There is good advertising and then there is what I call badvertising!

The ads below are not necessarily the worst of the worst out there from my perspective but represent a sample cross section for me to critique and apply my Sales and Marketing for “You” methodology to. What I want to do is present a selection of ads which I will then critique and propose new taglines and strategies for. In doing so I will have the opportunity to discuss many of the salient principles of sales and marketing that I have already written about which tie into advertising such as positioning, messaging, wording, competitive advantage, differentiation, needs, knowing your customer, speaking their language and selling a lifestyle or experience based on their values.

The truth is that there is no formula for coming up with creative advertising ideas and catchy slogans, let alone a repeatable strategy to create truly inspiring ads that resonate with, become part of and shape the cultural zeitgeist. The advertising greats of the past as well as present masters - not to mention successful artists of every genre! - use the same technique that I am going to apply on the ads below: creative thinking. All this means is that you sit back, brainstorm and work on those ideas that “pop up” that resonate with your heart, mind and gut.

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Features don't sell


This made up ad by UK communications regulator Ofcom exemplifies a typical features-based ad that is the lowest common denominator of advertising as far as I am concerned. This is more of an informative than persuasive approach because all a company does is tout features such as price and, in this case “unlimited downloads” without explaining a crucial question the customer will ask: What's in it for me (WIIFM)? You should always try and connect a feature to benefits by explaining to a customer what a specific feature means for them. Don't leave that thinking up to your customer because they may or may not be able to make the connection themselves! Ultimately, you want to connect features and benefits to customer needs, experience, lifestyle and values.

Let's say price is a required feature for such an ad in this industry because it is something that every customer asks about as a staring point. That is often the case with products or services in which there is not much room for competitive differentiation. What is the next thing a customer reads? “Broadband.” How about we apply some imagination here and think about what having the Internet means in terms of a customer's experience. Could we say “The world from 15 / month?” and then explain we mean the worldwide web? Perhaps that would be too much and some customers might be put off thinking we are trying to fool them. However, this is the kind of thinking we are looking for, something that turns the ordinary into extraordinary. One of the advertising masters I admire today says, “advertising is poison gas” which to me means that it should be interruptive and invasive to the extreme!

We might just end up with something along the lines of, “Unlimited art, science and entertainment from 15/ month”. That way we can tuck “Unlimited Downloads” into the fine print along with “Free customer service” and “No connection fee” which don't seem like such big deals to me and can just as well be included as part of a standard package. How about ”Stay connected from 15/ month” or even just “Connect from 15/ month”? Once again, broadband Internet is a feature but what we should ideally be advertising is what the customer is going to do or experience. At the very least, can we come up of a more novel way of saying what we are saying such as "Unlimited Online from $15/ month"?

Can we headline something interesting, please?


There are two things wrong with this ad for Tummy Tuck jeans: the tagline is not persuasive enough and it talks about the wrong feature. I have written about how advertising is often about conveying a central idea with as much emotion and impact as possible but the problem here is that if you read the ad, what will strike you as being a truly revolutionary concept is the fact that these jeans apparently make you look 1 size smaller. Now that is something to advertise! Saying that your jeans will fit you does not seem like such a big deal and is not the same thing. If you did want to advertise along those lines, how about something more forceful like, “Throw away your other jeans” which is what you are going to want to do after wearing these.

How can we convey the fact of your looking one size smaller? How about ”You are thinner than you think” - similar to Scotiabank's "You are richer than you think"! -, “I thought I was a 21!” or, more accurately, "This 21 looks like a 20!" Keep in mind that just like what I call ”Held Back” Sales and Marketing, your advertising tag line – or your whole ad for that matter! - does not have to reveal everything about your product or service to your customer. You are simply trying to engage, interest and get your customer curious to the point that they act (visit your website, purchase, etc). My second tagline, therefore, just gets you thinking and creates a question in your mind that you must then read the rest of the ad in order to answer.

Imagine... coming up with something original!

