WOLFBITES - Issue 14

Favorite Commercials of 2006

Thumb UpAnd the winner is… it’s a tie between Volvo and Apple Computers. Volvo gets a nod for the TV spot where a dad picks up his pre-school-age daughter and seats her in his Volvo SUV. We then hear the daughter utter a seemingly disjointed – but actually very clever – review of what she did in school. The camera, meanwhile, is picking up one beauty shot after another of the SUV. So what’s so great? Volvo is reminding us, elegantly and beautifully, that you buy a Volvo because of what is in the Volvo – your children.

The best advertising plumbs deep emotions and desires.

Volvo television ad admired by Toronto copywriter Wolfgang FrankeThe best advertising plumbs deep emotions and desires – and few things exceed the desire to protect your children. See it on the Volvo web site. It’s one in a series and is called “On Our Way Home”. The commercial theme – Who would you give a Volvo to? – inspired thousands of responses, proving that I am not the only fan of this great ad. By the by, there is a big continuity mistake in this commercial (something happens midway in the commercial that couldn’t logically have happened because of how the commercial started). Not important, really, but see if you can spot it.

Then there is Apple Computers. Unless you live in a hole, you have seen the TV commercials featuring, in the beginning, just two men, one representing a PC, the other representing an Apple Computer. There is no set and no screaming music track – just the two guys, who happen to be perfectly cast and are blessed with fabulous scripts that prove IT commercials don’t have to be boring and technical. If you have a used a PC or Apple, you recognize immediately the sales points made the Apple Guy.

The Apple campaign proves
– once again – that less is more

That’s part of the charm, but what’s really outstanding – and what you should notice – is the “less is more” approach. By putting the two actors on a virtually blank set, you are focused, like a laser, on what they say, which is important because the sales message is in the banter between the two characters. Moreover, you instantly recognize the ad because it is so simple and clean. So while everyone else is doing busy TV spots with all manner of jumping and dancing and shouting – usually all at once – Apple stands out by doing just the opposite.

At the heart of every commercial,
there is a strong, singular concept

Television ad for MAC computer admired by Toronto freelance writer Wolfgang FrankeYou should ask the same from your agency – ask for a single strong concept that stands out and stands up to the test of the time. I loved the first Apple spot, the second one was even better and while the follow-ups didn’t always meet the excellence of the intro spot, I actually look forward to seeing the next Apple TV spot. Have a look at them yourself. My fav is gift exchange.

Honorable mention: The GEICO “So easy even a caveman can do it campaign".

A public service announcement for buyers of
outdoor advertising

Bus transit ad not admired by Toronto freelance copywriter Wolfgang Franke, who is also President of Words at Work, a Toronto advertising agency specializing in small business marketing.Just the other day I found myself behind a bus featuring some sort of ad for a car dealership. Although I was just a couple of car lengths behind the bus, I could not read most of the text, which was crammed between poorly selected and assembled images. When the bus stopped, I was finally able to read some of the text and was amused to see the following headline “You will see the difference”.

The funny part was that you couldn’t see the headline unless your nose was virtually up against the bus. This is a huge mistake that violates all the most basic guidelines for outdoor advertising. Outdoor advertising has to meet these tests: 1) It must be readable from a distance (the actual distance depends on what you are buying – billboards, transit shelter, mall poster, etc.) 2) The viewer must be able to tell, at a glance, what is being sold and what they have to gain by buying the product or service. Not easy.

Unreadable ads produce just a
fraction of the potential response

You need to know how to deliver a sales message with an image and a few words, or perhaps no words at all. This takes talent – talent you will only find at a good advertising or marketing shop. One other thing – you are not getting a deal when the media buyer offers to do your ad for “free”. You will end up getting something like the unreadable bus ad I mentioned earlier. An ad that is difficult to read will draw only a fraction of your potential market because so many good prospects will miss it entirely. For every 10 possible buyers, you will be lucky to get one. This, regrettably, happens all the time. And the worst part is that you still pay the full media cost, which is always the biggest part of your investment.

Memo to owners of car dealerships

From: Wolfgang Franke
To: Car dealerships
Re: Why your advertising sucks

While changing into my street clothes at the local fitness club, I overhead this conversation between two males, both in their early 20s.

Male One – I just bought a new car.

Male Two – Yea -- where did you buy it?

Male One – Went to the same site I went to when I bought my last car. Got what I wanted and the price was good.

Male Two – Remember when we used to go to a dealership to buy a car?

Male One – Yea, I don’t know why anybody would do that now…

If that doesn’t send a shiver up the back of car dealerships, it should. More and more sites are cropping up on the net that ease and simplify the process of buying or selling a car. Meanwhile, the majority of car dealers are acting as if was 1967, not 2007. They continue to run huge, amateurish print ads in daily newspapers, jammed with what appears to be every font and image in the “art director’s” hard drive.

This, of course, means absolutely nothing stands out. And it also means one stupid car dealership ad looks exactly like the next stupid car dealership ad. In fact, you could just exchange the logos and address information and nobody would be the wiser.

