Sell the Sizzle

127: Subtracting Your Way to More Effective Advertising

Next to the highway on one of my recent road trips, I saw a brilliant billboard. It had only three words and a phone number.

In black letters on a white background: “We shred files.”

That’s it. No stock photo. No picture of their staff, their equipment, or one of their fleet vehicles. No slogan. No website address. Not even a company name.

The advertiser knew the person in need of their service only needed to know one thing: “We shred files.” They understood the brevity of time a billboard has to communicate and the benefit of simplicity.

Not all advertising needs to be that terse, but most advertising can learn from that succinct approach. We in the auction industry, especially, need to learn the art of saying less in our print promotion.

On a very regular basis, I use the digital equivalent of a shoehorn to cram content into ads, direct mail, and company promotional pieces. Extraneous words and paragraphs crowd the pictures, covering them or leaving less room for them. Redundant information is repeated on multiple panels of the same piece. Content that should be relegated to a website obscures the more necessary sales copy. Advertising whose primary function is to attract and hold attention is busy with competing points of emphasis or distracting tertiary content.

In addition to making advertising media less attractive to advertising contest judges, the pieces are also less attractive to prospects. Thankfully, the attractive power of the asset to someone who wants it will help them push through the mess; but we need to trust the asset more.

For asset or auction promotion, we need to know that if someone isn’t interested in the headline attributes of an asset, they don’t need to know any more. We need to know that if someone isn’t motivated enough to go to our website for unabbreviated terms, room dimensions, or serial numbers, they probably aren’t motivated enough to attend a property inspection, register for the auction, or participate in bidding.

For company promotion, the same rules apply. If we’ve done our homework in polling past clients, we’ll know what our headlines should be. If those headlines need to be different for different clientele, I’d recommend separate, smaller, more targeted pieces rather than a bigger, more generic one.

Trust the steak. Sell the sizzle. Then get out of there.

Taking It Personally

We’ve all heard that less is more. In design, it’s the cultural standard. In everyday life, it makes a lot of sense; but it’s hard to implement. Advertising tells us that more is better. Insecurity tells us that more is safer. Social media tells us that more is popular. Materialism tells us that more is more.

Being busy is the new American status symbol. It means we’re in demand. It says we’re important, more productive. I struggle with that pull. I’m not as likely to add more physical stuff to my life as much as I am more experiences, more commitments, more friendships, and more aspirations. By themselves, they are mostly good things. Combined, they can lead to a life too crowded to each one them fully.

As I push back against the pressure, each “No” gives me more permission and confidence to say “No” to something else on my plate. Each sunset I watch allows me to exhale. Each morning run makes my waiting inbox seem less urgent. And each blog post gives me one fewer that I have to store in my cranium.

Stock image purchased from

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