A while back we posted The Bus Test, which is basically about how the majority of print ads go unread and even unnoticed every day. Ads in most media do, to be honest, we just picked on print that day.
And that's a good thing really. If everyone noticed and paid full attention to every commercial message that they are bombarded with each day (I think someone smart estimated the average at about 2000 per person per day) then we'd be overwhelmed with information - we'd be filled with so much nonsense that we probably wouldn't be capable of doing anything.
So we filter out stuff. That's one of the reasons why making effective advertising these days is so challenging. People are naturally attuned to screening out commercial messages. Much more so than, say, forty or fifty years ago. We tend to automatically ignore what isn't immediately interesting.
Advertising today doesn't help itself generally. A lot of it is just wallpaper. Style over substance. Nonsense. But that should be music to the ears of the keen advertising person. Because that background of wallpaper advertising means that advertising that is genuinely unusual or surprising or manages to connect with the consumer, stands a strong chance of being noticed.
When it comes to print advertising, or any advertising, but particularly print advertising, one really good start point is remembering that advertising is all about people.
It doesn't matter what the product, service or cause is. Or what the brief is.
Advertising is always targeting a person. Talking to a person.
It's such a simple thing that it gets taken for granted. And forgotten.
Resigned to the fine print of a briefing document.
Target audience: 18-34 year old men with whippets.
In these fast-paced, visual times, most creatives get straight to some visuals. The assumption is that no one is reading anything. What they forget is how they read a newspaper or magazine themselves. We are constantly scanning the pages as we turn, looking for something to catch our eye. Sometimes it's a picture, sometimes it's words. When we find something interesting, we spent more time with it.
The always visual-first approach assumes that you're never going to get someone's time, so get it over with quickly - and sometimes that approach is spot-on. But sometimes it's far more powerful to connect to a reader through words - to earn their attention.
Legendary adman Howard Luck Gossage said: People read what interests them, sometimes it's an ad.
That was a while ago. But human nature is still human nature. If you can write something that is interesting to the reader, they'll read it. Even if it is an ad. There's no doubt that the craft of the copywriter is being marginalised these days, and in turn it's dying out as less creatives put a priority on it - it doesn't seem as cool as a funny visual. Less creatives want to put the time in to think of something they can say that will really mean something to the reader/customer - finding a truth, or an insight, or a way of looking a something that will resonate.
But if you do, it can be massively effective.
It starts with understanding people. Being fascinated and excited by the way people of all kinds go about their lives. How they live, what they like. How they decide what they like. The subtle correlation of the rational and emotional reasons they buy or do different things. What moves them. Why they do this, that or t'other. You get the picture. If you're a creative, don't leave it to a planner to work this stuff out for you. The best advertising people are students of people, and people's ways. Not just artist or writers.
Bill Bernbach said: It is insight into human nature that is the key to the communicator's skill. For whereas the writer is concerned with what he puts into his writings, the communicator is concerned with what the reader gets out of it. He therefore becomes a student of how people read or listen.
Sometimes a simple statement, or sentence, insight, observation, or way of pitching something to someone can be far more powerful than the simplest of visuals. If you connect with someone like that, that is advertising that's hard to ignore.