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The Myth of the Call to Action

I took a little walk down memory lane. Started reading some of the old radio ad copy I wrote back in the 90’s. My goal today was to talk to you about the pros and cons of the different media options you have for advertising. Sometimes, however, you pull on a thread and it unravels in a whole different way than you expected.

Image result for radioHere is an ad I used on the radio twenty-two years ago …

Ad Copy Winter 1996

Hi, this is Phil Wrzesinski from the Toy House in downtown Jackson. You’ve heard me talk about the many wonderful toys we sell here at the Toy House. I’d like to remind you that we’re more than just a great toy store. Our hobby department has everything you need for your trains, planes, rockets or models. Plus, our staff are experts able to answer your questions and make sure you get exactly what you need. Our baby department has all of the new, safe, quality products for infants including everything from cribs that convert into beds, car seats & strollers, and over 100 different bedding patterns. We offer baby registry, special orders, and a ten-month layaway on infant items. If you’re working on a project for school, check out our craft and science departments. And, if you need a new bike, we’ll assemble it for free and inspect it after 30 riding days. You see, at the Toy House we want to make your shopping as easy as we can by offering free giftwrapping, layaway, delivery, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. So come visit us at the Toy House on Mechanic Street in downtown Jackson.

Looking back at this ad through the lens of the six principles that make an ad more effective, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Sure, this violated the Make Only One Point principle big time. It didn’t Tell a Story or Speak to the Heart, or Speak to My Tribe.

But even in an ad all about “me”, I used the word “you” quite often. Considering I had zero training and zero understanding of how ads worked, seeing this ad made me happy.

Don’t get me wrong. This ad sucked. About the only thing going for it was the conversational tone that didn’t sound like all the hype ads of that day, plus the frequent use of the word “you”. It also told you specific actions you could expect (“we’ll assemble it for free and inspect it after 30 riding days.”)

Contrast that ad with this one fifteen years later …

The Promised Land November 2011
She almost fell out of the pew. Her pastor actually called Toy House the Promised Land for kids. Right there in front of a packed church.
The lady on her left leaned over and said, “You work there, don’t you?”
She nodded.
The lady on her left leaned in again, “I love that place.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Me too,” she whispered back.
It’s the promised land for kids and adults. Just ask the lady sitting on your left.
Toy House and Baby Too in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

It certainly doesn’t sound like an ad. It tells a story and speaks to the heart. It speaks to the tribe. You’re smiling in agreement if you’re already a fan of the store. It only made one point, and it wasn’t about “me”.

The one thing many pundits will tell you it is missing is the Call to Action. The first ad said, “So come visit us …” Without a call to action, how can you measure the results of the ad? About the closest thing to a call to action in the 2011 ad is to, “ask the lady sitting on your left.”

I started running ads like this in 2005. That same year I hired a statistics class at a local university to do a survey for me. One of the questions the students asked was, “Name all of the places in Jackson that sell toys.” We were named about 66% of the time. Two-thirds. One-third of the population did not think about us as a place to buy toys—even though we were one of the largest independent toy stores in America and had been around for 56 years.

In 2007 we did the same survey. Our name recall had jumped to 74%. More interestingly, 88% of the people who named us as a store that sold toys named us first (compared to only 69% in the first study). Not only were we more top-of-mind, we were more top-of-heart. That’s how I measured the results of ads like that one.

I wasn’t in business just for today. I was in business for the long run. I didn’t want a call to action that got you in today, only to forget about us tomorrow. I wanted to win your heart and be not only the first place you think of, but the first place you wanted to visit.

Knowing that distinction changes the way you advertise.

Some media work better for immediate calls to action. Some work differently for sales than they do for branding. Before we start exploring the different media, I thought that concept might be worth visiting.

Thanks for joining me on memory lane. You never know where it might lead.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I used a lot of radio. Not because it is the most effective form of advertising, but because it was the best fit for my market, my budget, my talent, and my goals. What will work best for you may be completely different based on all those factors.