Work it or waste it: ad man Mike Gold tells the inside secrets for success

Mike GoldAfter 30 years in advertising, during which I worked all over the world and managed such brands as Heineken, Fed-Ex, British Airways and M&M Mars, I have learned many truths, but none more profound than this: you can make or squander a fortune advertising your company or product.

I'd like to help you make a fortune.

To do that, I am going to tell you the rules of the game so you can work it, not waste it — 'it' being your time, energy, brand identity and, most of all, your budget. This article will give you some of the fundamentals that underpin the work of real experts, focusing on print advertising.

Think about it. The next time you launch a new supplement, food or cosmeceutical product, chances are you will be allocating part of your marketing budget to print advertising.

You will want to make sure that the ad works for you — that is, it drives sales, creates your image and announces existence of the product. In short, it achieves some predetermined goal. The thought and effort you put in up front will be well rewarded when it comes to the final execution. In fact, crafting your creative strategy at the beginning is probably the single most important factor that will determine the success of your ad. If the ad is not 'on strategy,' it may provide great entertainment, but it will not be great advertising.

So, where do you begin? Ask questions — questions that will help you develop your creative strategy. For example: What is the problem this advertising needs to solve? (Hint: don't over think this. If you are launching a new product, the problem is that nobody knows anything about the product.) What is the objective of this advertising? Are we trying to get a trial, create an image, educate, increase awareness or change behaviour? Consider this question carefully, as it will determine the focus of your message.

Who is my target audience? The more you know about the audience, the better you will be able to communicate with it. Try to get beyond the basic demographic data, and get as much psychographic information as you can. Try to understand the target market's habits, lifestyles and motivations. What is the most compelling, single-minded message to communicate? This is often the most important question. Many advertisers want to say too much in an ad. Because consumers are bombarded with hundreds (some say thousands) of messages every day, you will have a much greater chance of success if you try to communicate one thing properly.

What support do I have for this message? Vital in this industry, do you have the science to back your claims? Testimonials? Something else? Make sure you obey the rules of the FTC, the FDA, the FCC, the Patent and Trademark Office, and the Library of Congress.

What is the brand personality that I want to convey? Think carefully. Your brand personality must match the tone of your advertising, as well as your product offering and corporate philosophy.

These questions will help you formulate your creative strategy. Once you have thought through your strategy, you can bring it to life in as exciting a way as possible — that is, give it that 'wow' factor. Much research has been done to prove that the 'wow' will increase the success of your advertising. Ad liking is linked to ad success.

Delivering the 'wow'
In the simplest terms, the 'wow' factor is an elegant marriage of strategy and execution. Here is the short list of considerations for execution.

A stunning visual
Your ad needs a stunning visual. Remember, a picture is worth far more than a thousand words. It tells a story that the person unconsciously projects himself into and interacts with. Therefore, for the visual to be stunning and relevant, it must capture the reader's attention and immediately identify the subject of the ad. The visual must also work well with the headline and convey a positive impression of the brand.

pregnant manMarlboro ManTake a look at an ad developed in the '70s to fight unplanned pregnancies. This ad was provocative for its time and showed an exquisite balance of a stunning visual of a pregnant man (who'da thunk?) and a great headline. The same is true for the anti-smoking ad, developed by the California Department of Health. This ad uses irony to contrast the freedom, independence and virility of the Marlboro Man, who became an icon for the tobacco industry (and one of the most debilitating effects of tobacco use: male impotence). Some ads have visuals that are so stunning that they don't need headlines. The Volkswagen ad that was used to launch a new model in South Africa is pregnant with possibilities. The ad for The Economist, widely regarded as the world's leading intellectual news magazine, reinforces the fact that this is for well-informed, highly intelligent people, or those who aspire to be so.VolkswagenThe Economist

The magic of colour
Colours have deep psychological meanings, and much has been written about them. While I would not become a slave to these observations, I would keep them in mind as you develop your ad. (See this story's sidebar, 'Colorful Meanings,' below.)

Headline (must say it all)
Research has shown that readers are ten times more likely to read the headline than the rest of the ad. What makes for an effective headline? Keep your headline to less than 10 words, and never rely on the body copy to explain the headline. Use simple, familiar words that will draw your reader into the body copy. But remember, try to get your whole message across in the headline, in case that is all the audience reads. For example, this FedEx headline says it all: "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight."

Body copy
Again, only a small percentage of those who read your headline will read your body copy. Here are some tips to make sure yours is the copy that keeps readers reading. For example, make sure you get to the point fast. Mention the brand name early and reinforce it where relevant.

Write with flair and excitement, and highlight a benefit that's important to the target audience — not to you! Avoid clichés and superlatives, and be careful not to overpunctuate, because that makes your copy harder to read. Avoid bragging and boasting, and don't overuse 'we,' 'us' or 'our.' Instead, use personal pronouns such as 'you' and 'your.'

Call to action
OK, so I read your ad. Now what? Make sure your audience knows how to proceed: do they call you, visit your website, go to a retailer or cut out a coupon? If you don't make this step clear and simple, then all your efforts thus far will be in vain. You will have stimulated their interest but not given them the tools to translate interest into action. What a waste!

Slogans and taglines
Good slogans and taglines are well worth having, but need to be crafted carefully and thought through strategically. They sum up the brand image, communicate the brand position and tie all communication together. A good tag line should be easy to remember and should be as effective on a print ad as it is on a flag flying outside the company head office. A great example: 'Just do it.' I assume I don't need to tell you which brand this tag line goes with, which hopefully, proves the point!

To sum up, to ensure that your ad is the one people read and respond to, it has to be based on sound strategy. Make sure the ad has a single-minded message, a compelling headline and a captivating visual. The ad must clearly communicate your unique selling point and stimulate an action. If you can get these right, then you have a significant chance of achieving that elusive 'wow' factor.

Good luck!

Colorful meanings
Red is the symbol of blood and fire; it is a popular colour with a high 'action quotient' that evokes strong masculine appeal.

Blue is the most popular colour among consumers, but it can be a little cold.

Brown is another masculine colour, associated with earth, wood, warmth and comfort.

Black conveys power and sophistication, and it is often used to stimulate the purchase of expensive products.

Yellow is a high-impact colour used to stand out and get attention; it has positive associations with the sun.

Green is a symbol of health, freshness, growth and prosperity. Consequently, it is often used in the natural-products industry.

Orange, the most edible colour, reminds people of fall and good things to eat.

Purple implies upscale connections to royalty, wealth and power.

White is a symbol of purity, simplicity and peace.

Mike Gold, a former president for Saatchi & Saatchi, is an adjunct professor at Montana State University, teaching advertising and global marketing.
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