Hocus Focus

Most people think advertising is like a magic act. You know, the pull-rabbit-out-of-hat or a skimpy-blonde-levitation type. Just because they ran an ad, which of course they had a lot of hand in; it is expected to work wonders.

Consumers rushing to the stores early in the morning the very next day armed with wads of cash buy this wonderful product. The e-commerce website crashing as it is unable to handle the large volume of visitors. The customer service line ringing off the hook due to people calling to enquire the availability of the advertised product. In an ideal world, we in the industry would love for this to happen, but these are the stuff of dreams really.

So it’s not magic or a voodoo that puts people into a crazy eyed trance, craving for an advertised product or service. It’s part art, part science and a heck of a lot of luck. This is actually only the first layer of problem. There’s a far more chronic disease afflicting advertisers, one that has a far-reaching consequence to ad-spend. It’s something very fundamental in nature, the utmost basic communication principle. No, it’s not semi-naked woman promoting a product, it’s FOCUS.

Ad-space or media is at a premium. You would think that with the advent of the more economical and targeted online advertising, things would change. Not a chance! Be it a TVC, Press Ad, Direct Mailer, Brochure, Online Banner or a bloody Lamppost Bunting for crying out loud, stuffing them with mind-numbing content is a real problem.

There’s this aversion to empty space that bewildering. A press ad for instance is treated like a plot of land on which the real estate of images, design, illustration, masthead, logo, headline, overline, subhead, crosshead and bodycopy compete for attention. To add to this, the ad is littered with multiple messages, diluting the communication into a broth of sewer waste. Trying to make sense of some ads is like attempting to put together a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

The problem intensifies online. Web pages now are made up of a concoction of images, content, animation (especially the annoying GIF type) and then littered with Google ads. Research has shown that nearly 30% of site visitors drop-off if a web page is perceived to be cluttered. Although the research finding is a no-brainer, I think they actually went ahead with the research to get into the head of ‘experts’ with a thick skull.

What happened to making a single, direct, compelling proposition to the consumer? Not enough that the media is cluttered as a whole, we have ads that are cluttered within. It’s like asking someone to hit your head with a hammer and then grabbing the hammer and hitting yourself in the head. You can’t do much about media clutter, unless you are willing to spend obscene amounts of course. But you can minimize clutter – or some may refer to this as ‘busy-ness’ – in your ads, be it in any media. The term less is more is probably very apt as a rule of thumb to keep in mind; especially for clients.

In conclusion, if you can’t find than one message to focus on, you probably need to rethink your strategy. Draw up a list of USPs and rank them based on the appeal they will have on your target market. Remember, your ad’s job is to stand apart from the others and your strategy is to win the war of awareness. It’s okay to have a singular main message and then accompanied by oh-by-the-way kind of messages. But no more than 2, or your ad will not rise above the clutter.

And one more thing – no matter how tempted you are – try not to say the same thing your competitor is saying. That’s their niche. Find your own voice, that one single most important message or benefit and keep your ad concise. Everything else should fall into place in your quest of achieving an ad that actually sells. And that’s just pure magic!


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