ad-blocking gauntlet, then be immediately relevant and spectacular to the consumer upon arrival. The bar for perceived quality in advertising these days is actually quite high.

Related: 9 Strategies For Memorable Advertising When Your Audience Is Chronically Distracted

But, there is meaningful assistance on your way to clearing it. Social listening tools trawl the internet to learn what’s being said about and around different brands. With help from a company specialising in consumer insights and some Nielsen data, brands can better learn who their customers are, what they love and what they don’t love. This is key information in designing a vital, relevant message. In simplest terms, a brand must know its audience. The marketing needs to reflect what the audience is interested in, not what company leadership is interested in.

From there it’s only a matter of iterating and optimising. The great thing about digital advertising is that you get feedback instantly. You can iterate a campaign to make it better. Simple tweaks in copy, reframing key ideas and A/B testing can help make your campaign truly great.

Otherwise you run the risk of a mediocre campaign and a wasted media spend. No one wants to hear that sound.

This article was originally posted here on

Continue Reading


6 False Advertising Scandals You Can Learn From

Don’t stretch the truth the way Volkswagen, New Balance, Airborne, Splenda, Rice Krispies and Red Bull did.

Jayson Demers



Prev1 of 7


New entrepreneurs are often tempted to exaggerate what new products or services are capable of. No wonder: Presented to a powerful investor, a stretch of the truth just might help land that series A funding.

And, less seriously, a bit of marketing flair or showmanship, in many cases, will help an entrepreneur accomplish his or her without many repercussions.

But, in other cases, if you’re that entrepreneur who is caught deliberately misleading investors or consumers, you could face false advertising charges – and the ruin of your brand’s reputation. Consider these six examples:

  1. Airborne
  2. Splenda
  3. New Balance
  4. Rice Krispies
  5. Volkswagen
  6. Red Bull
Prev1 of 7

Continue Reading


Forget Everything You’ve Heard — Fear Doesn’t Sell

If consumers associate your product with fear, they may not have a strong connection to your brand.

Scott Brown



Prev1 of 5

Sixty percent of Subaru owners have dogs. So in 2008, when the company decided to sponsor Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl, it made a major break from previous advertising campaigns — ones that showed drivers with other cars getting stuck in the snow, for example. Alongside a pledge to donate $250 to charity for every car sold, the company began to understand how to appeal to its core audience through their own interests — and how those tied together in a Subaru.

Since 2008, the company has been running a campaign called “Love,” one that brings together all the attributes that Subaru is known for — including safety and reliability. Instead of talking to customers by telling them all the bad things that will happen if they don’t drive a Subaru (e.g., getting stuck in the snow), the company began speaking in a more positive language — including bringing furry friends along on drives.

For many, the instinctive approach toward marketing is to tell an audience why they have to buy your product. Bad things will happen otherwise, and yours is the best in market. The others won’t help you reach your goal. The problem with that logic is that it doesn’t take into account the impact of brand image on product marketing. Sure, you might skid in the snow without a Subaru, but you need to think positively of the company as a whole if you’re going to be drawn to its products in the first place.

Related: How do I know that my product is market-ready?

Prev1 of 5

Continue Reading



Recent Posts

Follow Us

We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.