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5 Tips For Creating Powerful Advertising

Advertising is the business of telling stories.

TV commercials tell us a story – the latest Nike Mercurial Vapor IV ad tells us how the new Nike boots help make professional footballers faster.

Print ads – and online ads – are no different. Direct mail sales letters have perfected the art of story-telling in ad copy, although they have the advantage of printed paper which tends to get more attention (and thus a greater chance to build interest and keep attention through the story-telling format). Online ads have less time and space compared to commercials or print ads (who looks at the AdWords listings or your regular sidebar graphic ads for more than a few seconds?) and they’ve adapted to the format, using word play and visual clues to tell their story.

These narratives are geared to present options in black and white, right and wrong, good and evil, desirable and undesirable, pain and the absence of pain, joy and the absence of joy, and so on.

Things are (usually) simple in advertising – no gray areas, no doubts, no complex scenarios. It’s easier to convey (and understand) the idea that driving fast can kill you than it is to explain that it’s taking unnecessary risks that will kill you, not driving fast (drunk driving is as risky as an inexperienced driver going 120 miles per hour which in turn is as risky as going 100 miles per hour in a car with poor brakes straight into a crowded intersection). People find it easier to relate fast driving to danger as opposed to relating their own risk-taking ability (or lack thereof) to danger.

Most advertising relies on the above principle to externalise complex problems, simplify them and then offer equally simple solutions. It’s not reality, but it works and if you can get enough people thinking like that, then it IS the truth for them, and that’s all that matters – to them and to the advertisers selling to them.

Sometimes the message is less clear – the Nokia 6233 ad portrays the phone as being an all-round powerhouse, but it neither does a good job of conveying that power nor does it do justice to the phone’s all-round ability (I’ve had a 6233 for over an year now and it’s an excellent phone, albeit a ‘jack-of-all-trades’).

With the above mind, here are 5 keys to telling effective stories – narratives that get the audience to think / do what the creators want them to do:

1. Keep it Simple, Dumbass

You have a few seconds, at best, to catch your prospect’s attention. Stick to a single, clear, concise message. Cut through the chaff. Omit needless words.

2. Vivid and Visual

Colors, powerful language and visual content – apart from conveying subconscious cues about your core message, these elements also help in attracting and keeping attention.

Another example is the Zheng Zhi ad for the 2008 Olympics which uses emotional cues to get its method across.

3. Establish Relevance

Why is this important to me / why should I care? Make your story relevant to the largest possible audience. For more, read this excellent article on establishing ‘relevance’.

4. Prove Credibility

The other day I saw a Mobilink Indigo commercial – their methodology for this sub-brand is simple: push the ‘exclusivity’ factor, and use celebrity endorsements to convert prospects.

We tend to laugh off celebrity endorsements but the truth is that they work on an emotional, subconscious level and as such they can never be totally discounted (especially when they are used in context).

Credibility comes in different sizes – social proof is one strategy, another is to use authentic research the way Nike did for their Vapor IV ads.

5. Action!

Advertisers often fail to capitalise on their hard work by NOT including any actionable steps at the end of each ad. Even a mediocre ad that gets little traction can bring in a new stream of customers by simply adding a url at the end of the ad which points to a landing page for a mailing list.

Another option (as discussed earlier) is to invite the audience to take action through their mobile phones.

Whatever you do, get people to take some sort of action at the end of the advertisement. Offer some reason to take action, such as a discount voucher or free offer.

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