Monday, December 23, 2013

“Tell the truth, but make it fascinating.”

One of the most significant ideas that I’ve found in marketing and advertising is also one of the hardest. It is this famous saying from David Ogilvy: “Tell the truth, but make it fascinating.”
Many times I have been commissioned to write a PR piece, and when I asked the client, “What makes your product special?” I got nothing but a blank stare. I had to push and nudge and pry the information I needed out of the person who wanted me to sell it! Incredible! Didn’t HE believe his product was great? Didn’t SHE think her service was better than the competition? Didn’t THEY think their new gadget was the hottest thing out there? 
If they didn’t, why should I? 
And if they did believe those things, why couldn’t they say so?

This is where we enter into an area of the advertising and marketing business that many dare not enter. To add one more thought from Mr. Ogilvy, he goes on to say that he personally was never able to write effective advertising for products that he did not believe in, and that every time he tried, he was unsuccessful.
I second that thought. I find it nearly impossible to write decent copy for an item unless I can find some tangible benefit either in the product or the company selling it.
The trick is to tell the truth - the real truth - but make it so interesting, engaging and relevant that readers are drawn to read the copy.

Promises, Promises

Last week I quoted Samuel Johnson, a great English writer who once said, "Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement." We live in an age in which we've become jaded and desensitized to the ceaseless barrage of hucksters and flim-flam artists trying to peddle their wares on us. 
The result is that the Mr. and Mrs. Public are no longer so willing to listen to the sweet swan song of an ad-man who promises to make them richer, thinner and younger looking for only $49.95.
Today, if you want to persuade people effectively, I believe that you need to speak to them personally and believably. 
When I was a kid there were ads for bodybuilding programs promising us we could look like Charles Atlas. Today, it's much more common for ads to give specific claims.

"Lose 20 pounds in 4 weeks!"
"Speak Spanish in 12 easy lessons!"
Expectations are kept to a more believable level to keep people from automatically tuning out. 
These changes didn't just happen. They came about through testing and a lot of trial and error. 
And yet there continues to be millions upon millions of dollars spent on ads that are untested - or worse - styles of advertising that have been shown to be ineffective. 
It was proven long ago by testing that ads with extreme closeups of human faces do not do well. They actually turn people off. And yet there are ads all over the place with blown up photos of people’s faces. 
Don’t they know it’s a bad idea?
It’s possible that the people making the ads are ignorant of the research. But even if they’re not, if someone likes the concept of the ad enough to push it through, chances are that it will run anyway. 
As bizarre as that may sound, it is because advertising is not only about selling products. It has become a minefield of egos and power plays, with the actual sale of goods coming in far lower on the list of real objectives.
It’s also been statistically proven that humorous “shtick” ads don’t generally sell well. And yet they are constantly being used because people want to look clever.

Here’s an ad that I saw the other day on the train.

What’s the point? Are they going for humor? For some kind of mild shock value? I don’t have access to their sales numbers, but I’d bet money that there’s no way they can prove any rise in business from running this campaign. If anything, maybe a loss, since there will surely be some people who are offended by it.

On the other hand, I also saw this ad on the train, from Lufthansa, which I thought was brilliant.

In most airline ads, the focus is on the airline. It’s about their planes and their service and all the places they fly to, and all the thousands of people that work for them.
With just one image and a few words, this ad completely changes all that. All of a sudden it makes the focus on the customer, and not the airline. The stewardess is blurred and thrown out of focus so all the attention - literally and figuratively is on the passenger. A person looks at the ad and sees the smiling passenger with the word “Guest.” The message is clear - fly Lufthansa and feel like a “Guest.”

Public response to the Lufthansa campaign has been fantastic. And the interesting thing is that, traditionally, the data has shown that showing pictures of destinations does better then showing pictures of planes. But what’s changed, I think, is that air travel has gotten so darned unpleasant that the airlines have to differentiate themselves based on which one is the least horrific. So shifting the focus of the campaign to the passenger was brilliant, and the smooth, subtle execution was genius as well.

But did they follow the rules I mentioned above? 
Well, it’s a great, interesting ad, and I’m sure the folks at Lufthansa are really sincere in their message of making their passengers feel like guests.

