Home » Book Excerpt: Most Ads Suck – Chapter 4

Book Excerpt: Most Ads Suck – Chapter 4

Chapter 1 – Most Ads Suck
Chapter 2 – It’s the Message, Not the Media
Chapter 3 – Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad

Chapter 4 – Make Only One Point
“Use half as many words and you’ll hit twice as hard.” – Roy H. Williams

You finally get to your business. You sit down at your desk and open up your email with the overflowing inbox. You don’t know whether it is the lack of sleep or your Super Bowl revelations, but you can’t seem to focus on anything at work. Instead you’re looking up when that Wendy’s Where’s the Beef? commercial ran. Wikipedia tells you Clara Peller made that line famous in 1984, Wendy’s abandoned it in 1985 and DJ Coyote McCloud wrote a hit song using that phrase.

What made that ad so memorable? Was it funny? Of course. The first time you saw it you laughed out loud, and no one was in the room with you. You couldn’t wait to show it to someone else. There was no Internet so you had to wait for it to come on again. Here you were, back in 1984, hoping to actually see an ad because it was funny.

But what made it work wasn’t just the humor. You’ve seen plenty of funny ads before and since then. In fact, a subcategory of your Super Bowl party was which ad you thought was the funniest. There have been a lot of funny ads that never moved you closer to the product like this one did. All the Bud Lite ads cracked you up but never got you to crack a bottle of their beer. In fact, you can remember some really funny ads without remembering the company. Was it Cheetos or Doritos that had that finger-licking ad?

There has to be something else.

You go back to your three points for the boardroom. Point number two says the message is more important than the media. You ask yourself, what is the message of this ad?

Wendy’s patties are bigger than their competitors.

That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. One simple point. They didn’t talk about their fresh, never frozen meats. They didn’t talk about their fries or anything else on the menu. They only made one point—that their hamburger was bigger than their competitors’ hamburgers.

There is an elegance to making only one point. You start thinking back to the radio ad you heard this morning from the local Buick dealer. He seemed to be talking about new model cars, but then he brought up something about his service team and mentioned used vehicles, too. And there was something else he said that you remember chuckling about, but now you can’t recall it. If you had to guess, there were at least five points in that ad and even though you were paying attention, you could only vaguely remember three of them, and not exactly what they were, just that there were three or more things they were trying to say.

You’ve made that same mistake yourself. You remember when the TV salesperson wanted to sell you some 10-second spots and you laughed him out of your office saying there was no way you could get everything across about your business in ten seconds. You needed all sixty seconds the radio guy was offering. You had to talk about your staff and your services and your vision and your mission and your length in business and your location and your …

Wait. What if you had it all wrong? You’re almost embarrassed to admit it. You suddenly realize your own mistakes in advertising. You’ve tried to say so much in each ad that you wonder if anyone remembers anything at all. You figure at best a non-interested person hearing or seeing an ad could only remember one thing well.

Wendy’s only told you one thing. It was the only thing you needed to know. It was the biggest, most important thing. They didn’t clutter it with other information. They didn’t dilute it with other points. They simply made just one point. And you remember it over thirty years later!

Principle #2: Make Only One Point

Yes! It’s all coming back to you. There was that speaker you saw a couple years ago at a local chamber event that had that story with the frying pan. You swore you’d never forget that story or his point. Your brain recalls the story instantly. You see him standing in the front of a room waving a frying pan and how startled you were. You replay his story in your head.

A large company wasn’t getting the results they wanted out of their advertising. The company sequesters its marketing team away for the day to come up with a new campaign. After hours of deliberation and debate, the team finally comes up with the twelve most important talking points for the new campaign.

They call in the copywriter.

The team leader starts explaining to the copywriter all the points they need made.

“Point number one, blah, blah, blah. Point number two, blah, blah, blah …”

At this moment the team leader looks up to see the copywriter sitting there doing nothing.

“Aren’t you going to take any notes?”

Silently, the copywriter reaches into a large bag by his feet and pulls out a board with twelve shiny nails sticking straight up out of the board. He lays it down on the table, nails pointing upward. He then takes out a frying pan and slams it down on the bed of nails. The whole room echoes with the sound as the advertising team all jumps backwards. The copywriter then holds up the pan so everyone can see the pattern of indents from the nails on the bottom of the pan.

The copywriter then pulls out another board. This one has one solitary spike on it. He places it on the table and slams the frying pan down onto this board. The spike impales the pan instantly. The pan goes down flush, stuck to the board.

The copywriter looks up at the startled crowd and asks, “How many points do you want me to make?”

You swore you’d never forget that story. You can even recall how you jumped when the speaker slammed his frying pan down on the nails.

One point. That’s all anyone is going to remember. Make one big, strong, not-watered-down point that sticks flush to the board.

Yeah, you start thinking, even some of the ads that only make one point then crowd that point with a whole bunch of filler to use up the rest of their ad space. They all have to tell you where they are, as if you couldn’t find them if you wanted their product.

You know Big Al is down on the corner of Third and Sewer. He tells you that several times every day on your radio. You have no idea what Big Al does, but at least you know where to find him. Wouldn’t it be better for Big Al if you knew what he did and wanted his services more than knowing where he was? Wouldn’t you be able to pull out your phone and look him up if you really wanted what he was selling?

The coffee has settled in now and you know you need to get to work on your plans for Friday’s staff meeting. Time to put your advertising thoughts away. Your list of things you want to tell these big companies about how to improve their advertising is growing.

  • Most Ads Suck
  • The Message Is More Important Than the Media
  • Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad
  • Make Only One Point

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Up next … Chapter 5 – Tell a Story

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