Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Truth in Advertising: A Refreshing Approach

With an enduring perception of consumer advertising as rife with exaggeration and half-truths, the American public has over time been desensitized. We’ve tolerated a certain degree of “dishonesty” because it has become commonplace in TV, radio, print and even electronic ads.

But what has contributed to this situation? Tobacco advertising has certainly had an impact. In the annals of advertising history, smoking was typically depicted as fun or seductive. Cigarette manufacturers continued their glamorous portrayal of smoking even as evidence mounted that it caused numerous ill effects—until, of course, they were forced to change their behavior.

The cosmetic industry has been even more blatant with their claims. Even with constant exposés on ineffective products and less than remarkable results, purchasers continue to view these products as the equivalent to the fountain of youth. So, while we know we are being tricked, we continue to buy and use these products thinking we’ll find the one that does work.

The pharmaceutical industry is another case and point. We continue to look for a magic pill, a panacea for what ails us. Many over-the-counter and prescription drug ads have come under fire for false or misleading claims. But the nearly $3 billion spent each year on prescription drug campaigns says that people are being influenced by this advertising. Truth in Advertising: Rx Drug Ads Come of Age

Earlier this month, we witnessed a new approach to product advertising. With the release of the much heralded, first FDA-approved, over the counter diet pill, Alli™ , consumers were given a harsh dose of reality instead of smoke and mirrors. They were told that this pill could prevent the body from absorbing fat in some foods if, and only if, they became active participants in the diet process.

In an advertising campaign that is expected to cost more than $150 million in the first year alone, GlaxoSmithKline’s ad agency says, “The campaign is aimed at a jaded consumer.” It doesn’t offer a magic bullet, or in this case, a magic pill. It encourages lifestyle changes. In order for the pill to be effective, people need to eat right and exercise more. A unique solution? No. But certainly an honest, refreshing approach to promoting the product!

On the mini-site created in conjunction with the product launch, GlaxoSmithKline boldly states, “It’s time for an honest voice. A promise kept.” Is this the beginning of a new era in advertising? We hope so.

Obviously, the best advertising advice is to tell the truth. Honesty is indeed the best policy. It creates a trust relationship with your target audience that outlives any immediate gain realized by quick-hit ads relying on half-truths and exaggeration. And while it may take some time for this approach to catch on, if you follow this bit of advice, you’ll at least enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a clear conscience.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Don’t Waste Visitors’ Time with Unrefined Web Copy

If you’re lucky, someone who visits your website has at least a vague interest in your company. Don’t take that interest for granted by overwhelming them with words.

Of course, you probably have plenty to say. B to B companies’ complex products and services often need explanation. But website visitors typically are seeking clear, specific information—answers they can find quickly and easily. A disorganized “information dump” won’t do. And yet, at many B to B corporate sites, that’s exactly what visitors get.

I’m not advocating a slash-and-burn approach to copy. But we do counsel our clients to leave as many of the technical details as possible to in-person meetings, where the vast majority of sales still get closed. As this recent ClickZ post points out, online copy should be relevant, credible and short.

In other words, show your website visitors everything they need to know—nothing more and nothing less. Click here to see an example of a new website we developed driven by that philosophy, for Poblocki Sign Company.

A clear, concise and compelling website requires difficult choices about content, strategic thinking about how to organize information and repeated refinement of copy until all that’s left is the brand and key details in an easy-to-scan format. Also, don’t forget to tell people to continue the conversation on the phone or in person.

All that takes time, but it’s time you’ll save your website visitors. They’ll find the initial information they want to know quickly … and they'll be more likely to pick up the phone to learn more.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Transparency: If China Can Do It…

What can captains of capitalism learn from Maoist communists? Transparency is not impossible, and, in fact, it may have strategic value in advancing an agenda. As part of China being awarded the 2008 Olympics, reported National Public Radio, the communist government was required to lift bans on foreign journalists covering activity within the country. Academics speculate this is a strong signal China will loosen media regulations beyond the Olympics, creating a more open society.

Granted, media reforms are scheduled to end after the Olympics, and old habits of strong-arm tacticians are dying hard as media attempt to access more information. But if the communists see strategic value in opening a notoriously repressive society to media scrutiny—even for a short time—might there be value in private companies doing the same to advance their agendas?

Friday, June 1, 2007

A New Study Shows Many Are Beginning to Embrace Emerging Media Opportunities. Are You?

“Never before in history has innovation offered the promise of so much to so many in so short a time.” - Bill Gates

Although Mr. Microsoft’s words referred to today’s pace of technological innovation in general, they’re especially relevant in the specific context of new media opportunities. No other period in history has seen the emergence of as many distinctly new media options as the one we find ourselves in today.

But most major advertisers have been reluctant to leave the comfortable embrace of traditional media (TV, radio, newspaper, magazines, etc.). Sure… they’ve talked about and dabbled in new media, but their budgets have remained firmly entrenched in the old stand-bys. However, recent survey data shows that the major players may finally be ready to “put their money where their mouths are.”

According to the 2007 Media Investment Survey conducted by the American Advertising Federation (AAF)—on whose national board I serve—nearly three-quarters of respondents are reserving up to 20% of their media investment budgets for experimentation in the new media ecosystem. In fact, 52% say… “I am more likely to anticipate, prepare for, and get out in front of changes in the media landscape.”

Many recent developments in new media were long-anticipated (TV programs on the internet, text messaging, social media). However, the pace of innovation is such that there several also caught the industry by surprise, including:

  • The rush to Second Life-type virtual community space
  • The rise of YouTube
  • The popularity of mash-ups or Web applications that have more than one source

"Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement."
- William Pollard

All these new options are a boon for the creative output of the advertising industry. In fact, a full 87.4% of respondents believe that media innovations inspire creativity, and they’re willing to invest their budgets to harness that creativity.

When asked about approaches to media planning in the coming year, respondents ranked “I am always open to new ways to use traditional media” highest (at 78 percent), followed by “the right media mix almost always includes a balance of traditional and nontraditional media” (at 75.5 percent), and “the search for new media properties to grow my brand never stops” (at 57.7 percent).

The AAF survey makes it abundantly clear that there will never again be “business as usual” regarding media options available to the advertising and marketing industry. The pace of change is such that those that are not in a constant state of experimentation and will fast find themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage.

The AAF Media Investment Survey 2007 included nearly 1,000 advertising industry leaders, spread across agency (38 percent), media (26.9 percent), advertiser/client (13.6 percent) and other (21.4 percent, composed mostly of suppliers and academics) sectors, with the majority being at the director (19 percent), owner (18 percent) or manager (17.6 percent) level. Nearly 31 percent of participants are part of a team that makes the final media investment decision for their company. A full summary of the survey results can be found here (PowerPoint document, 891k).


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