And as George Burns used to say, “Sincerity. If you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is 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

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

© 2013 Danny Kay - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Build it and they will come, and other myths.

How to keep a new business from failing.

Quick. Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you have had an idea for a business that you just knew was a sure thing, if you could just get it off the ground. 

I hate to be the bearer of ill tidings, but in modern day America you have a far better chance of having a successful marriage then a successful new business. 

And when I point out that the general rate of divorce is over 50%, you have some idea of where I’m coming from. 

The generally accepted rate of success for startups in this country is one in ten, and that’s being generous. The vast majority of new businesses fail within the first year. 

But why? Are all these would-be entrepreneurs really just irresponsible bozos?

And what about all those huge companies who seem to blow billions on failure after boondoggle upon fiasco and yet always seem to be in the black? (Microsoft ring a bell?)

The answer is that it’s complicated. Since this blog is centered around advertising and marketing, that is the area that I’m going to try to address.

First of all, not every sure fire idea, when exposed to the light of public opinion, is found to be all that great. 

Second, even truly great ideas, if executed or marketed inadequately or unprofessionally, can (and probably will) fail. 

Sometimes it’s simple human nature that leads to failure. People get so caught up in their vision for their new business that they ignore advice from experienced professionals, even when they’ve solicited or paid for that advice. It sometimes takes a discerning eye to see a great idea, and it sometimes requires a lot of trust and confidence in your creative professional that his or her judgement will yield the desired result.

Promise, Large Promise, Is the Soul of An Advertisement

This quote, from the legendary English writer Samuel Johnson, says it all.

Advertising is not altogether subjective. There is hard data behind it, based upon years of research. Certain types of appeals work better than others. And not just a little better - a WHOLE LOT better. A small change in a headline or in the text of an ad can result in a double digit increase in results. Sometimes you can’t know the “right” approach to use without testing. Unfortunately, the vast majority of advertisers skip that stage because they lack either the knowledge or the money. 

If you’re unable to test your advertising, the next best thing is to look at what successful campaigns for similar products have done in the past. Not how they delivered their message, but the substance of what that message was. To paraphrase the great David Ogilvy, no one ever failed to buy a product because an ad used the font Arial instead of Times New Roman. 

Statistics show that people are far more interested in what you say then in how you say it. Time after time I’ve seen great ads shot down because of superficialities.

What's In it For Me

No matter what you’re advertising - whether it’s a business, service or non-profit organization - customers are far more likely to bite if there is a benefit. The benefit can be something physical - Play the Piano in 10 Easy Lessons; Lose 20 Lbs in 6 Weeks. Or it can be intangible; Learn to Make Friends and Influence People; Become More Organized; We’ll Show You How to be a Happier, More Confident Person; The Greatest Show on Earth. These are all straightforward examples. 

Very often, folks in fundraising run up against a brick wall. They feel that that they are looked upon as little more than beggars, and that they have to constantly pester people for handouts. But those with experience can tell you that it’s all in the “promise.” Even when people are donating money, they can and should be made to feel that they are receiving something even better in return.

“Together We Can Save a Life” 
Red Cross
“You Can Create a World With Less Cancer and More Birthdays” 
American Cancer Society
“Thanks to People Like You, Our Community is In Good Hands”
United Way
“Donate Stuff. Create Jobs.”

In these cases, the benefits that are promised are no less powerful, but they’re of a different nature. Saving lives make us feel good. Being told that we helped cure cancer or created a bunch of new jobs makes us feel great. These are benefits!

But there’s one other thing that’s important to remember. The benefit must be clear. If it isn’t then you must spell it out. And even if you think it is, sometimes it helps to spell it out. Don’t assume people will make logical leaps of deduction. They usually won’t expend the time or effort necessary to do so.

Here are some made-up examples.
“Pizza Bonanza - We Deliver - Hot Pizza at Your Door in Minutes!”
“The Acme Giving Society: Your Chance to be a Hero -
Putting smiles on the faces of the world’s needy children.”

Just the Facts

It’s statistically proven that the more factual information an ad includes, the greater response it will bring. People want to be informed. They want to know how your stuff is made - how quality is maintained, how it’s manufactured, what’s in it. The more information you can present in an interesting way, the more you will sell.

