• Image Purchased from iStockPhoto.comLast Saturday, I put over 500 miles on the odometer on the way to and then from an out-of-state wedding. I passed scores of billboards, but I only remember a few. Not surprisingly, two of them were advertising auctions.

    Even though I passed both of the auction billboards twice, I never did finish reading their respective messages. Some might be tempted to blame part of that on high interstate speed limits and even higher traffic speeds. Some could even make the case that I’m not the fastest reader. Hopefully, the majority of travelers would agree with me, though, that there was simply way too much text to be absorbed during the short time of interaction.

    The billboards I saw looked like the 25-word line ads I regularly place in statewide classified networks. There was no hierarchy of fonts or colors, sizing or bolding. Everything was emphasized, which means nothing was. They looked like Jenga stacks of text blocks. With no images or unused (“white”) space, those text blocks abutted the edges of the signs—crammed in the boundaries like alphabet sardines.

    I’ve designed busy billboards that I’ve later been ashamed to pass on the highway; so, this post isn’t meant to denigrate these different auction companies’ work. That said, there are some lessons from my interaction with these signs.

    Context is Crucial
    What works on a billboard doesn’t work on Facebook. What works on YouTube doesn’t work in direct mail. And what works on AuctionZip doesn’t work on radio. Advertisers face an ever-growing array of advertising media.  One of the biggest challenges of this reality is adapting the message delivery to the nuances of each medium. Rather than simply copying and pasting from one medium to another, we need to ask ourselves about who the audience is in each medium and how they interact with that medium.

    Time Flies
    In my recent Certified Auctioneers Institute class, I hid a gift card in a stack of mail from home and asked for a volunteer to flip through the stack like they would at home until they found it. My volunteer averaged less than two seconds of viewing time per direct mail piece—about half the time that I had to read the passing billboards. We need to simplify our initial advertising impressions to the answer of the question, “If I could communicate just one thing—one thought—what would it be?”

    Simplicity Sells
    Less is almost always more. In advertising, sentences trump paragraphs, and phrases trump sentences. If the headline doesn’t sell our asset or service, adding more words will not make the sale. One of the easiest ways to subtract words is to replace them with images of the assets being described.

    Images Expedite Absorption
    We live in a show-then-tell culture. Pictures are shortcuts, and we all read images before text. Since we have limited time for interaction, it’s baffling to me why more marketers don’t use shortcuts like photos.

    Margin Matters
    Space around words makes them easier to read. The space around text can also signify importance and hierarchy. If we don’t have color or images with which to work, the next best thing for getting our message absorbed is empty space around what is important.

    Good advertising is more often a result of subtraction than addition. Consider an advertisement as a collection of shares of impression. The fewer the shares, the more each share is worth—and the more likely they’ll be remembered.

    Taking it Personally

    The wedding I attended took place in a one-room country church, built in bygone years with an adjacent cemetery. While the wedding party was smiling for their family pictures, I meandered between the headstones. Looking at the landscape from my drive and the collections of birth and death dates at this graveyard, I was struck by many of the same lessons for life as the billboards were for advertising.

    My interaction with others needs to be tempered to the context of the moment.
    The Bible says to use days wisely, since I don’t know how many days I’ll get on this planet.
    There is beauty is untangled, unhurried life. Find the simple pleasures in life and sit down in the moment with them.
    The observation—the images—of the life I live will say as much or more as the words I write—no matter how much I write.
    The concept of margin (rest) starts in Genesis, when even the Creator took a day to reflect on creation.

    I’ve heard these lessons many times, but I have a short memory and even an smaller store of discipline. I’m thankful to a God who takes me to new places and old places to remind me of his timeless truths.

    Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.
    This entry was posted on Thursday, June 28th, 2012 at 12:24 pm and is filed under Adverpreneur, Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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