Let good writing do the work.℠
Creating excellent advertising
Examples of ads: Library funding
Some of the challenges
Professional writing is more than just writing.℠
Communicate scientific research using professional methods.
The shared understanding that comes from communicating well is fundamental support for success in business and makes management easier and more satisfying.
The need for excellent communication is not as obvious as it would otherwise be, partly because of two factors:
Many advertisements contain some element of dishonesty, causing professional communication to be admired less than it should be.
The focus of education often tends toward being comfortable for the teacher, rather than toward helping students communicate their own thoughts. Years of that pressure make quality of communication seem less important than it really is.
Sometimes the day-to-day repetition of working in an organization makes what the organization wants to communicate seem more obvious than it really is. Futurepower can serve you by providing a quick way to get an outside view.
Organizations that create a strong understanding between themselves and others find it easier to manage. Most companies rely too heavily on the much more expensive efforts of sales people.
We can't talk about work we do for customers, so this volunteer work serves as examples of ads that we have written: Ads for permanent library funding.
We hope the ads will encourage residents of Multnomah County, Oregon to vote for permanent funding for their library district.
Here are three issues that apply to the library ads that are common to many advertising efforts:
- We've just begun testing the ads (9/7/2012). We don't yet know whether they will be effective. Those who write ads must have an element of humility and willingness to learn. The challenges in advertising are too complex for one person to understand everything in advance about their effectiveness.
- As with many ads, we ask readers to understand a conflict and agree with our resolution of it: We ask those who don't read books to help fund libraries.
- We supply interesting information not everyone knows. In the early 1900s, Andrew Carnegie funded thousands of libraries.
Every public activity of a company helps form the public view of the company and is therefore advertising. The fundamental way to create good advertising is to deliver excellent products and services.
The overall intent of an ad is to create a long-lasting, cooperative, satisfying, growthful relationship. It's a little like working to make a marriage-quality relationship with someone you might like to marry.
What is in the minds of people who would possibly be interested but don't already have experience with the product or service? How can we create a connection between what the organization has to offer and the present state of mind of the reader or viewer of the ad?
The most influential method may be to show specific, detailed interest in the reader and his or her needs. Saying at a party, “Good to meet you.” is not as influential as, “The host told me a little about you.” In an auto ad saying, “Great car” is not as influential as, “Better handling, exceptionally reliable”.
A common mistake is to write something that is easily accepted by people who already understand and agree, but that is not easily understood by someone who is new to the subject being advertised.
Everyone. It's often very useful to have professional help, but an outside professional cannot know as much about an organization or product as those who work there every day. The proper role of a professional advertising copywriter is to find interested people in the organization and, as much as can be successful, to help them toward being professional advertising people themselves, in the areas the organization needs.
Anyone may have good ideas. Sales people, technical people, customers, and even spouses and friends may make useful comments.
It's common in technically-oriented advertisements that the writing is not specific enough to be useful to the reader. It is common that whoever did the writing seems bored with the subject and uninterested in learning more. That kind of writing is so often seen in corporate communication that it is known by the phrase “corporate-speak”, implying that the writer was somewhat robotic.
For example, here are some actual phrases taken from a note about the “Benefits” of using a particular feature of VMWare, well-known, excellent computer software:
“a software solution that enables organizations...”
“end users can use”
“End users can be either connected to or disconnected from the enterprise...”
“life-cycle management and access to data”
Consider the reader's experience of that writing. The experience may be, “Do I want to spend hours of my life trying to learn about something that the company did not think was important enough to communicate clearly?”
The word “solution” is so overused that it immediately communicates to some readers, “This will be boring and useless, don't read further.”
Humorously and painfully, the VMWare company later published another note saying that feature would no longer be available because only “a small number of customers found value” and “The customer demand ... no longer justifies VMware's continued investment...”
It's easy to guess that the poor writing contributed to the lack of interest.
After a sample ad is written, it is necessary to try to understand all the social processes put in motion by the ad.
What is important is not what is said, but what actually is understood by the reader. Unfortunately, even the most socially aware professional advertising copywriters sometimes cannot predict all the responses to they ads they test. Everyone needs to do research.
Who will feel motivated to do what the ad suggests? Will there be people who for some reason are annoyed by some aspect? Will they be annoyed but nevertheless convinced to do what the ad advises?
Sometimes it is useful to introduce the reader to conflicts that need to be resolved. There have been famous print ads which readers found mildly annoying, but which were very effective. The purpose of ads may be, not to help the reader have a good time, but to help the reader. It's okay if the reader is introduced to a conflict that needs resolution, if after a period of adjustment the reader feels benefited. An ad may need to use words with more social power than someone would feel comfortable using at a party.
Many ads contain some element of dishonesty. Those ads depend for their power on taking advantage of some social weakness. Prospective customers that don't have that particular weakness will recognize the dishonesty, giving the company that used the ad a bad reputation with those customers, who may be very vocal.
Our news about business often comes from TV and magazines and newspapers and other organizations that are supported mostly by advertising. Advertisers don't want negative stories because that inhibits buying. So, there aren't many stories about failures of companies.
If equal attention is given to all the failures, and we avoid being overly influenced by the views created by those with a financial interest, it becomes obvious that companies often fail because of being less than honest.
Advertisements, and any communication, must have visual appeal. The appearance of the ad must help make it easy to understand.
It is common that technically-oriented companies use unnecessary names. For example, computer hardware requires software called drivers for connecting the hardware to computer operating systems or to other hardware. Intel, the computer hardware manufacturer, could have called the software that connects their hardware to storage devices just “storage drivers”. Instead Intel gave the drivers five other names, also:
Intel Application Accelerator
Intel Matrix Storage Technology
Intel Matrix Storage Manager
Intel Rapid Storage Technology, also known as Intel RST.
Intel provides a web page that explains that all those names refer to one thing, but, of course, people who are confused by the names usually don't know that the web page exists.
When installed in the Windows 7 operating system, the driver is called
“Intel(R) Desktop/Workstation/Server Express Chipset SATA RAID Controller” driver.
As this article explains, there is also:
“Intel Rapid Storage Technology Enterprise”, also known as Intel RSTe
It is easy to find examples of technology companies communicating poorly.
In 1980, Michael Jennings began working as an advertising copywriter consultant for technology-oriented ad agencies. He wrote this ad for his services:
Professional writing is more than just writing.℠
(PDF, June 23, 2012)
In 1995, after a long discussion with the head of a research laboratory, Michael wrote an article about how scientists can improve the quality of their research papers. The one-page article is based on the ideas of David Ogilvy, apparently the world's most famous professional communicator.
Communicate scientific research
using professional methods.
(PDF, June 23, 2012)