Another sample ad from the Government of Canada department(s) behind the Imagine Education in Canada brand that is so 90s! How many ads have you seen with a profound one-word tagline like “Think”, “Dream”, “Connect”, “Believe” or HP's “Invent” (Nissan has a similar take on this them with “Shift_” followed by all kinds of things like “Perspective”)? I think these supposedly profound motivational type messages were spawned from taglines along the lines of “Discover Your Dreams”, “Love Your Life”, “No Fear” and Nike's ubiquitous “Just Do It”. The problem is that they only work when your product or service really is revolutionary or, quite frankly, has nothing to do with the tagline. Why this is so is something that is beyond the scope of the present discussion...

On a side note, a nice addition to this genre of motivational taglines is one of my personal favourites which is Lexus' “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” (here another variation by Lexus on their famous slogan!). At first glance this seems like a typical “we”-centric ad that is talking about the company instead of being “you”-centric which means the customer. However, I would like to think that this slogan represents an invitation by the company for the customer themselves to join Lexus in relentlessly pursuing perfection. In fact, purchasing a Lexus in itself is a sign of the customer's dedication to this concept. Is it too much to hope that this is what this message is meant to convey at least in part or is that kind of advertising still some years away?

Going back to “Imagine”... there are two reasons this word does not work here: firstly, is that it is not a standalone statement and secondly, linking it to “Hands-On Learning” is not such a big deal. If you were to say, “Imagine – Learning in Outer Space” then that is something people would sit up and pay attention to and the kind of effect you are aiming for ideally. Since that is not applicable here, how about <b>”Imagine - Learning That Is Fun”? This works well because the demographic this brand is targeting is children who – fortunately! - are not as jaded and sceptical as grown-ups about advertising and don't need to be oversold. Kids are also more imaginative and can take the concept of fun learning and by themselves create a picture perfect scenario in their minds of how cool that would be. Personally, I would ditch "Imagine" and instead say "Learning can be" followed by words like "Fun." "Engaging." "Fulfilling." underneath.

Automobiles + accidents = ???

BMW wins points for using a public service appeal and conveying a powerful message visually but why would a car manufacture want to advertise accidents and talk about spare parts at all? On a complete side note, BMW deserves major credit for creating breakthrough iconic short films such as ”The Hire” that revolutionized advertising and became an on-and-offline sensation propelling their protagonist Clive Owen to A-list superstardom (and by the way, they did what they were meant to which is increase BMW's revenues significantly!). While the idea of making a short movie to advertise a car may not seem that far-fetched or pioneering BMW's genius laying in creating high-quality productions by enlisting the best movie makers, directors and actors available.

In terms of the wording for this ad, how about “You could lose more than your licence”? That way we can avoid tying into the term “spare parts” altogether. Another problem with the original wording is the word “original”: there is just something wrong with the way it is used and some readers may or may not get what the ad means at all the first time they read it. Ambiguity should be avoided unless it is a part of your strategy but for the sake of argument, if we want to stick with talking about spare parts then how about, simply, “Don't end up needing a spare part yourself”? This is somewhat the same approach as in my first suggestion and automatically implies that your car needs spare parts although you do not mention this outright.

Trying too hard to be funny is not

This ad is for a software company called Synygy and there is so much wrong with it I don't know where to start! I'm serious, this is the kind of ad that sends shivers up my spine – in a bad way! - and gives me the creeps. The problems is that it takes a number of great ideas but does not execute them well. Rather, the whole thing to me seems like a hodgepodge of visual and messaging concepts that were taken from good ads and put together here by a team that did not really understand how to duplicate the effect of their building blocks (let alone create a new and fresh concept out of their starting materials). It is just the same as if you took different bits from various classical paintings and put them all together in an effort to create your own classic (hey, has anyone tried that?!).

Let's start with the picture; the problem with it is that the folks in it are too serious! Seriously. I mean, look at them: they are typical corporate folks who don't seem to be having anywhere near the amount of fun they should be. Does it make a different that they are salesfolks (Synygy is a Sales Compensation Management solution)? I don't know but I think what happened here is that Synygy used an ad agency that is good at producing software ads and this is what they came up with. They took a hilarious concept what could have worked great but were not able to have enough fun with it. Do you feeling like smiling or grimacing when you see this ad? There is just something not right about the whole thing. The wording is the same: it is almost funny but not quite (and shouldn't it be " your organization"??). One reason may be because being performance-driven is a very serious concept that is a core value in most businesspeople and almost sacred in the corporate world.

