Tag : billboard

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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 iStockPhoto.com.

103: 5 Advertising Lessons From the Interstate

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.

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.

[footer] Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com. [/footer]

88: 6 Marketing Myths Entrepreneurs Believe

Auctioneer Milk ClicheAuction billboards have been popping up next to highways all around the area where I live.  People have asked me if I designed them.  After I answer that they are not my work, my questioners look relieved.  “Oh, good.  They’re really weird.”

During a recent lunch break, I drove around Lynchburg to snap shots of a sample of these.  Upon later visiting the auctioneer’s website, I found a slideshow gallery with all of their billboard designs.  It’s not surprising to me that the auctioneer (whose name isn’t mentioned on the website at time of writing) was proud of his advertising, as many small business owners are proud of their ineffective advertising.

Why? Because they buy into marketing myths like the following.

Auctioneer Baby ClicheMYTH: Image Trumps Message

Western culture is visually driven.  Canon and Agassi were right: image trumps everything—when that image is rooted in the core of your brand.  We can see compelling images for free on the Internet; as a marketer, you need more than just a cool photo.  I’ve had entrepreneurs send me a picture and ask me to generate a headline to go with it.  Because I apparently like unemployment, I’ll regularly ask, “What does this picture have to do with your company and what you guys represent?”  Often, it doesn’t.  Grabbing a free stock image is a lot easier than paying someone to photograph your staff in action or professionally capture the items you actually sell. But using disconnected images with text that stretches your connection to them will cost you wasted media buys with ineffective impressions.

Auctioneer Logo on Bond's JacketMYTH: Humor and Cliches Attract More Than a Stated Benefit Does

Would a funny ad make you buy a station wagon instead of a sedan? Would a good turn of phrase sell you on a town house rather than a cape cod? Would a good pun change your choice of grocery market?  If you’re like the vast majority of people, the answer to all of these questions is, “No.” Despite this, marketers regularly hope to be the exception instead of the rule, taking the Fozzie Bear approach all the way to rolled eyes and changed channels.  Instead, crisply promote the key value proposition of your product or service for each audience group to which you market.
Auctioneer AlpacaMYTH: Consumers Talking Is Better Than Consumers Not Talking

Publicists multiply this myth to Hollywood and reality TV personalities; and in a land where sex tapes and “t-shirt time” get 15 minutes of lucrative fame, they might be right.  In business, though, it’s another story.  BP loved all the Deep Water Horizon coverage as much as Exxon loved the Valdez footage.  Tiger Woods’s eight-figure brand wasn’t rooting for more tabloid covers any more than Firestone was hoping for more Ford Explorer rollovers.  The conversations people have brought to me regarding Lynchburg’s new billboard campaign prove that advertising can be a liability like other brand blemishes.  Your objective needs to be far more specific and constructive than working into water cooler gossip and Facebook shares.

Dancing Bear AuctioneerMYTH: Creativity Trumps Consistency

As someone from within the creative industry, I’m at risk of treason when I say this; but faithful repetition of solid branding outperforms regular refreshes.  When I mention brands like Walmart, Hardees, eHarmony, Olive Garden, Corona, and Pixar, very specific images come to your mind—because their marketing adheres to strict branding standards down to even how their product is photographed and filmed, the style of music and voiceovers used in their media, and the colors and fonts of their layouts.

If you remove your logo and website URL from your advertising, would it still communicate a unified image?  If not, your marketing is inefficient.  Brands like Chick-fil-A and SportsCenter have proven that consistency can be flexible and fun.  So, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  (Bonus hint: consistency also makes scaling your advertising more efficient and less expensive, because you don’t have anywhere near as much billable time for ongoing creative work.)

Jersey Shore AuctioneerMYTH: I Have More Than Three Seconds to Advertise

Typically, billboards and other advertising are proofed on a monitor or printed copy, where the viewer has minutes—if not longer—to absorb the visual image and message of the advertising.  While it’s good to proof multiple times and in depth, the luxury of time can blind you to the fact that your advertisement has three to eight seconds to communicate.  Don’t believe me? Time your spouse sorting the mail.  Watch a family member click through websites and divide the seconds on each page by the number of ads on them.  Have someone in the passenger seat try to read aloud every word of each billboard you pass on your next trip down the expressway.  In your advertising, get to the point; and make the point about the viewer’s need.

