Monday, April 25, 2011

Lesson #23: How to Design Effective Advertising Copy & Creatives

Posted By: George Deeb - 4/25/2011


& Comment

Now that we have learned how to set a marketing plan for your business, the devil is in the details in terms of executing that plan.  This is especially true for the copy and creatives you use in your advertising materials.  Today, we will tackle some dos and don'ts to maximize the success of your advertising efforts.

Let's start with an example print advertisement that we used at iExplore (a sea kayaking trip to Alaska):

The mandate I gave our CMO was to turn iExplore into the "trusted first-of-mind brand for once-in-a-lifetime adventure travel".  And, at the high level, this creative does exactly that.  You certainly get the sense of once-in-a-lifetime from the lone sea kayaker paddling in close proximity to an orca whale and a tag line that said "Come Back Different".  And, you certainly get the sense of trust from the "Inspected by Expert #34" tag.  And, if iExplore has 34 experts, they must be pretty big, and I trust them as a leading player in the space.   We had this same type of strategy behind our online banner ads and video ad creative (I was really pumped when I first saw this video!).

So, as a first time CEO, I was really excited about the prospective results from this campaign.  And, the advertising industry would have certainly guessed the same, as this campaign won a ton of awards for best creatives in the travel industry.

Then reality hit us in the face like a ton of bricks.  This campaign was not selling any trips!!  We were spending a lot of money buying double page print ads in expensive magazines like National Geographic, Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure (and even NYC billboards in Times Square!!), but there were very little revenues to cover the massive costs of this effort.  So, we were hemorraging the cash provided from our venture capitalists. 

Ignoring the fact we were spending a lot of money offline, when we should have been better spending most of this money online, as an internet company, let's study what was specifically wrong with these creatives.   The first problem was the creative size itself.  Buying double page spreads in the major travel magazines was VERY expensive as a startup company.  We would have been much better served with single page, or even half page ads to start, stretching out our budget over a longer period of time.

The second problem was the iExplore name and business was unknown to anybody, and the tag line did not do a good job describing the business.  Instead of an inspirational message like "Come Back Different", it should have been more descriptive about our business, like "Adventure Travel Experts".  It is perfectly acceptable for Nike to use the brand-building tag line "Just Do It", when they were a 20 year old company, and everyone already new them as an athletic apparel and footwear manufacturer.  But, not for iExplore, a brand new company that needed to educate the market on its core business offering.  We thought we were doing a good job explaining the business in the paragraph of copy at the bottom of the ad, but didn't realize that magazine readers turn the page at an average flip time of two seconds.  Nobody was reading the paragraph in two seconds, and we needed to get the message out faster.

The third problem was the biggest of them all.  Where was the call to action??  There wasn't one!!  There should have been a message like "Book Your Trip by December 1st and Save 10% ", or "Free Airfare with Any Tour Purchase by December 1st".  This tells the reader more about the business (e.g., that we sell trips), gives them a special deal (e.g., to save money), and gives them a sense of urgency to make an action (e.g., by a certain date).  We could have easily doubled our revenues from this campaign with more call-to-action oriented messaging.

A fourth problem was the limited frequency of the print ads.  In the travel magazine world, new issues were coming out once a month.  And, it typically takes 6-7 ad impressions before it catches someone's attention to make it actionable.  So, that meant 6-7 months of expensive print ad buying before we would really know the full success from the campaign.  Travel sections of newspapers would have been a much better vehicle, since the ads were coming out daily/weekly, not monthly.  Or the travel sections of the Yahoo or MSN websites would have been even better, since the ads would be running online, and the action is simply "one click away", instead of print readers having to get to their computers to make an action.

At the end of the day, this campaign was a complete disaster, for all the reason mentioned above.  And, to make matters worse, we ended up pulling the campaign after only 3-4 months, which meant that any repeated impressions we were building up towards the 6-7 month requirement, were entirely flushed down the toilet midstream (no pun intended).  Believe me, after that first year at iExplore, we never made those same marketing mistakes again!!  And, we established key disciplines for tracking our marketing ROI on a line-by-line basis, as discussed in our last post.

This is just one example of the things you need to consider when designing the copy, creatives, frequency and placements for your advertising efforts.  The summary is:  (1) startups need to be crystal clear on what they do with as few words as possible; (2) there needs to be a strong, time-sensitive call to action, to trigger a transaction; (3) design your campaign with maximizing frequency in mind, to build up repeated impressions; (4) pick creative sizes that are most affordable to your budget; (5) if possible, make sure the campaign is easily cancellable if not working; and (6) place ads in the medium most logical for your business (e.g., e-commerce companies should bias online advertising).

I hope this post saves you a lot of misspent advertising dollars.  I surely wished I had all that venture capital back, to do it right the second time!

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