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The Advertising Message, Not The Medium is Key

Learn five ways to make your advertising message more powerful – and more relevant – no matter what medium it’s in

Roy Williams




“I’m in the furniture business. Which media should I use?”

“I’d like to target people who are afraid of the dentist. Can you recommend a good mailing list company?”

“My uncle uses TV ads to attract new customers, and they work really well for him. What’s your opinion of TV?”

“I tried advertising. It doesn’t work for my kind of business.”

People say things like this and expect me to have an intelligent response. What usually happens is I stand there, dull eyed, with my mouth hanging open. These aren’t my favorite moments.

When my brain finally recovers, and I tell them the truth they need to hear, they act as though I’ve side stepped their question. The following is the truth they need to hear. If you’re asking similar questions, maybe you need to hear it, too.

Relevance is what determines whether an ad works or not. Every medium fails when it delivers a message no one cares about. Have you ever run an ad that failed? Let’s see what really happened:

  1. Avoid Predictability.
    The ad was so predictable, few people even noticed it. Solution: Get a new ad writer or remove the handcuffs from the one you’ve got.
  2. Dump Irrelevant Content.
    Complacency Prospective customers noticed the ad, received the message and understood it perfectly.They just didn’t care. Solution: Dump the irrelevant subject matter. Discover what people actually care about and talk about that instead.
  3. Strive for Clarity.
    The ad’s message would’ve been relevant, but it was unclear. Solution: Remind your writer that creativity often gets in the way of clarity. Remind your layout artist that the prettiest ad is rarely the most effective. You’re running a business, not a magazine. Make sure the dynamic duo understands that their continued employment depends on creating ads that sell the product. And if you take care of both of those jobs, don’t be afraid to criticise yourself and correct your mistakes.
  4. Sync Your Cycles.
    You committed to an ad campaign that was shorter than your product selling cycle. If people buy your product once a week, don’t expect your ads to return a profit during the first week. If people buy once a month, don’t expect to break even on your advertising during the first 30 days. If your product selling cycle is longer than two years, you can expect to lose money on your ads – even if they’re good – for the first four to six months. You’ll start pulling ahead during the second six months.But your real growth won’t happen until you begin reaching that same group of people for a second year. Solution: Commit to an ad campaign commensurate with your product selling cycle.
  5. Speak to your market.
    The listener wasn’t engaged because the ad was written from a cultural perspective other than their own.Translating language is easy. Transferring cultural perspective is nearly impossible. Solution: Hire a different ad writer to create the second campaign. Make sure the writer is from the cultural background he or she is trying toreach.

The Bottom Line

  • Ads that fail in one medium will usually fail in others.
  • The medium is not the message; the message is the message.
  • And the message is what matters most.
  • To deliver a pointless message powerfully is the definition of hype. To deliver a powerful message pointlessly is the result of weak creative content. But to deliver a powerful message powerfully is the first step in making a fortune.

Roy Williams teaches creative thinking, strategic planning and human persuasion courses attended by executives from many of the world's largest advertising agencies, professors from leading universities, broadcasters, journalists and small-business CEOs from around the world.

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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

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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



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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
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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



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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?

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