Monday, October 28, 2013

The Fix is In - What You Need to Know Before Making Your Next Ad or PR Move

I love being on the cutting edge. I always want the latest tech gadget from Apple, and I’m always looking at the newest stuff being worked on in Silicon Valley. But sometimes the oldies really are the goodies. 

In this case I’m referring to old ideas about advertising. They may be old, but they are sure on the mark. And the man who devised them spent a career spanning over six decades testing and refining them. I’d like to share some of them with you here.

Salesmanship in Print

Selling a product, service or idea in print is not, after all, much different then selling it face to face. Some call it “salesmanship in print.” You have to make an opening pitch to draw the customer’s attention. This is the headline, title or cover of your ad or marketing piece.

Experience and testing have shown over and over the overwhelmingly critical importance of having an effective headline. In fact, did you know that as much as 80% of the “pulling power” of an ad is determined is determined by the effectiveness of the headline (cover, etc.)?

Yup. That means eighty cents of every dollar spent on advertising is going into the headline. And years of trial and error have shown what types of headlines are most effective. Since we know this with such certainty, you’d think that advertisers would spend some extra effort to make sure that their headlines actually work. You’d be wrong. Flipping through any magazine or newspaper you’ll see many ads that fail to make use of this vital information.

So what is this magic formula for good headlines, and why don’t more people use it?

What’s In a Headline

Among the best pulling types of headlines are those that feature some type of news. E.g. “New!” “Announcing!” “Coming Soon!” As cheesy as they sound, they let readers know that there may be something new in the ad - something that may possibly interest them. And so they are drawn into the copy.

Another powerful draw are headlines that promise savings - “Sale!” “All Merchandise Marked Down!” “End of Year Savings Blowout!!!” Are they classy and chic? No. But they sure get results!

A third strong headline is one that addresses a specific problem. “Do You Suffer from Migraines?” “Do You Think Allergy Season is Stay-in-Bed Season?” “Is Your Basement Musty?” These types of headlines quickly qualify interested customers - only those with a particular problem will continue reading, and will very likely be interested in a solution. They can also be modified to be a little more imaginative - “Don’t Let this Allergy Season Keep You Down for the Count!”

Related to this idea are headlines that promise a solution to a problem. “Bedbugs? Call Us.” “Overweight? We Can Help.” “Learn to Speak a Foreign Language in 30 Days.” The appeal is obvious. Anyone with a need for the product will be attracted to the ad.

An additional factor to consider is the kind of words you use. They should be as simple and direct as possible. In one well-known example, an ad for a do-it-yourself car repair course saw a dramatic increase in sales simply by changing the phrase “Learn How to Repair Your Car” to “Learn How to Fix Your Car.” ‘Repair’ sounded complicated and hard, but ‘Fix’ was easy!

Hello? Is Anyone Listening?

If advertisements are “salesmanship in print” then they have to follow the pattern of a real sales conversation. The headline is the opening, but then you have to deliver the rest of your pitch.

After all, if you were trying to sell something in person, you wouldn’t give the customer a big smile and a handshake, look them in the eye and not say anything - would you? The rest of the copy has to do the job that you would do if you were there yourself. Spell out the benefits that your product will provide - its ease of use, economy, attractive, modern design, and how much pleasure it will give anyone who owns it. Sound corny? Maybe. But it works. 

The balance of the ad copy must follow this strategy. It should anticipate reasonable objections someone might raise, and deal with them effectively. “$299.99? Isn’t that a lot for an automatic napkin folder?” says the imaginary reader. To this you could write, “$299.99 might seem like an awful lot of money for such a simple device. But when you think of the convenience and the admiring looks from your family and friends for your elegant table settings, you’ll realize that the cost is very reasonable indeed! And we offer a convenient payment plan - just six easy payments of $50 per month. In addition, for a limited time, if you order the Acme Automatic Napkin Folder you’ll receive a handsome set of eight monogrammed linen napkins, trimmed in lace and taffeta, with exquisite gold embroidery. They’ll look fabulous on any table and transform your ordinary dinner table into 5-star elegance!”

