Real Ads for Real People

Here’s how the pitch goes: We’re going to start by showing our latest product animating across the ad. It’s a great product and should automatically attract the customer’s attention. Once the customer is paying attention, we can tell him all about the features that make this a great product. Then we offer to send the customer a full-color brochure when he enters his name and address into the ad. If we need to, we can create a link that will open up a pop-up window that shows the quality comparison between our products and those of our competition. Finally, we get the customer to click through to the Web site where he can place an order. This is exactly the approach we need! I’m not kidding when I say that I’ve heard many approaches like this at one time or another from either agency designers or advertisers. However, despite the greatest wishes of advertisers, if the ads don’t speak to the people who are the intended audience, then the ads don’t work.

What often seems to be forgotten is that real people make up the audience for advertising. And sometimes, the thinking of advertisers has an arrogant undertone; they leave the impression that the people who are their customers aren’t as smart or sophisticated as they are.

But the reason why an ad doesn’t work on you is generally the same reason why the ad doesn’t work on your less-sophisticated neighbor: We are all real people.

The following points should be benchmarks against which online ads are designed. To ignore these points could mean disaster for your campaign.

Real people have much less interest in what the advertiser does for a living and more in how the offer affects them.

I’m often surprised by how many ads start out with “Hi, we’re XYZ company and we do this for a living. Click here to visit our Web site.” While all of it may be factual, this approach is as about as interesting as waiting for a bus. For starters, customers really don’t care what the advertiser does for a living. They are only interested in how the advertiser’s products can benefit their lives.

To be appealing, the advertiser has to offer the customer a solution or approach that either provides something to customers or keeps them from losing something.

Tell customers how it is that you can help them. Make the benefit you offer obvious, and present the offer in a way that makes it apparent that only the hopeless and the insane would pass up an offer this great.

Real people aren’t motivated to do anything unless they can see a clear personal benefit from doing so.

It’s the story of me. Customers have a single perspective on the world and are really interested only in how things affect them. Advertising messages that we receive daily have to make it through our relevance filters before we will give them the time of day. If an advertising offer doesn’t meet a personal need, then it doesn’t even stick around long enough to be registered. It’s out of mind and out of sight.

Talk to customers. Tell them the benefits of the product being advertised as they apply to them. You will never find a product that all customers will need equally. But unless you come right out and tell customers what the product being advertised means to them, you won’t reach most of them.

Real people don’t take the time to read the small text.

In online advertising, too much content has the paradoxical outcome of causing the customer to ignore all of it. Although every word of your message may be true and valuable, if the customer perceives it to be too much to read easily, then it is avoided and becomes design clutter.

Keep text to a minimum. Avoid telling the company’s story in the ad. Focus on getting across one clear point about the product and its value to the customer. If you can do this successfully, you’re heading down the right path.

Real people will avoid anything that looks like too much effort.

If the ad requires customer action for it to do its job, then the task had better be very simple or have unquestionable value to the customer.

If the customer is expected to take action, such as providing personal information, the less asked for, the better. The greater the incentive behind the offer, the greater the chance of getting a customer to provide information. There’s a big difference between a customer’s motivation to provide an email address when faced with the choice of entering a million-dollar giveaway or receiving a full-color brochure on why company X is better than company Y.

Real people don’t click on ads to go to Web sites without a good reason.

Get real. If you expect customers to click on an ad, there had better be a great reason to do so. By only making an offer to click through, you might get a few really bored people to click every thousand times the ad is shown. Real people, however, have no interest in wandering around an advertiser’s Web site just to take in the sights. It’s like calling a telemarketer up to see what the offer of the day is!

Do the branding in the ad. If the customer is interested in learning more, she will visit the site… later.

When designing a campaign, put yourself in the shoes of the customer as often as you can. Focus on telling customers why they should care about the offer and how they can take advantage it. If the ad or product doesn’t have a strong appeal to you, the advertiser, then you can pretty much guarantee that the customer will be even less interested.

Related reading