Iron AuctioneerMYTH: If it Makes Sense To Me, It Will Make Sense to the Public

If you’ve ever traveled within a country where English is not the primary language, you’ve realized that your understanding of your needs, wants, and abilities isn’t as important as your audience’s understanding of them.  As business people, our default operating perspective is from within the business; but our audience generally has a much different perspective on their needs, your value proposition, possible solutions, etc.

When reviewing your advertising and other branding design before it goes live, make sure to include perspectives of those outside of your company and your family.  In the case of this “Iron Auctioneer” billboard, I needed my wife to explain the “Iron Chef” connection—which has nothing to do with an auctioneer’s value proposition.  And I still don’t get more than half the connections of the headlines on these billboards.  These billboard concepts weren’t vetted enough.  Make sure that indictment can’t be said of your marketing.
Auctioneer CowboyIn short, avoid myopia at all costs.  Get outside of yourself, your business, your ego.  Don’t get bored with your branding.  Instead, realize that well-policed marketing will accelerate your brand over the long haul—long after most YouTube sensations have come and gone.

I live in the southern band of the Bible Belt.  So, I’ve seen billboards like “Get Right.  Or Get Left.” and “Eternity: Smoking or Non-Smoking?” Oh, and bumper stickers far more trite, condescending, and filled with jargon.

I don’t get the purpose behind these any more than the equivalent political ones.

Does anyone think they can authentically, holistically affect change in someone’s political bent with one insult, someone’s faith system with one threat, someone’s sexual orientation (or view thereof) at one stop light?  Does anyone think Jesus would’ve resorted to passive aggressive slogans?

I don’t.

Christianity and its representatives often use these provocative barbs, though, to drive further wedges between Truth and the ignorant, Love and the unfulfilled, Peace and the restless.  I have a hard enough time being an authentic ambassador of heaven without carpet bombing traffic with hell-approved bumper stickers.

17: Exit Strategy

BillboardI recently heard one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received for my design. Paul Parks of international engineering firm, OmniTech USA, relayed the firm’s consensus on a new project concept, “We love how easily your sample reads!”

You read that right. I want my design to be valued as much for its readability as for its creativity.

I absorb the request for “out of the box” on a regular basis and try to oblige that as much as possible. Thankfully, the size of the box of expectations for most auction materials is pretty small by Madison Avenue standards; so, it doesn’t take much to push past those boundaries. (I still remember an auctioneer thinking I was shaking things up by putting pictures on an outside panel of his brochure and another for putting pictures at the top of his poster above the word “auction”).

I’m glad to have branded biplane as a resource auctioneers associate with award-winning work, but I’d prefer my personal impact on the auction industry to be more successful communication. The buying public appreciates aesthetically-crafted advertising, but they act on the readable.

A fancy billboard may grab a driver’s attention; but the shortest, simplest message gets the car onto the off ramp. The time a direct mail piece or newsprint ad has in front of a viewer’s eyes is even shorter, on average, than a billboard—a web ad even less. So, if your message has only five seconds or even (somehow) ten, you’ve got to work efficiently to successfully communicate.

To accomplish this, the most important part of the message (to the reader) has to be (1) brief and (2) primary. Everything else needs to fall away from that in the order it will be needed by the reader, not the advertiser. Text needs to be highly contrastive to its background(s). Pictures should be few and large. All elements need some “personal space” away from crowding, and details need to be relegated to the internet or brochure interiors.

Attractive, clear communication will sell my auctioneers’ wares more successfully than complicated designs. Successful sales generate capital for more marketing and more trust in your advertising infrastructure. So, I’m putting my money where my mouth is, trusting my clients’ success to translate into mine.

Lots of Christians I know are trying to find creative ways to reach their secular peers with the Gospel message. A new pithy bumper sticker or tee shirt is born every week, a new-format book or DVD seemingly more often than that. It’s like these TV sportsmen hocking their latest lures or calls, scents or weapons.

Don’t get me wrong: I love it that Christian apparel and media are more attractive and mainstream. I just don’t depend on it to make an eternal difference in the life of an unbeliever.

We need nothing more than to be forwarding the gift that Jesus gave us—that he offers to everyone. It’s the package of forgiveness and hope, love and acceptance, restoration and purpose. Jesus said he came to give us abundant life—away from our natural-bent junk and desperation.

If we’d simply communicate the eternal and present difference Christ makes in our hearts and lives, there’d be longer lines at our Christian merchandise stores. More importantly, there’d be fewer folks on the wrong side of eternity.

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