A well known copywriter used to say that the purpose of the headline is to get you to read the subhead. The purpose of the subhead is to get you to read the first line of copy. The purpose of the first line of copy? You guessed it. To get you to read the next line. And so on and on. The entire ad should be constructed to draw in a reader, just as you would in a live conversation, keeping the reader interested and engaged until the very end.

Feelings - Wo, Wo, Wo, Feelings…

The key is to place the emphasis on benefits - what the product will do for the customer - and not necessarily what the product does. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Most people care much less about how a Mercedes Benz works then they do about how it will make them feel to own it.

You’re selling feelings and not goods and services. If it’s a piece of equipment, you may actually be selling security, pride, ego gratification, or some combination of the three. But never just equipment.

In future articles I hope to go into some of these ideas in greater detail.

I’d love to hear what you think!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Other Road - May be a Dead End

A Primer on Good Advertising

I remember exactly where I was on the morning of 9-11. 

I was driving to work, half listening to the radio, when I suddenly heard someone talking breathlessly about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. From where I was, I had a clear view of the Manhattan skyline, so I looked out my car window and just stopped my car (not a good thing to do) frozen with shock, watching the smoke pouring out of the North Tower.

It's something I'll never forget.

I remember exactly where I was when the Gulf War broke out. It had special significance for my family because my wife's brother was deployed there at the time (his was one of the first units sent to Kuwait), and she was beside herself with worry.

People who were around when JFK was assassinated remember every detail of what they were doing when they heard the news.

And there are happy occasions that I remember equally vividly. My wedding, the births of my children, to name just a few.

Folks in the advertising business spend sleepless nights trying to create unforgettable moments. They have 15, or 30 or 60 seconds to make an impression on you. 

I like to use the example of an EKG. The viewer comes into the ad with a flat reading. The goal of the ad agency is to provoke a reaction - to make the needle on the EKG move - whether up or down - to try and get you, the viewer to feel something. It can be happy, sad, excited, scared, shocked, angry, desirous - but something - as long as that line doesn't stay flat. 

It doesn't matter what the venue is - print, radio or on screen. The ultimate purpose of the ad is to get a person to react.

The Dead End

So imagine my surprise when I came across an ad online for the all new Acura RLX sedan. 

Acura's had some impressive advertising in the past. There's a nice one for the Acura TL Special Edition called Best Kept Secret which is very well done (see it here If you look around on their YouTube channel, there are some other very imaginative ones there as well.

But this one for the RLX is called The Other Road (, and quite simply, it stinks.

You'd think a big company like Acura would know better. Or at least that their agency would.

Taking my EKG metaphor and applying it to this ad, it would be flat coming in, and flat straight on through. Not one bit of emotion is stirred up as a bland voice intones bland, meaningless dialogue overlaid over bland, generic shots of a car streaking across the bland background.

Let me back up for a moment and give you some context. In classic advertising, the idea is to create a fantasy setting in which the viewer can imagine him/herself being the central character. Ideally, the viewer should be able to imagine him/herself being the one eating the luscious slice of pizza, chatting happily on the iPhone, or racing down the road in the gleaming sports car.

With this Acura spot? Meh. Rather than imagining myself behind the wheel of this $60,000 car, all I could think of was the 30 seconds of my life that I'd just used up by watching it.

So why did they do it?

I can only guess. But it may not be the agency's fault. This may be a case in which the client had too much creative input, and wound up stifling the creativity amongst those who are supposed to excel in it. I've seen it many, many times. An executive has an agenda or a vision for a campaign, and bullies it through, despite being warned that it's off-track. But that's only conjecture.

End of the Road - Or The Beginning?

Every PR piece or advertisement should be geared toward getting a reaction from your audience. What that reaction is depends on the piece. If it's a sale on widgets, you want them to bring the coupon in to your store (or mail it in, or enter it on a online order form) and buy some widgets. If it's brand reinforcement, you want them to walk away with a certain perception of your brand. If it's a fundraising appeal, then a different action will be called for; either a straight donation, or perhaps a reservation at a fundraising event or an ad in a journal.

