Why “corporate” ads waste money

The money wasted on do-nothing “corporate” advertising is truly astonishing. Here’s a “corporate” style ad I chose completely at random from Target Marketing magazine.

Corporate Ad

Okay, quick … what’s it about? Don’t know? Of course not. You have to read the teeny little block of type to find out it has something to do with email. I think it’s software, but I’m not entirely sure.

This is typical of what I call “corporate” ads. These are ads that look pretty, say little, cost a lot, and don’t work very well.

Now I want to make it clear that I’m not a direct response knuckle dragger. I do not think that everyone has to sell everything via direct marketing. Mass marketing, retailing, and other selling strategies are perfectly valid.

However, as a pragmatic marketing guy, I think that you should get what you pay for when spending money on advertising. You should know what you want to accomplish and demand that your ads use the best techniques available to get the job done.

“Corporate” ads are ads that waste money because even if they have a goal, they do very little to accomplish that goal.

The ad above, for example, wants to introduce you to a product or service and even has a free white paper to offer you. But is that instantly apparent? No. Are you likely to take the time to decipher the ad to find out what it’s about? No. Will you download the white paper? Probably not.

What does this ad do wrong? First, it’s not designed to be read. It’s just one big piece of eye-candy. Second, where’s the headline? Is it that light, gray line in 9-point type below the photo? Third, there’s an offer, but it’s hidden waaaay down at the bottom in gray, 7-point type. Fourth, the copy itself is short, small (also 7-point type), and generic. It just doesn’t tell you much.

Like most “corporate” ads, its existence is probably justified by an ad exec somewhere saying it takes “frequency” to get a message across or that the ad establishes an “image” for the product. Or maybe there’s a creative brief somewhere claiming this is a “positioning” ad.

But you know the real reason? The company doesn’t know how to sell or they’ve been convinced that selling is “lowbrow” and beneath them. They probably think that you can either position your product OR sell, but not both, which is a common misconception.

Any competent copywriter could write a benefit headline, copy that explains what’s so great about this product, and a call to action that makes you want to get that white paper. Nearly any designer could lay out this ad to catch the eye, make reading easy, and highlight important items, such as the headline and offer.

And you know what? It would not only get a better response, it would do a better job of establishing an “image” and “positioning” the product because it would actually engage readers, communicate clearly, and entice people to get involved with the ad.

By the way, the title of the white paper is “Engagement Marketing: Partnering With Your Customer for Success.” Is that irony or what?

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4 Responses to “Why “corporate” ads waste money”

  1. Ted Grigg on April 28th, 2009 10:49 am

    Nothing we say will ever dissuade some of the creative teams or advertisers who just don’t understand that advertising exists for one reason — selling products and services.

    Positioning and awareness advertising are simply strategies that drive demand. They are not the objectives. Sometimes, these strategies must take a back seat to creating sales more quickly — like within this decade.

    But unfortunately, many advertisers and their suppliers forget that selling and delivering the product do not take away from awareness or positioning. In fact, the advertising becomes accountable and must now yield good ROIs the CEOs keep asking for (in vain it seems).

    In fact, in this Internet age, successful companies know how to do all of these things at the same time.

    Today’s extreme market segmentation does not support nebulous messages or meaningless chatter. Actually, it never did. But now the pressure is on to deliver sales as the competition for attention escalates.

    So your post is right on.

  2. Dean Rieck on April 28th, 2009 11:37 am

    Well, I didn’t say it in the article, but accountability is exactly what a lot of agencies want to avoid. Once you get into that, you have to deliver. You can’t rely on sales execs to blow smoke and keep the client happy for a couple or three years while the agency gets rich on billing.

    There was TV show called Thirtysomething back in the late 80s. Two of the lead characters worked at an ad agency. In one episode, the agency owner explained the purpose of an ad agency something like this: “We create ads to win awards. We win awards to get new clients. We get new clients to create more ads to win more awards.”

  3. Dawson R on May 7th, 2009 12:51 am

    I remember that show. That statement is very true. Speaking from experience, most “creatives” don’t really care if websites are easy to use, or easy to understand for users. They just want to win awards.

    What wins awards? Flashy eye-candy work wins awards. What was this ad’s objective? Who cares it looks pretty. Lets convince the naive client they need more ads, so we can get more money from them!

  4. Why Corporate Ads Waste Money | Poke the Beehive on June 12th, 2009 2:32 pm

    [...] have said it better myself. Check out this post at Direct Creative Blog on why nicely designed say-nothing corporate advertising is a big waste of [...]

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