I’m an advertising guy. And ad guys are not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation. We write how normal people talk, not how english teachers teach.
So it’s pretty unusual for me to take issue with anything grammar related. But someone has to speak out about all the exclamation points popping up in marketing circles. If I see one more boring marketing cliche punctuated with three of these !!! I’m going to scream.
Exclamation points are everywhere these days… in social media posts, on home pages, in emails, ad copy, and even in straight-forward product descriptions.
“All natural! Gluten-free! GMO-free! Vegan!!!”
I have news for you… There’s no correlation between the number of exclamation points and the effectiveness of your copy. Just the opposite, in fact. The more exclamation points, the less believable it is.
Yelling never works, and that’s the effect of all the exclamation points. Like a hyped-up used car salesman, in your face…”Seating for four! Steering wheel! Air bags!” Putting exclamation points on your list of features is not going to make them more compelling.
Give me a break. (See how I did NOT use an exclamation point right there. I could have said, “Give me a break!”)
Nothing says desperate, amateur writer faster than a bunch of exclamation points at the end of a sentence…
You’ll love the new John Deere riding mowers!
The longest, straightest driver ever!
Better comfort! Better feel! Better performance!
Your whole family will love it!!!
Really? Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into a boisterous, unbelievable claims. It’s just not a normal tone of voice, and it’s going to affect your credibility. If you want better ad copy, just shut up and use a period.
In business communications, credibility is critical. Your message needs to sound believable. Professional. Sensible. When you add the exclamation mark it sounds like your pants are on fire. Be understated instead.
You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy without adding exclamation points. Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest. Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write some micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test them on people. Get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to re-write. You have to be patient and persistent if you want copy that really sells.
I’ve never seen a great headline with an exclamation mark after it. Ever. So here’s a good rule of thumb… if your headline has one, throw out the whole thing and start over. Try crafting a headline that is relevant and intriguing on its own, without all the grade school punctuation.
Graham Robertson of Beloved Brands recently revealed some reasons why advertising is so hard to do well. I won’t give them away, but I will share 4 common advertising errors that should be avoided.
But first, consider this… Advertising is hard for the corporate brand manager who has big ad agencies, market research firms, and millions of dollars at her disposal. It’s hard for the mid-level marketing manager who knows his consumer, his market and his sales pitch, really, really well.
Advertising is even hard for the hottest advertising agencies. They don’t always hit home runs.
So why do so many CFO’s, CEOs, sales guys, engineers and accountants think it’s easy? Why do they take it upon themselves to write headlines, choose photos, and dictate the direction of print ads, commercials and digital campaigns? This DIY mentality is rampant in small and medium-sized businesses.
Please, if you’re responsible for your company’s advertising — and ultimately, the perception of your brand — delegate the advertising to a pro. Not to the intern who’s doing social media posts.
Effective leaders know when to quit and how to delegate. They recognize their own limitations and they hire well-qualified employees and agency partners to fill in the gaps. I guarantee you, the leaders who attract great talent and build sustainable brands are not doing their own advertising.
Micromanagers repel talent. And when they try to do their own advertising, their brands repel customers.
Robertson says the best brand managers do two things: They keep great advertising on the air, and they keep bad ads off. So if you’re in charge, if nothing else, avoid these 4 common advertising errors at all costs:
1. Bad Puns
When the experts sit down to devise concepts for a new ad campaign, puns always come up. It’s a natural part of the creative process. Luckily, most copywriters have enough common sense to throw out the bad puns with all the other quickly conjured ideas.
Unfortunately, those who should NOT be doing the ads — bosses, accountants, engineers and spouses — sometimes force puns upon us.
For instance, zoos have a lot of material for puns and adolescent humor. Otters, lemurs and baboons are just begging to end up in meme hell. “Come and visit our new ‘otter’ space.” (Sorry. See how quickly that can go south.)
Even banks have digressed into the land of punishing puns. Like this ridiculous one for Washington Mutual, when it was still in business:
Chicken Checking for a has-been bank
Puns are the low hanging fruit of advertising ideas, and should be picked quickly and spit out. Into the trash. A good writer will turn a phrase, craft the line, and have fun with some words, but he won’t give in to the temptation of puns.
I get paid to tell clients what’s on brand, and what’s off brand. I’ve yet to encounter a company where a bad pun would be on brand.
2. False and misleading claims.
This one should go without saying, and yet I recently read that a local car dealer got fined $28,000 for false advertising. Bait and switch is not a good branding strategy.
I’ve also seen this happen in the natural foods industry… there are still a lot of snake oil salesmen out there who want to make outlandish, unprovable claims about the healthiness of their products. Don’t do it. Let your tribe of like-minded, health-conscious adult customers come to their own conclusions. A talented team of advertising pros can find truth in just about any product or service. If they can’t, you better find a different agency.
A lot of companies these days want to provide discounts, promos and “incentives.” These come in many forms, from deal-of-the-week online coupons to Facebook promotions and new client referral deals.
Unfortunately, “offers” like that are like the crack cocaine of marketing. People get hooked. They’re not loyal, long-term customers, they’re just deal junkies looking for a fix. Next week they’ll be off buying from someone else with a better offer. It’s not a good, long-term strategy unless your prices substantially lower than your competitors. Are you out to build a “value” brand in your category? If so, go right ahead! Run discounts, sales and incentive programs all day long. Attract as many of those deal junkies as you can and be prepared to continuously court a whole new crew of customers.