But whatever the action, the person has to feel something strongly enough to do it. Sympathy and envy are both strong motivators as is physical desire. A major complaint on the entire advertising industry is that it is too quick to resort to playing on the basest of human desires in order to drive up sales. They answer quite honestly that it's easy and it works.

Personally, I try to hold to a more refined standard that takes a higher view of human nature. But whatever the vessel, the method is essentially the same.

What I'm trying to convey to you is what not to do. Don't become so bogged down in bureaucracy or egos or small-mindedness that you forget what the purpose of your ad or PR piece is - namely to get a reaction. If it fails to make people feel - if that EKG needle doesn't budge when they watch or listen or read your material - then the road you took really was a dead end.

What do you think? I'd love to hear!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2 Secrets of Superior Leadership

Be Careful What You Wish For

It's just human nature. We think we know what we want - until we get it.

There's an old gag that newly wed husbands who don't want to get stuck doing dishes throughout their wedded lives do such a bad job the first few times that their wives never ask again. Why? Because, while the Missus may want the dishes done, she only wants them done a certain way.

So what about you and me and our stuff? We want it done, but HOW?

I was once hired to work in a place and the CEO was positively bursting at the seams with excitement, telling me how much the company needed new blood. "We need you like a drunk needs a bottle of wine," he said. 

He went on to say that they desperately needed to change the look of all their forthcoming products. I picked up on his enthusiasm and eagerly jumped into my first assignment - designing a cover for a new publication.

I felt pretty confident when I handed in my design. It was fresh, modern, new. 

Boy was I in for a surprise. It was utterly and completely rejected. I don't think there was one element in that cover that was not ripped to shreds.

"How could you come up with something like this?" the boss lambasted me.

"What do you mean?" I replied. "You said you wanted a completely new, modern look. I changed everything from the way you did it before - the color scheme, the typeface - "

"But we didn't want you to change THAT!" he shot back.

"If I change those things back, then it will look just like all your other stuff!" I replied.

The boss looked thoughtful for few moments.
"Well then maybe we have a distinctive look and we should stick with that."

Big gushing sound, as the air rushed out of my lungs.

"But…but…you said you wanted me to…" I stammered.

"Yeah, I know what I said, but THIS is what I want!"

And that, as they say, was that. The remainder of my time at that company was spent churning out duplicate after replica after copy of what had come before. And it wasn't my fault.

The boss thought he knew what he wanted. He thought he wanted to be new, exciting and different. But once he saw it on paper, it was just too radical a departure from what he'd done before. He couldn't bring himself to make the change that he'd said he wanted (and which might have actually been the right thing for his business).

It's something we're all guilty of at one time or another, and the damage can be considerable - ranging from a bruised ego to a crippled career. Open communication is crucial through all stages of a project, and between all levels of management. 

So Secret Number One is: Expectations ought to be clearly defined and managed. And make sure that you really know what you want before you ask for it.

Survival of the Loudest

Maybe you've seen this scenario as well. The Meeting from You Know Where. 

Production vs. Sales vs. Marketing vs. Creative vs. Accounting vs … I dunno - Maintenance? All giving their ideas and urgent input on the upcoming product launch.

"We need a unified 'message'" whines the new advertising intern.

"The new packaging doesn't pop enough," shout the marketing folks at the creative guy.

"This thing has to hit store shelves by Q2 or our budget forecasts will be in deep trouble," intones the CPA ominously.

"We need a final decision on that component design by Thursday or the factory won't ship product on time!" warns the production gal.

What's a boss to do? 

Sadly, it very often comes down to what I call Survival of the Loudest. The boss can't possibly keep track of all the piddling details of actually running the business. That's what underlings are for.

But how is a boss supposed to know which underling is most important; most valuable; most profitable; most competent? Those are tough, painful questions. And finding answers to them is hard work. It's much easier to just..LET THEM FIGHT IT OUT!

That's right! Welcome to the Hunger Games School of Management. Throw your staff in a room and let them duke it out. It's Evolution 101 - survival of the fittest. Whichever one is most aggressive is obviously the one who's most valuable to the company, and therefore the one who should be listened to!

The problem with this method (for those who need it pointed out) is that arrogance and sheer volume are not, after all, substitutes for experience, good sense and basic competence. 