Ideally, I would have more fun people in the picture with a caption like, ”Results-Oriented. Competitive. Nuts” Notice how the first two terms are also serious corporate terms and it is the use of the word “nuts” that gives the whole thing a funny angle and gives us permission to laugh. Also notice that “results-oriented” is the first thing a reader sees but this does not necessarily connect with the picture. This is intentional because we want to illicit their curiosity once again. Then they read “competitive” and this ties in better to the picture. So they move on expecting something along the same gradient and we have “nuts” which is like the unexpected punchline (to be perfectly honestly, I would personally use "Bonkers" or even ”Insane” but that is probably too much for most advertising clients who are paying for the ad!). The concept of the ad would be to give Synygy a “marketing personality” that is fun and different and, as well, let a customer relate to their own team as a bunch of fun-loving go-getters.

"They sell burgers with that line, don't they?"

Did somebody say McDonald's? Oh, I'm sorry, this is an American Express ad! Well, the tagline “Who's getting one?” spells M-c-D-O-N-A-L-D-S to me, I'm afraid. That is not to say that the bandwagon advertising appeal is wrong, just that it should be done right and for the right kind of product like Dr. Scholl's “Are You Gellin'?” Capital One Financial started this approach with credit cards by asking, “What's in Your Wallet?” and, frankly, I don't care if it worked for them or not (its success would of course be a reason for the good folks at AMEX to want to copy them!). The problem to me is that the bandwagon approach commoditizes your product. Therefore, while you do get the mass appeal aspect you are looking for, you lose out because you are positioning your product the same way you would say, a carton of milk.

The main text of the ad is what caught my attention and, once again, it diminishes the brand by touting a bunch of features just like the broadband ad I started this article off with. Now here's the thing: American Express are actually delivering a great new concept but they are not communicating it well. A reader has to get over their built-in features-and-benefits blocker – which most people have nowadays due to an incessant onslaught of sales, marketing and advertising over the decades, both good and bad! - as well as read between the lines to get to the heart of what is being said which should have been: ”A charge card that is like a credit card, only better”. The only good things about the ad as it stands is the colour palette - "Plum"! - and the "Ad Feedback" button which is an excellent idea and not one I have seen used before.

And who is Liz again??

Advertising in fashion is an industry in and of itself and I don't feel bad including another fashion ad in my list of badvertising. There are two things wrong with this ad as well which are the concept and the wording. Firstly, once again, who cares about Liz Clairborne? Also, are we meant to know what she looked like in the past and what makes her different now? Shouldn't the ad be about the customer (”you”)? What's wrong with “A New You” or “The New You”? Let's suppose that the ad is simply meant to target existing Liz Clairborne fans who follow the brand like celebrity-obsessed teens, shouldn't the ad simply read ”The New Liz”? Why the extraneous “look of” which is clunky and extraneous? I guess these copywriters haven't heard of William Strunk and “The Elements of Syle” (“omit needless words”!!). Looking at it for the umpteenth time, I think what happened is that they were trying to avoid having to say "Liz's New Look" which is still better.

Almost not bad

Here is an example of the bandwagon strategy I was giving American Express such a hard time about actually working. I said that it was best applied to commodities but I should have said that it applies to commodities or the further thing from a commodity (like a vacation in this case!). The reason is the same reason that the motivational-tagline approach I talked about above works for products that have nothing to do with the tagline. Here's why: if you connect a tagline to your picture then this connection should either be obvious or non-existent. If you create something where a tagline may or may not apply then you are creating ambiguity and doubt and giving your viewer a chance to start thinking about, judging and second-guessing your ad and therefore your product, service or business.

