Are You Badvertising?

Avoid Badvertising by applying sound principles when creating promotional materials

Badvertising is common. in fact it’s way too common.

Why is it that people running small businesses spend so much money and time on adverts that fail to communicate the main message? Or worse, any message at all.

People working on their own can suffer from tunnel vision. And most small business owners I know can’t afford to engage an ad agency.

But gathering a committee of friends to discuss and design your ads doesn’t necessarily “make a camel”, as the saying goes. Sometimes it makes a tortoise…

Tortoises and Dry Cleaners?

I’ve just gasped in wonderment at the ‘Badvertising’ image of a tortoise with a wedge cut into its shell, revealing fruitcake on the inside and a large, tasty chunk of it on a cake-slice about to be served up. Headline: Slow & Steady.

Badvertising in action - courtesy of Tumblr and theBadvertisingblog
Badvertising in action – courtesy of Tumblr and theBadvertisingblog

From the copy it seems that this is publicising the virtues of – wait for it – Fabrikare Dry Cleaners.

Maybe it’s me that’s slow, but my mind doesn’t readily make those huge stepping stone leaps from hacked-up shell of a tragic testudine to fruitcake to dry cleaning.

But this chronic ‘Badvertising’ is what happens when arty, creative designers clumsily link arms with their clients, concentrating more on their medium than the message, skewing the task in favour of impact rather than understanding. Beam in here for more hilarious adverts that spectacularly miss the target but reinforce Badvertising.

It also happens when ideas from too many cooks are strung together piecemeal. As Bill Bernbach, the well-known advertising guru, says: ”Art and copy must be fully integrated. They must be conceived as a unit, developed as a unit.” He adds: “It is little less than useless to employ a so-called gimmick in advertising – unless the gimmick itself tells the product story.”

Avoid Badvertising – Principles of designing Effective Ads

Here are ten principles of advertising set out by Bernbach which make fascinating reading. For instance, another of his recommendations is to tell the truth.

“First, it’s a great gimmick. Second, you go to heaven. Third, it moves merchandise because people will trust you.”

There are lots of sources to guide you on preparing your sales missive to the world, including a new book, called, strangely enough, Principles of Good Advertising by Sunday Times journalist Robert Shore. He, understandably, argues that while a picture is worth a thousand words, never underestimate the power of a great headline. Remember, the fewer the words, the bigger and more impactful is likely to be the typeface.

But the common denominator from all these sources is that whether a billboard, newspaper or magazine ad or even television, it should focus on the people at which it is targeted; have a simple and reasonable message, stating what the product does, not what it is; preferably with relevant picture, and giving a clarion call to action.

Advice for starts-ups

For start-up businesses, designing an advert single-handed is tempting given the costs of hiring an agency. And who else knows your business better than you? But don’t get too insular or cocky otherwise you risk Badvertising. Research until your head reels, taking in, for example, the style of ads offered by your opposition.

When you have established that, then you’ll know precisely what to avoid in order to be different. You want to stand out. Difference equals attention. Without difference you camouflage your offering within the crowd of competition. And what a surprise, the advert costs money rather than generates the stuff. But it’s ill-advised to go solo unless you’re well-practised at being objective and some might suggest armed with a filthy mind.

“The biggest organ in Blackburn

trembled under his touch…”

How else would you be able to avoid repeating the vicar’s famous newsletter report on a music recital at his church? It began: “The biggest organ in Blackburn trembled under his touch…” Or the US road sign outside a petrol station-cum-diner: “Eat here and get gas.”

That not so brilliant turn of phrase was featured in the book, ‘Incredibly Absurd Adverts’, available at Amazon, which also displays on its cover the well-meaning shop missive: “Why go elsewhere and be cheated when you can come here?”

No, a second pair of eyes to filter out Badvertising is necessary, but make sure there are not so many pairs of eyes that you’ve formed that committee in which everyone insists on being part of the creative process but ends up making a tortoise, or rather a dinosaur.  Therein lies the path to a riddle to be solved like the ITV game show, Catchphrase, in which you have to work out what the image is saying, such as “Slow tortoise with cake shell heading for dry cleaners.”

Key Learning Points: Avoid preparing an advert by committee or not flying totally solo. Be filthy-minded so that you know what to dodge. Truth is the best policy. Research, research, research. Know your target market. Don’t follow the formula of opposition. Be different. Use pictures that have impact but are meaningful. Keep headlines terse. Perfectly fuse words and images. All this will keep you safe from Badvertising.


Join the conversation

Did you enjoy that?

Why not share it with your friends and followers using the links below...

  1. Facebook icon
  2. Twitter icon
  3. LinkedIn icon
  4. Google+ icon