And even if you think the information is stale or is something that is common to everyone in your trade, as long as it’s not common knowledge, it can make for great advertising.

You use only triple-filtered all natural spring water in your soft drink? Wow! It has to pass through 2 miles of pipes and tubes and doohickeys until it reaches the bottle? Unbelievable! There are state-of-the-art sensors monitoring it every step of the way so the temperature doesn’t vary by more than half a degree? Incredible!

“But,” you’ll argue, “there’s nothing unique or special about anything I do. It’s simply how the product is made.”

Yes. But nobody knows that. And if you’re the first one to tell it in an interesting way, the story will become associated with your brand. 

Trust me. If it’s done well, it will work. I know because it’s worked before.

As David Ogilvy used to say, “Tell the truth, but make it fascinating.”

I will hopefully revisit this topic in future posts in greater depth.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is 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

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

“I’m a Creative” “I’m a BG (Business Guy)”

Can't we all just get along?

The age old battle of Creatives versus business people (BGs from here on) almost ranks up there with men versus women or cats versus dogs for epic conflicts. 

Maybe it's a right-brain left-brain thing, or some kind of genetic hiccup that accounts for the profoundly different world views of these two distinct species. 

Full disclosure: I'm a lifelong Creative. I'm happiest when I'm puttering around on my Mac or my iPad, or with one of my cameras, or strumming my guitar, or tinkering on some device that allows me the freedom to create. 

But I have a lot of experience with BGs, having been at their mercy for most of my life. 

I mean let's face it; if there were a gladiator match between a Creative and a BG, who do you think would win?

The Creative would be standing there worrying about whether his armor was throwing off too much glare from the stadium lights, or if the trim around the scoreboard might not look better in Pantone 485C, while the BG moved in and busily cut out pieces of his anatomy. 

And how would the Creative fight anyway? Take a swing at the BG with his Wacom tablet? Poke him with his stylus?

One thing you have to learn (if you haven't already) is that BGs are ruthless. They have a laser sharp focus on their goal, and woe to anyone who gets in their way. 

Every deal is designed for their - and only their - benefit, no matter what they tell you. And it must yield the desired result, be it money, power or something else. If you've ever seen an old episode of "Dallas," you have some idea of what I mean, just with ordinary looking people. 

Creatives are chilled. And more, we actually look down on BGs because Creatives can, you know, do stuff. We are the writers and the painters and the composers and musicians and dreamers and poets. And while we're busy doing all that stuff, our overdrafts are getting larger and larger. 

All BGs can do is some vague thing having to do with money. To their credit, though, they seem to be awfully good at it since they’re the ones who always seem to have the money, after all.

BGs are like the Green Berets. You drop them penniless and alone into a desert, and before you know it they've gone and built Caesar's Palace. 

Creatives, on the other hand, would never get a place like that built. They'd get hung up arguing over what font to use in the logo, or what type of marble to make the pillars out of.

Creatives are also the easiest people to take advantage of. 

Most of us Creatives don't understand why we have to work in the first place. In fact, we think we should be highly paid just because we're so darned talented. We consider it demeaning to have to do actual labor for money. For us to have to make an additional effort to collect the agreed upon fee after the project is finished is just adding insult to injury. 

For your standard unscrupulous BG, what could be more perfect? BGs are only interested in money. Particularly the part where they get to keep more of it. 

I once had a client who I thought was a friend. Unfortunately he was (unbeknownst to me) also a card carrying BG. We had a pretty loose arrangement in which he'd regularly send me work and I'd send him bills for payment on account. But after a while I noticed that he wouldn't let me tell him what each job should be costing him. It got to the point that, after a particularly complex project, I tried to tell him what he owed me. He literally ran out of my office yelling, "I don't want to know!"

I thought it was some kind of strange gag or odd personality quirk. I mean he kept giving me work and making payments. He couldn’t intend to shaft me, right? But his tab got higher and higher, well into the thousands of dollars. When I finally tried to settle up, I discovered that he had made up his own 'prices' that he was paying me, and as far as he was concerned he didn't owe me a penny!

Since we had been "friends" it never occurred to me that he'd ever take advantage of me. Needless to say I never got my money. 

