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How To Tell a Good Ad From a Bad One

We always talk about how image advertising is not what you should be focusing your efforts on and how image advertising is a big, fat waste of your money. If you copy what the big institutions do in their advertising you will be dumping tons of dough down the drain.

But we often get asked…

”What is image/institutional advertising and what is direct response?”

"How can I tell the difference?"

We put this post together specifically for the purpose of showing you the difference.

We are going to show you two ads for a similar product. Both of the ads we pulled out of the magazine on the plane the other night and both of the ads are for a pair of noise canceling head phones. These are popular with frequent travelers, who want to catch up on reading or sleep on the plane.

One of the ads is for Sony’s version (ad #1) and the other for Bose (ad #2)

Let’s look at each ad individually, starting with Sony’s ad.

Sony’s ad is the institutional/image ad which has some characteristics that make it easily identifiable as such.

Here are the 3 tell tale image advertising characteristics

  1. A large picture that takes up a majority of the precious and expensive ad ad.jpg

In this case the photo is one that is obviously not real and has been photoshopped and doctored all up – if putting in a photo that takes up most of the ad isn’t bad enough they had to get cute with it and not even make it a realistic and believable photo.

  1. Only a little bit of copy or sales message

As is typical with most “image advertising,” the copy is almost nonexistent and what is there is some hodge-podge of creative malarkey that is trying make a point but most of the time that point gets so convoluted with creative crap that you can’t make heads or tails of it.

  1. Name at the top and some ridiculous slogan at the bottom

This one is most always present in image advertising. Since the main goal of this ad is to “get their name out there,” they might as well put the name right on the top.

Every ad needs a headline and most image ads use their name as the headline of their ad (most small businesses do this too).

A company’s name is the worst headline they can possibly use on an ad. It means nothing to a consumer and delivers no benefits or reason to read the ad.

Then at the bottom you’ll find that little tag line that some creative ad agency guy is patting himself on the back over and will be staring at for then 10 years until he comes up with the another “REAL WINNER”.

Cute and clever - yes. Effective? Absolutely not.

Most of these agency creative guys would be more comfortable in some swank dimly-lit coffee house downtown reading poetry and trying to be the next Jeffery Chaucer or Bob Ross – painting some happy little trees somewhere.

In order to sell in print you have to know how to sell in real life…most of these guys are art school junkies, graphic designers and even a handful of CREATIVE WRITING MAJORS…Yikes!!!

Ok…enough ranting – let’s move on to the better ad.

Bose’s ad is the direct response style ad which also has some characteristics that make it easily identifiable.

Here are 8 ways to tell that the ad will actually be effective.

  1. Headline

It’s got one! Not the best one, but it’s a good one. It draws you in, gets attention and sucks you into the rest of the copy.

  1. Sales copy

This ad has copy that sells in it. It’s not trying to make a point and be bose ad.jpgcute and clever. The copy is playing a sales function delivering features and benefits. The copy is empathizing with the reader about being stuck on a loaded plane, with the engines being loud and so on.

The Sony ad has a guy sitting on a plane but it also looks like it could be a bus or a subway. The magazine is an airline publicaiton. Bose does a great job here talking directly to the person - one on one. 

  1. Photo of product

Notice here how the only real photos in the ad are photos of the product. These photos are big too, so you can see the detail on the product. In the other ad the photo of the headphones was a tiny, nice, cute-as-a-button little shot, aesthetically placed right at the bottom in a true graphic design fashion.

Who needs to really see what they are buying anyway…that’s over rated.

  1. Testimonials

We know how important those are right??

  1. An offer

These headphones are not cheap so they use a 2 step approach. They ask you to order and information kit. A small, no pressure, no obligation step. Plus they have an offer of FREE shipping if you order by October 31.

  1. A call to action

The ad tells you to order or call for the kit call…the ad doesn’t leave it up to your imagination to decide what step to take next. It tells you flat out.

  1. A way to respond

It has a big, visible 800 number for you to call. You can pick up the air phone and dial it if you want to. I would make the ad say “pick up the air phone and order now and we’ll take the charges for the call right of the price.”

  1. A tracking tool

The phone number has a coded extension so they know exactly what ad the orders come from. They know if this is a good ad and if the publication is pulling its weight. They want to know how much money they make from running this ad. That is what direct response is all about.

The Sony ad doesn’t want to know that their ad won’t pull Jack so they don’t put a way to track it in the ad. Thank goodness for their really expensive ad agency – I guess that’s why the agency designed it that way – huh?