How these awful, awful ads can help you succeed

Stupid is as stupid does.

Simple and true, I’m sure you agree.

But if you came across it as aheadline while flicking through a magazine, would you want to read on? Would you know what the firm was selling? Would you know if was relevant to you or not?

How about this one:

Poacher turned gamekeeper.

Again, what are they selling?

If you can’t tell, you’re not alone.

When I came into advertising 56 years ago, I soon realised I had one huge advantage.

Hardly anyone in the industry had any idea what they were doing. So if I studied diligently I could hardly fail. Five years later I was creative director at a well-known London ad agency. Not because of talent; just study.

But let me tell you, however bad things were back then, they’re much worse now.

Need any more evidence?

Well how about these:

  • ·Incoming!
  • ·Everything. And more
  • ·It’s easier than you think
  • ·For don’t-do-it-yourself enthusiasts
  • ·Admit it. You’ve always wanted to drive a getaway car

What they have in common is that I found them all in one day, masquerading as headlines in two popular British weekly magazines.

With just one exception they fail to make clear what they’re selling.

More importantly, not one manages to mention a meaningful benefit.

The exception is for Volvo. I will only make two comments about that:

  1. Have you always wanted to drive a getaway car? Really?
  2. Do you believe Volvo make that kind of car? Really?

Why would you bother to read those ads?

Well you wouldn’t, of course.

Please, whatever you do when it comes to writing your ads, emails, web copy or anything else – resist the temptation to be indirect, vague or subtle.

At best it confuses. At worst it angers people.

Only by a miracle will it get them to read, let alone want to reply or buy.

A ghastly truth

Please pause to realise three alarming facts.

First, live, thinking human beings were paid to write that drivel.

Second, live human beings were paid even more to approve it .

Third: both sets of live human beings were employed to do this by other live human beings even though they had clearly never spent five minutes learning anything about advertising.

This crass reliance on empty wordplay is so widespread I feel compelled to give you advice so obvious I’m almost embarrassed.

But here it is anyway…

If all you do in your headlines is give people some clue as to what you sell, you will have a huge advantage.

If you go one step further and write something that makes them want to read on you’ll likely do much better than your competitors.

If you then come up with one major benefit –whypeople should buy what you’re selling – you’ll trounce them to smithereens.

That’s because not merely do many advertisers get it horribly wrong: almost all of them do.