It is, of course, utterly unnecessary – and foolish – to see print ads in isolation. They should, instead, be seen as a bridge to your web site (assuming it is any good). For a car dealer, this means you can use the print ad to sell your entire offering (sales, staff, service) and perhaps one or two featured vehicles.

All the rest can be displayed in your web site in far greater detail – and at less cost – than anything you could do in the print ad. You might also want to consider adding some content that makes your site interesting and rewarding to visit.

You might even want to do some Web 2.0 stuff – you know, where the visitor supplies the content. That would make you a market leader with a strong web presence your competitors could not match. And the next time I go to my fitness club, I could overhear a couple of members talking about the vehicle they found on your web site.

Who wrote this?

Thumbs down symbol symbolizing the negative reaction of freelance copywriter Wolfgang Franke to a radio ad for a car dealership.We hate seeing companies waste their hard-earned marketing dollars on campaigns that feature weak messaging and images. The latest example is a radio script for Bob Bannerman, who sells Chrysler, Dodge Jeep in Toronto and heads up a dealership, located at 888 Don Mills Road, with 46 years of sales and service experience and plenty of fodder for an interesting radio script. Yet the script begins with this head scratchier, read by Mr. Bannerman: “From global warming to your job, everything is changing.” Say what? Global warming is not changing. It is, by most accounts, here. As for “your job”, it is one of the things in your life that rarely changes. And just what does this have to do about selling cars? Not much.

And, please, don’t suggest that this ad “worked” because I noticed it. What I noticed was something we see all too often – a half-right campaign with a good media strategy but woefully weak creative that kills response. If you dig deeper, you usually find out that the campaign was sold by a media rep who promised to “throw in the creative for free”. On the surface, this sounds good to the client. After all, why pay for the creative if you can get it for free?

The problem is that this free creative almost always sucks. The client usually gets some response, but it’s far from what they could get with even average creative produced by a junior writer who understands that radio is theatre of the mind. You use words and sounds to create images in the mind of the listener that support your unique selling point – and you recognize that you have to stand out because you are competing for attention against the other radio spots that come before and after your commercial.

The first words and/or sounds in the script have to grab – and hold – the listener. So what do you think? Does “From global warming to your job, everything is changing” make you want to listen? Does it intrigue you? Does it tell you anything about why it pays to purchase a car from Mr. Bannerman?

Different ways to sell the same thing

Thumb UpFirst, there was the carrot bunch, dirty and unadorned with any packaging other than an elastic band. One bunch of carrots was pretty much like another bunch of carrots until someone realized that there might be a market for trimmed and bagged carrots. That would be a little more convenient – and because it was more convenient – you could charge more. Then came trimmed, bagged and cleaned carrots. And after that we got the cute “baby” carrot, nicely cleaned, shorn and bagged.

What can we learn from this? You can sell more stuff, if you just change how you sell your stuff. All of the above product examples are, in the end, carrots. All that changed was how the carrots were presented to the consumer. You can do the same with your products or service. All it takes is the ability to get out or “your skin” and get into the “skin of your customer”. Stop thinking about the carrot and start thinking about how your customer could use the carrot.

Need an example? Here is an absolutely fabulous one. See if you guess it before I reveal the concept:

A few months back, my wife and I went to a wedding in the dead of winter. We are amazed by the location, which was like nothing we have ever seen before. Most notably, there was an absolutely outstanding collection of greenery that makes the wedding seem like – well – a summer-time event. It’s not unusual, of course to see greenery at a wedding – it’s part of the ambiance.

But this location has more plants and trees than we have ever seen in a wedding hall. And it should… because this winter wedding is not being held in traditional wedding hall. It’s being held in a nursery that over the winter months is transformed into a wedding hall. The nursery is still a nursery, but instead of shipping potted trees and vines to a wedding hall, it becomes the wedding hall. Brilliant.

Two reasons to fire your advertising agency

Thumb DownYou know it is time to get a new advertising agency when they send you anything that features this lame wording:

Firing Offence #1
“We are pleased to….”. This flaccid phrase gets used again and again because it’s assumed that anything used that often must be OK. Wrong. It is a verbal crutch used when a writer can’t come up with an original idea. Plain and simple, your customers and prospects could care less whether you are “pleased”. They do care about what’s in it for them if they buy your product or service.

Firing Offence #2
It’s (insert season), so we are holding a (season) event. Big deal. Do you think anybody really hasn’t noticed that it is Spring or Fall? Is this really the best reason you can give for why it pays to buy your product or sale? Reject this with due disdain. And then get yourself a new agency.

Read Wolfgang's latest marketing blog.

Wolfgang Franke is President & Creative Director of Words at Work Advertising & Marketing, a full service communications company established in 1988. Our growing list of valued clients are found throughout our local market, Markham and the Greater Toronto area, across Canada in cities such as London, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta, and an expanding list of international locations ranging from The Big Apple in New York to Kanturk, Ireland.

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