The Biggest Mistake We Make When Trying To Advertise Ourselves


Sunday, 9.19pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad. – Howard Luck Gossage

Like most of you, I suspect, I’ve tried writing a blog at various points – and most of them fell by the wayside.

I drew the picture above for one of these attempts in April 2016 to talk about The Man in the Chair.

In 1958 McGraw-Hill, a publisher of business titles, came up with an ad – The Man in the Chair – which then ran for the next three or four decades.

The point of the ad was that a buyer knows almost nothing about you when they first become aware of you – so why do you think they should buy from you?

Now, you probably don’t think that – but it’s a lesson many of us learn over time, often too late.

For example, when you send off your CV for a job do you assume that everything the reviewer needs to know is in there?

Do you not mention something when you’re talking to someone because you assume they must already know?

Most people are much less informed about you, your product or your service than you might think.

I was browsing through Great advertising campaigns by Nicholas Ind, and he points out in the book that it’s easy for those involved with a brand – those who spend much of their time thinking and working and trying to figure out how to tell others about their brand – to assume that it’s just as important to the consumer.

In reality, it’s probably inconsequential – or at least nowhere near as important as you think it might be.

For example in the utility industries – those dealing with electricity, gas, water and telecoms – there is a huge amount of complexity.

There is regulation, change, investment, billing – all kinds of arcane things that keep people employed.

Most consumers, however, are interested in two things at most.

Do they have to do something – are they obliged to comply?

What does it mean for their budgets?

Other than that they want you to sort out all the complexity.

So, at the sharp end, the bit that points at the consumer you need a very simple message.

In the book Nicholas tells you about Absolut Vodka – how Geoff Hayes, an Art Director, came up with the idea of showing the vodka bottle with words like “It’s absolutely perfect.”

His writer pointed out that you could trim that to “Absolut Perfection.”

Two words – and it captures something.

But, the book points out, is that the reason the team thought they had something was because from those two words they had ten ideas for how to present things – which is what made it a campaign.

It takes time to get a sense of what something is – what it means.

And even if that something is you – you might find that it takes time to figure that out – and it takes time to figure out what your business is all about.

And it’s probably worth remembering that if it takes us so long to work it out – it must be even harder for someone else.

The mistake we make is trying to sell – to close – too early in the process.

What we really need to learn when trying to advertise is that, as the McGraw-Hill ad says, “sales start before your salesman calls.”

So design your advertising to help your customer get to know you in a way that works for them.

And then the sales seem to just happen.


Karthik Suresh

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