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Advertising 101

Analyzing Advertising: It's Not as Complicated as It Seems

 by W.L. Jenkins and Neal Kanoff       

 One day many years ago, a small shop owner got a bright idea. He painted a colorful two-sided sign and hired a guy to walk around town wearing it over his shoulders. On this sandwich board the owner had painted ``Eat At Joes" and the establishment's address. Business boomed. Soon every businessman in town had a sandwich-board fellow wandering around.

 And thus advertising was born. (This may not be entirely accurate; the ancient Egyptians are also credited with creating persuasive hieroglyphics.) Nevertheless, the point is that business has been preoccupied with advertising for a long time. And since then, business has been plagued with a million questions about advertising as well: ``Should we advertise?" ``What does it cost?" ``What kind of media should we use?" ``What's media?" ``How do I choose an ad agency?" ``I wouldn't know a good ad if it bit me on the ass!"

        And so on.

        Well, these days nothing's changed. And that's taking into account the fact that the Internet has created a wacky new marketplace that's moving at hyper speed. In fact, questions about advertising are more acute than ever before. There's a lot to know about. Maybe you've recently started a new dot-com company of some sort and aren't sure about this scary advertising thing. Or, quite possibly, you've been in business for a while (or longer), you've been advertising and you're pretty savvy about it.

        Either way, you've got questions. And either way, this column might be able to help. Hopefully we can float you newcomers a boat-load of information that can get your company started on the right foot. And maybe give more experienced advertisers a tasty scrap that'll spring some new ideas for you.

        But why? Why give away trade secrets?

        Because we have only one goal: Better advertising.

        If we can help you attain a better understanding of how advertising is created and what works, then you can communicate more effectively with ad people. Then they can create better advertising and therefore make more money for you.

        There is another agenda, of course. No. 1, we hate schlocky, poorly thought out and executed advertising and we want to eradicate it and its perpetrators from the face of the earth. And No. 2, when clients make more money, agencies do as well.)

        We'll begin with something basic: We're going to show you how to analyze an ad.

        It's not surprising that while most people can look at an ad and either like it or not, they can't articulate why. That's OK. But if you're the CEO or marketing director of a company, and you're presented with a comp or layout for an ad and you can't articulate why it works or not, then, well, as Strother Martin said in ``Cool Hand Luke,"  ``What we have here is failure to co-mun-e-cate." And that slows down the process and leads to half-baked advertising. We believe that the good, bright, smart ads that are remembered and sell product are simply the result of a few common sense ideas and a little magic. By taking a few minutes and studying an ad before it's produced, you can increase its effectiveness when it runs.

As you'll see, analyzing an ad isn't as mysterious as some people think. You can do it the same way an ad agency does (or should). And it works just as well testing TV or radio commercials, outdoor advertising, skywriting or whatever.

        All you have to do is answer ``yes" to seven questions about the ad: four basic questions, and then three others that require a bit more information to qualify your answers. If all questions get a ``yes," then take that ad and run it. If you answer ``no" to any question, we recommend that the ad either be reworked or scrapped in favor of new thinking.

        So, how do you analyze an ad? Ask yourself:

        1. ``Is this ad HONEST?" Are the facts the facts? Can our company back what the ad says?

        2. ``Is this ad BELIEVABLE?" It may be a very persuasive ad, but be careful. An ad may be believable but not honest. And visa versa.

        3. ``Is this ad MEMORABLE?" This is where creativity reigns: A provocative concept, well executed with a thought-provoking headline, tasty art direction, appropriate use of fonts, concise and easy to read body copy. But watch out here, too. Many ads are memorable because theyıre so bad. (Mentos commercials spring to mind). Your ad should be memorable because it causes people to think and make a positive decision about the product or service you're selling.

        4. ``Is this ad UNDERSTANDABLE?" Is it clear? Do you get it? Will your target get it?

        These are the four basic test questions that you can apply and in most cases they're all you need. The next three questions have a little more depth because they require you to reflect on decisions you've made about your company, your product or service and ultimately your brand. Don't worry if you haven't done background work in this area yet. The questions are self-evident and will inspire you to dig deeper.

        Ask yourself:

        5. ``Does this ad maintain and support the brand position

        based on our strategy?" Ultimately, you want your company to occupy a favorable and memorable position in the minds of your target market. It's part of your brand, which is based on a strategy that sets the tone for every piece of advertising you do.

        6. ``Is this ad consistent with the brand tone and manner?" What's tone and manner? Well, if your company makes snowboards the advertising is probably going to look, sound and feel a lot edgier than the tone and manner of someone who makes toilet paper.

        And finally:

        7. ``Does this ad talk directly to my target audience?" Does it talk their language and reflect their attitude? Remember, you personally may not get it, but your target may.

        We believe that asking these seven questions is a pretty fair way to evaluate an ad. However, when it comes to larger issues like integrated campaigns, logos, product names, position lines and the like, you should consider the added value of research testing. Focus groups and other methods can provide you with very detailed and useful information.

        One final question some of you should ask. ``How does my ad agency evaluate an ad?" If they can't answer that one, wellll … at least you know how to do it.

        We hope we have been some help. If you have any ideas about future topics you would like us to cover, please email us at advantage@scma-la. We look forward to hearing from you.


W.L. Jenkins and Neal Kanoff are principals in SCMA, a full-service ad agency located in Sherman Oaks. Collectively, they have 37 years of experience creating branded print and broadcast advertising for everything from fast food to the fast new world of dot com businesses.


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