The only people who are safe doing business with BGs are other BGs. They can wheel and deal and chisel and drip slime on each other, and us civilized folks don't have to get messy. 

Creatives, on the other hand, can be great people to work for. Since we hate working so much, we hate to make anyone else work hard either. 

Instead of saying to the plumber/electrician/etc., "What?! $200 for fixing that whoosywhatsis?!" we say, "Wow! You did all that work for only $200? Are you sure it shouldn't be more? And can I get you a latte or some pizza as long as you're here?"

By no stretch of the imagination do I think Creatives are more "normal" or well balanced than BGs. Quite the contrary. 

In point of fact we're a whole lot weirder. We're just cooler and more likable.

And I don't mean to imply that BGs are all soulless monsters whose only desire is to separate you from your money. Some of them have a soul! Or at least some have soul in the cultural sense. (But not music. That's only for Creatives.)

It's true, though, that as some of us Creatives mature from teenagers to young adults, which usually happens sometime in our late forties, we do start to appreciate the necessity (if not the value) of money. Bills have to get paid, kids have to be fed, and car payments have to made. And more importantly, by this point in our lives, we've run out of sympathetic clients who'll support our habit of buying the latest tech goodies. 

And once in a very long while there arises a rare individual who embodies the traits of both species. And from gifted, inspired individuals like these we get an Apple or a Lamborghini. A company that produces works of art, and figures out how to get rich doing it.

As for us regular Creatives, maybe if we’re lucky we’ll get to design the stuff for some BGs’ next blockbuster mega-deal. And if we’re really lucky, maybe we’ll even get paid for it, too. 

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is a proud Creative, and 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

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Selling = Interviewing

Guide to Nailing that Ad (and that Interview)

Selling a product is a lot like interviewing for a job. And a lot of the same dos and don’ts that are considered inviolate in the world of job hunting are not given their due in the marketing and advertising arena.

I. Connect the Dots

The late, great Ed Koch had many wonderful sayings. Among them was, “I can only explain it to you. I can’t comprehend it for you.” In this case, however, this is exactly what we have to do.

Just like it's not enough to tell potential employers about your skills, experience and education and rely on them to figure out how you can add value to their business, it's likewise not enough to simply state all of the great things your product can do and hope customers make the connection to how those benefits apply to their own lives. 

You need to connect the dots. Just as you’d tell the interviewer the wonderful job you could do at Acme, Co., and go into detail about the goals you could accomplish and the money you could save them, so too, you should hammer home the benefits of your product, and the difference in can make in people’s lives. It’s not enough to make a bulleted list of features and some starbursts, and hope they get the point. 

II. Don’t Lie - It Will Blow Up in Your Face

MBA from Princeton? Phi Beta Kapa at Yale?

Almost every career advice site will tell you in no uncertain terms that any fibs you include in a resume, whether about job experience or education, will inevitably come out. So don't make them. 

So too, when it comes to singing the praises of your new doodad. Don't oversell it with false claims that will only come back to bite you. 

I once worked on a launch for a new retail product. I created a campaign including packaging, point of purchase displays and print ads. The problem was I had never seen, much less used, the product. I relied on the client's rose-colored information to create my materials, and, boy, did they look great. 

They worked great too. The product flew off the shelves for the first few weeks after it's release. Stores couldn't get enough of it. 

Then the complaints started coming in. 

It's not my intention here to bad mouth anyone, so I  won't go into any further detail. Suffice it to say that the item did not live up to the public's expectations, and later sales reflected that. 

Sophisticated advertising and marketing will still work if you lie - but only once. 

III. First Impressions Matter

First impressions really do matter. As one of my old bosses used to say, "Whoever said never judge a book by its cover never tried to sell one." Check out my last blog post for more on that. 

Life is not like "Britain's Got Talent," where a nervous fellow in a frumpy suit can wow the crowd with his stupendous voice and wind up an international celebrity. (True story.)

99.9% of the time you'll have less than 30 seconds to make a positive impression - either on a job interviewer or a customer, and you and/or your product need to look your (its) best. 

