Why Your Advertising Doesn’t Work Anymore

Not long ago, I met with the Marketing Director of a home improvement company in Texas. The company had been open for 20 years, and for most of that time, they’d had great success with an image campaign. Sales had been good, and people mentioned how much they liked the advertising as they filled out the paperwork.

For the past couple of years, however, response to their messages had plummeted. Showroom traffic was down, sales were down. Part of it was due to the economy, but the owners suspected that something else was going on.

I watched their “window” commercial. For 20 seconds, as pretty guitar music played, the screen showed kids in a backyard, playing in the leaves. Slowly the camera panned back to show that we were looking through a window. Eventually the store logo and address showed up, and a voice came on with a slogan — “Windows never looked so good. Life never looked so good. We’re at [location]. Don’t forget to ask about our Best Value Guarantee.”

Commercial over.

When it was over, I asked the client: “Does anyone ever ask about your Best Value Guarantee?”

Her answer: “No.”

She was mystified. Her strategy had been successful for nearly two decades. What had changed?

The answer may involve the way we now process information. The New York Times has been running a series of articles called “Your Brain on Computers”, which details the effect of information overload on our thinking process. A recent installment discussed the effect of multitasking — working with multiple screens delivering a constant stream of information.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists.

How do you generate results in the age of digitally-rewired brains?

* Get to the point immediately. Your prospects aren’t going to stick around while you “ease into it.”

* It’s not enough to make your target feel good about your brand. Offer a direct, measurable benefit that comes when they do business with you.

* Pick one action you want your prospects to take, and tell them — explicitly — to take it.

* Offer a reward to take the action, and include a deadline. Make the deadline specific. “This deal ends on September 9 at 5pm” is much more powerful than “Hurry, this offer ends soon.”

One of the best tips I’ve ever heard for getting to the point comes from Dan O’Day. It goes like this:

1. Write your script, and go through your standard editing process.

2. Delete the first sentence.

3. Does the message still work? If it does, leave the first sentence out and begin the commercial with Sentence 2.

I started doing this about three years ago. It’s amazing how often the first sentence of the script turns out to be unnecessary.


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