And this brings us to Secret Number Two: It behooves those in positions of authority to remember that sometimes it's the quiet people - those who make the company work - who ought to be given serious input and credence when heavy decisions have to be made, and not the "me first" blowhards that hijack every meeting and every planning session. 

In fact the only time when they're not there taking center stage is when their latest brainstorm goes up in flames, and the boss bellows for the rest of us - the quiet ones - to come clean up the mess.

Danny Kay is a (very quiet) marketing and advertising consultant, designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. His work has appeared in chains like Costco, PC Richards, Target, Toys R Us, BJs, Sams Club and A&P. He has consulted for businesses and organizations of all sizes up to Fortune 500.  He can be reached through his website,, or at - If you're sure you know what you want - ;-)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"We're in Advertising, and We Only Want to Help You"

You've all heard that line before in reference to elected officials.

But you should be downright terrified when an advertising guy or gal uses it.

Maybe I should rephrase that. What I mean is you need to make dead sure that your advertising/marketing firm is really trying to help YOU.

Huh? That sounds really mixed up. I mean who else would they be trying to help? Would any agency deliberately try to make a bad ad? 

Well actually, yes. But not 'bad' in the sense that you think.

Let's back up a little bit. Every business has a fundamental raison d'ĂȘtre - a reason for being. McDonalds sells burgers. KFC sells chicken. Starbucks - coffee, and so on and on. So what is the purpose of an advertising agency? The owners of the agencies will say, "To create great advertisements!" 

Well, yeah. But what is the purpose of those advertisements? And how does one define "great?" And here is where the answer starts to get muddy. 

The clients will undoubtably say that the purpose of the ad is to either sell products or help build their brand (or both). And it therefore follows that the "greatness" of the advertising is measured in how well it does those things. 

But what about the creative staff and the executives at the agency? Well, there you have some issues. Many agencies are driven not so much by what reward you the client get, but rather the professional recognition that they can glean from your campaign. And I've got news for you - while there are some awards given for great results, many (or most) sought after awards in the advertising biz are strictly based on perceived creativity and "WOW" factor. The result of this is that agencies that tout the number of awards they've won may have done little to actually sell their clients' products, even though they've produced millions upon millions of dollars of flashy advertising. Often, ads are trumpeted for "retention" or "penetration" or for other ambiguous terms. That's fine and good if you're trying to win bragging rights for "agency of the year," but when people are spending hard-earned money on advertising, they can't afford stuff like that. They need "results" not "retention."

Don't get me wrong! The two are not mutually exclusive. Flashy ads CAN work, They just don't ALWAYS work. The primary focus should always be on finding the best solution for the client - even if it's not the glitziest.

Case in point - I know a fellow who runs a small business. A while ago I happened to speak with him and he mentioned that he was looking to do some advertising. I told him what I felt was the best approach. Namely a well thought out presentation of what he offered, and what concrete benefits consumers could hope to get from his firm. He happens to be a very "with it" kind of guy, and he felt my style was not cool enough. He decided to use a designer who, while extremely talented, was not that schooled in advertising and marketing fundamentals. The ads looked really great. They were very - ahem - eye catching and I'm sure they were great performers - for that designer's portfolio. But I don't know how much business they brought in. I recently saw a new ad for the same place, designed by a more established firm, pretty much exactly following the formula that I had suggested in the first place.

I know this will sound heretical, but the bottom line is that if an ad or marketing campaign fails to sell then it's not a success - no matter how many awards it wins, or how many people if impresses.

Moral of the Story: Don't be won over with ad-speak and marketing lingo. Make sure that your advertising pro really is in it for you, and has the chops to deliver.

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising consultant, designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. His work has appeared on products sold at small little known establishments like Costco, PC Richards, Target, Toys R Us, BJs, Sams Club, A&P, and other national chains you've probably never heard of. He has also done some work for small firms such as Glaxo SmithKline, Lilly, Novartis, Proctor & Gamble, J&B Scotch, The Miami Heat, Anaheim Angels, and a number of other piddling professional sports teams and mom 'n pop Fortune 500 shops. He can be contacted through his website,, or at