All in all this is the ad I would leave be as is if I had to chose one from all the advertisements I have talked about so far. You see the words “excellent adventure” - and hopefully don't think of Bill & Ted! - and a picture of gorgeous scenery and you likely juxtapose this with Seattle which does not need to be depicted because that is what a lot of people automatically associate Washington State with. The result is a basket of positive associations which is what you are looking for. The only main ingredient missing from this ad is a powerful hook; the only thing that comes close is the sticker which is kind of eye-catching unless you count the breathtaking landscape.

In terms of changing this ad I would get rid of the “Find Out More” which is salesy and redundant and also clear away the pictures at the bottom so as to focus exclusively on the landscape. Or, if I wanted to broaden the appeal of the ad to the mass market instead of just nature lovers – assuming not everyone loves nature! -, how about a number of pictures of different aspects of Washington State put together in a collage? In terms of the wording, how about combining the offer with the present tagline by saying, “Win An Excellent Adventure For Two” (let's throw in that second person to make it more exciting!). Or, going with what we have, how about, “Vacation? How About Excellent Adventure??” or, along the same lines, "Forget 'Vaction', think 'Excellent Adventure'". A final suggestion is using the leverage of pain avoidance - work! - by saying, “Tell Your Boss You Need Another Week”.

Attention all advertisers: Hawaii is 80s!!!

I seem to be finding a lot of ads with two problems or maybe it has something to do with my brain! In any case, this Delta ad does not work for me because it explains away the picture in the tagline instead of letting the picture speak and create curiosity. What I mean is that you should take away the phrase “The Colours of Hawaii”. Why do you need them? If you simply had a picture of the colourful flower wreath with the words “Five Times A Day” would that not have more impact? The whole purpose of an ad is to communicate an idea using creativity and imagination. Seeing the wreath and the caption would intrigue a reader and solicit the question, “What, five times a day??” Explaining it is what you are not meant to do here.

The second problem is the whole thing about Hawaii; to be honest, the typical person like myself has stopped seeing Hawaii as the bastion of endless beauty, wonder and mystery that it was perceived to be in decades past. Now it's more like, “Gosh, I'll never have the time or money to visit there!” That is why in this case I would recommend the good folks at Delta to focus on another aspect of what makes them a great airline. I'm assuming there are more Hawaii flights because it is an in-demand destination but those who fly there will probably figure that out themselves. The real question is why they should choose Delta over all the other airlines with suitable flight times and prices their travel agent – or website! - will suggest to them.

A bad tagline is not better than none

In answering that last question pertaining to Delta, here is another one of their ads that unfortunately just does not do it for me (yes, for two main reasons!). Firstly, can someone tell me what “Fly Out To The World” actually means? Am I missing something or is it a completely ridiculous phrase that an eighth grader could surpass in terms of sentence structure? What is wrong with ”Visit The World” if that is the message you are trying to get across? Here again, we are at a loss for what the big deal is in saying that your airline will allow customers to travel to different parts of the globe. What Delta should be looking for is a differentiator which puts them above and beyond their competition or a gimmick that makes the ad itself memorable.

Working with what we have I would focus on the picture; apart from the slightly dated green suitcase – didn't Mark Twain say, “the greatest force in the universe is the compulsion to criticize someone else's copy”? - the photo bespeaks a lot of class and elegance. Could we use that as a positioning strategy with a tagline like ”First Class” or even simply ”Class"? If we don't use this approach by pitching a lifestyle that the customer aspires to then we again risk alienating the common person who cannot relate to classy $1000 suits and whatnot. I will end by saying that both of these Delta ads are nothing but pretty pictures with no real substance in terms of advertising bang.

Ask about creative advertising ideas or create your own page on this subject!

Badvertising! 2 | 3What is Advertising?A History of AdvertisingAdvertising StrategyAdvertising Marketing StrategyCreative Advertising IdeasAnatomy of an AdExamples of Advertising TechniquesFamous Advertising SlogansAdvertising Marketing PlansOnline Advertising TrendsUsing Google AdWords"You" MessagingGuerilla Marketing IdeasMarketing Communication PlanMarketing Plan ExampleMarketing Communication MixCreative Advertising Consultant

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