This applies just as much in print as in person. You'd be amazed how many promotional pieces use mediocre or downright bad photography. Or else imagery which does an inadequate job of selling the product. (See Sidebar - You’ve Got to See it To Believe It)

You’ve Got to See it To Believe ItThe level of cognitive dissonance in this area is truly astounding. I've had executives at ecommerce firms tell me that they know with absolute certainty that items with higher quality images sell better. And not a little better - a lot better. 
But the same executives then tell me that they're not planning on expanding their creative departments to generate this level of photography since there's no budget for it. 
When I was younger I even tried reasoning with them. "But with better images you're sales will go up. You already know this. The added revenue will more than pay for any additional cost.” 
When that failed, I tried just saying, “Hey, you’ll make more money!”
But it always fell on deaf ears. 
In any case, maybe this job interview metaphor would've been a more effective way of convincing them. 

IV. Do Your Homework

We've all heard this cringe-worthy interview story. 

A young fellow goes for an interview at McDonalds. 
The interviewer very logically asks, "Why do want to work here, at McDonalds?" In a voice full of youthful enthusiasm, the clueless candidate answers, "Well gee, Whoppers™ are my favorite food in the whole world!"

Of course, we all know that Whoppers™ are a trademarked product of Burger King. But our hapless job applicant got his fast food joints mixed up, and had his application rejected. 

If you're interviewing for a job you should find out as much as you can about the prospective company. 

If you're selling a product it's a little more complicated. You should find out as much as you can about both your product and your customers. 

Asking a copier salesman, "How many copies a minute does this baby churn out?" should be answered quickly and competently with the correct information. Inappropriate responses include, "Why would you need to know that?" Or, "I'll have to check with Tech Support and get back to you."

I recently went shopping for a car. When I had pretty much made up my mind which car I wanted, I went to a dealership to check it out. I asked the salesman specific questions about the car. Things like dealer installable options, financing, what the different trim lines included, etc. Standard stuff. The guy’s answers were all either misleading or factually incorrect. 

Hey buddy, FYI, Remote Start IS an option on the Prius V. And the model I wanted DOES come with Premium Sound.

In a similar vein you've got to know your market. Why is it that a lot of restaurants offer delivery? Take-out food is an impulse purchase, and something people very often want to enjoy at home or at work. (Not to mention schools and offices, that order in groups.) The storekeepers know that if they didn't offer delivery they would lose a lot of sales. 

Or how about cell phone service providers offering free nights and weekends as a gimmick to get new customers? They know the times when most people make calls, and they're not giving those minutes away! But it's something with a high perceived value, and it doesn't hurt their bottom line. 

The examples are limitless. 

V. Resumes (and Ads) Shouldn't Be Too Long - Should They?

Old school ad-man will tell you that there's nothing wrong with long-copy ads. Since an ad (or a resume) is doing the job of promoting something, theoretically you should be able to put in as much copy as necessary to achieve that goal. 

But that's only theoretical. The reality is far different. 

Career advisors say that, nowadays, resumes should be 1-2 pages, max. 

Are there similar rules for advertising? It used to be that long-copy ads were accepted under the “right” conditions. Usually that meant big ticket items for a more educated demographic who would be more likely to read a longer ad.

Nowadays, with gnat-like attention spans the norm, it is harder to find the a venue that lends itself to such advertising. Long copy should therefore usually be reserved for more qualified types of pieces - for example, brochures or PR pieces used as follow-ups after a customer has expressed interest. Once someone has shown interest in what you’re selling, you at least have chance that they’ll give you some attention.

The other instance in which long copy may be called for is in specific instances when you’re advertising a product to a tightly defined audience. E.g., if your ad has a headline like “Do You Suffer from Gastric Reflux,” you can be pretty sure who’ll be reading it, so longer copy may be ok.

Resumes have similar issues. I’ve spoken to potential employers and sent them my “short” resume. When I mentioned that I had a longer, more detailed version, they asked to see that as well, and were happy to get it. 

In fact, now that I think of it, the only ones to ever tell me my resume was too long were the career advisors I showed it to who told me to shorten it…

Basically, to tie it up and put a ribbon on it, I would say that advertising and PR copy should always be kept as focused and concise as possible to do the job you need it to do. And that goes for your resume as well - as long as you keep it to two pages or less ;-).

I’m sure there are more parallels and similarities between selling and interviewing, and maybe I’ll explore it further in a future post.

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

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!