Writing to be Believed

If your advertising’s readers do not believe what you say, you have wasted your marketing dollars — plus reinforcing your audience’s skepticism about your truthfulness.
Yet many advertisers persistently use language that distracts sales prospects from taking for granted the truthfulness of the high-cost marketing promises directed at them. To wit:

  • Super-correct phraseology that might have won approval from one’s eighth-grade English teacher simply does not cut the mustard with U.S. consumers or business people — whose built-in BS detectors are deluged with thousands of advertising messages a week.

  • One alternative, the use of earthy Anglo- Saxonisms in advertising, may be so punchy that it obscures the point the marketer is trying to burn in.

  • Slanguage can detract from the perceived importance of your advertising message, and can seem insultingly patronizing to the reader.

  • Any attempt to achieve advertising cleverness is likely to fail. That is especially true of stabs at humor. David Ogilvy and other advertising authorities have pointed out why: to the sales prospect, the money you are asking him to spend is a very serious matter. Besides, clever advertising draws attention to the advertisement, and not to the product you are selling.

  • To our mind, attempts to camouflage mail advertising by adding “personal” notes to the message only underline the reader’s suspicion that he is being taken advantage of, and trifled with, by all advertising. The best choice to avoid any such unwanted consequences is to tell your story as simply and specifically as you can.
    For example, trumpeting that your product is perfection itself is unlikely to be believed. Saying that it might have a minor flaw or two — the famous Volkswagen ad headlined “Lemon” comes to mind — likely will be credited by anyone who ever has bought a new car, and serves to draw attention to the product’s major virtues.
    As William Bernbach once said in a staff meeting, “We have tried everything else, and failed. So I guess we are forced to tell the truth.”

See also:

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Marketing Tactics Home Page

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