Or why a horse can be more relevant than Jennifer Lopez
I can’t remember why they were on my desk but there they were: a 1969 Life and a 2013 Fortune. One a consumer magazine and one for business people.
I thumbed through them and noticed that while both magazines have good ads and bad ads the proportion has switched over the years. About 70% of the ads in the 1969 Life are pretty good and about 70% of the ads in the 2013 Fortune are pretty bad. Did we learn nothing in 44 years?
I’m thinking a couple of things happened, both bad. One is that the cult of creativity-for-its-own-sake now has a stranglehold on the throat of advertising; the other is that print has been relegated to the back burner; electronic/digital and TV are where it’s at these days, (although I’m beginning to wonder about TV.)
The creativity problem is worse than ever. If writers and designers want to be creative, they should take up haiku or origami. Our job is selling. A sales pro who’s never written anything would make a better copywriter than a writer who’s never sold anything.
Apparently, 1969 agencies had a few more sales pros writing and designing for print. They came up with ads that accomplished things you hardly ever see anymore: salesmanship, charm, common sense, legibility, relevance and memorability. And they did it with the simplest of tools: understanding the target audience, understanding their brands, thinking, common sense and talent.
Strategically, they did it with one crucial idea in mind: they communicated to the audience rather than to themselves. Here are few examples from the 1969 Life:
Maytag’s focus has pretty well always been the reliability of its appliances. Sister Charity Marie brought it home with a charming and very real, readable and persuasive story.
Renault intrigued and challenged readers in a funny ad with a perfect visual and bang on copy. I can’t help comparing this ad to Fiat’s current campaign with the irrelevant Jennifer Lopez. The problem is, I don’t think Renault’s horse idea was actually a campaign in which case it was probably a waste of time.
Westclox’s claim seems silly now but $50 in 1969 is about $300 today. This no nonsense ad makes a clear case for a value claim of quality for less. The claim is not buried in tiny type, not couched in ultra-hip language. It’s in the headline and clear as a bell.
The headline in the Johnnie Walker Red ad gets your attention immediately. It’s charming, funny, arresting and relevant. Body copy would be superfluous.
Let’s look at a few ads in the April 8, 2013 Fortune
The headline tells us that the Rackspace ad is about open-source cloud computing. More details? I’m sure they’re there somewhere but, with the body copy set in super-wide, sans serif, reverse type, very few people are going to be able to read about them.
Old Dominion is a Virginia tucking company. The headline is a little more obtuse than Rackspace’s; it fits with the company’s overall campaign but an ad should stand by itself. The ad would probably be better with a much smaller photo and much larger headline type. The body copy doesn’t have much of a point to make which is just as well because it’s set in very hard to read type. The logo’s so small that a lot of people who saw the ad have no idea who paid for it.
I have no idea what Avigilon is and neither will anyone who sees this ad.
The idea behind the Regions bank ad isn’t horrible. It’s the same basic idea of the 1969 Maytag ad. The difference is that you knew what Sister Charity Marie’s values were. You have to be told what this guy’s values are and they are … irrelevant. Nonetheless, with the lack of a headline and the body copy set in that incredibly hard to read type, it’s not a good ad.
I’ve never watched Mad Men but maybe I should. I’d probably feel right at home.