54: Auction Pornography

Family Watching AuctionDuring the 1964 Supreme Court case regarding First Amendment rights related to pornography, Justice Potter Stewart wrote “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” [Emphasis added.]

The public knows what we’re selling when they see it.

If they don’t, they probably aren’t prospective bidders.

I design more brochures for real estate than any other kind of auction segment. And I can’t tell you how many times, my auctioneer will send me advertising copy that starts with “real estate auction.” To be fair, I also get text for agricultural machinery auctions that start with “farm equipment auction,” too.

If we have only three to eight seconds to communicate our core advertising message, why would we waste redundant words on what the 1,000-word picture says for us? Or are we trying to sell a commodity to someone who doesn’t know what it is?

Since people buy items—not auctions—the word “auction” and its date are secondary information to what your selling. So, “Auction” or “[Type of] Auction” should not be your headline. “WWII-era Comic Books” or “Premium Fly Fishing Lures & Tackle” should be, for example. Sell what you’re selling first; sell the auction second (or third after location or bidding platform if online-only).

Well, what if we’re selling real estate and personal property at the same auction?

First, I would consider having different mailer panels for the parts of your list going to each related mailing list. Even without variable-data printing, postcards and brochures can be printed with separate mailer panels. It’s not always cheap, but it holds potential to increase your effectiveness. The inside of the brochure or opposite postcard panel can cover both bases, while your first-impression panel can appeal to specific recipients of your respective mailing lists.

Usually, one of these commodities has a greater worth than the other and should take precedence. So, your mailer might have the factory building big and a small inset picture of a piece of equipment—with a smaller headline line like, “Also selling presses, CNC machines, and lathes.”

If you’re selling different types of commodities, your headline can be something like “2,450SF, 4BR, 2BA Home & All Contents” or “Early 1900’s Impressionist Art & 1800’s Original Manuscripts.” You can reinforce the separate markets under the “Auction: Friday, March 26th” line by listing underneath: “[Commodity A] to sell at 5pm. [Commodity B] to sell at 7pm.”

Even when a benefit auction event is a bigger draw than the items being sold, the beneficiary, cause, or even the venue will usually deserve the primary headline. Pictures from past black tie events (or stock photos) will communicate that a fund raising event with live bidding will take place.

One related, notable exception is when the breadth of sale item categories is wider than what can cleanly be demonstrated visually on the mailer or cover panel—like “Farm Machinery • Antiques • Household • Small Business Machines • Vehicles • Hunting Gear.” In that case, listing categories can be effective, alongside a picture of the biggest ticket item(s). Sometimes, it’s the quantity instead of the specificity that makes the auction unique: “170,000 Sports Collector Cards—33,000 NIB.” But even that should be accompanied by an image that communicates the size of the collection—maybe a staged shot of them stacked in the back of a box truck or on top of an announcers’ table at a sporting venue.

Your buyers will know what you’re selling when they see it. So, show it first; headline it second; and tell them about the auction third (or fourth). On the part of your sign, direct mail, ad, email, or Web page that makes your first impression, kill the words made redundant by pictures so that the words that are left get read.

The world knows a changed life and a worshipping soul, when they see it. In the rare instances when we happen to categorize ourselves or our faith in a conversation it should seem redundant, almost unnecessary to those who observe our lives. In the least, our followship should not come as a surprise.

The world has a hope of what to expect from Christianity; and that hope isn’t in labels, badges, or Sunday suits. It’s not perfect attendance, an inked checklist, or boycotts.

If you want to know what a life expedited by the Spirit looks like, ask an unchurched person to describe Christian love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faith, etc. Their definitions will have nothing to do with liturgy, denominations, or systematic theology. The sanctifying life requires more than attendance, participation, and good citizenship. It blossoms as a pervasive, holistic lifestyle that leaves a wake of healing and hope.

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