If not, you better spend time devising a new value proposition. You need better reasons to buy than just price.
Talking about yourself
Delete the words “we” “me” “ours” “I” and “my” from all your marketing communications. If you’re talking about yourself, listeners will tune you out faster than you can say “next station.”
Your insider information does not translate to relevance for the consumer. And cliches like “our friendly courteous staff…” will do absolutely nothing for your bottom line.
All the consumer cares about is “what’s in it for me?” So if you want to get through to customers and make sales, talk about them. Not about you, or your family, or your company, or your company’s processes.
I saw an awful commercial recently for a local golf course (The high-falutin’ kind that charges $85 bucks a round but isn’t as good as the local municipal course.) It was nothing but a family portrait of the pro/owner and his not-so-cute family. “Hey, look at us!”
The spot was based on the ridiculous assumption that “family owned” counts for something among golfers. To me it just means that guy and his family are getting rich by overcharging for a mediocre round of golf.
Talk about flushing money down the drain. Not only will that claim NOT attract golfers, the message will actually REPEL prospects and encourage them to call the neighboring golf course where there aren’t any little rug rats running around.
I guarantee you, that was a do-it-yourself ad. (I think he committed three out of the 4 advertising errors.) He might as well just give his hand his competitor the money he spent on that commercial.
For more on how to do better advertising, try THIS post.
If you want advertising that’s well thought out, and well executed, call me at BNBranding.
Sometimes, when it comes to copywriting, one word can be the difference between a marketing home run and a dribbling bunt.
Use a boring, expected word, and you’ll get boring results. Introduce incongruity into the word choice, and you’ll hit it out of the park.
Here’s an example:
I was doing a campaign for a commercial real estate concern, and the client was completely fixated on one word in a headline: “Precious.”
“I don’t like it. Babies are precious, not parking places,” she argued.
“Yes, that’s precisely why it works,” I countered. “Besides, diamonds are also precious. And what’s more valuable than diamonds?”
By using that one word I exaggerated the value of “free parking” and elevated a mundane product feature to an entirely different realm.
It was an effective use of incongruity in advertising copy, and she just couldn’t get her head around it. Just as most people can’t get their heads around the idea of disruption in advertising.
So I showed her some alternative adjectives that I knew would not work…
“Popular” just didn’t have the same effect. “Convenient” didn’t have the alliteration I was looking for. “Valuable” just sucks.
The more options I showed her, the better the word “precious” seemed. The incongruity of it was perfect for that context and purpose. Eventually the client relented, and the ad ran, quite successfully.
Incongruity in advertising is a mismatch between an element in the ad and an existing frame of reference. (Elements being product photo, brand name, endorser, music selection, word choice, etc.)
Academic research on the subject has shown that “incongruity causes disturbances in one’s cognitive system”…
That’s precisely what advertising people are going for: a disturbance in your thinking that causes you to pause, consider or reflect on the brand. That’s what good copywriting is all about. That’s what iconic brands are built on.
“Empirical evidence suggests that individuals presented with INcongruity are more likely to engage in detailed processing than they are with congruity, and may even respond positively to the incongruity.”
On the other hand, ads, tweets, presentations and websites that contain nothing new or different will not be processed at all.
Here’s an example of bad copywriting from a Bed & Breakfast website:
“Welcome to our home! We invite you to look around our website and consider a stay with us on your next visit to or through Lexington. When we open our door to you, we consider you as welcome guests, but want you to feel as comfortable here as you do in your own home. Our mission is to provide you with lodging, rest and meals that are memorably special, to do so with the kind of Southern hospitality you expect and deserve, in tasteful household surroundings that carry the tradition of Old South charm. You will find something “extra” everywhere you turn during your stay, from the bedding, room amenities, complimentary toiletries, and more…Each area has its own entertainment system, open WiFi access, and, for each room, individual climate controls. We believe you will enjoy your stay with us so much that you will regret having to leave, but depart looking forward to another visit. We hope to see you soon.
No one’s going to stick with this copy beyond the first four words. And “Complimentary toiletries”… Really? I sure hope so.
Copy like that is, what I’d call, boringly congruent. It’s so expected and chock full of cliche’s no one’s going to hear it. Our brains are wired to weed out the mundane, like a triple speed fast-forward button on the TV remote.
In marketing, the opposite of incongruity is not congruity. It’s invisibility.
When all the elements line up in the same, old, expected way the message becomes completely invisible. Without some degree of incongruity, the copywriting fails.
But effective incongruity hinges on proper, relevant context.
Example: I recently used some nonsensical words in a campaign directed toward restaurant owners.
They know what babaganoush is. And Paninis.
The context made the incongruity of the words effective. If the target had been the general public, it’d be a different story.
If an element is totally out of context AND incongruent, it seldom works.
I recently saw a TV spot for a local realtor that was so wildly out of context and incongruent, it didn’t work at all. All you see are tattooed arms putting a puzzle together while the voice-over talks about “the real estate market is tearing families apart.”
If you’re a client who purchases advertising, try to embrace incongruity in the right context. It could be one word in a headline that seems not quite right, or one image or graphic. Chances are, if it seems just a little outta place it’s going to work well. It’ll stop people in their tracks and engage the creative side of their brain.
So next time you’re working on an email campaign, a powerpoint presentation, or anything… take time to throw in at least one unexpected word that will break through all the “babaganoushit.”
It makes all the difference.
For more on making your advertising messages more memorable, try THIS post.