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Strategy Essential For Making Good Ads

by Alf Nucifora

I am currently saddled with the unenviable task of representing a client who needs an expensive, new ad campaign. It involves numerous meetings with the ad agency to review, critique and refine ad nauseam. This recent process, together with the growing realization that most of today's advertising is average at best, provides reaffirmation of the need for a disciplined strategy in the advertising development process. Here, we're not talking about the creativity and design of the advertisement or commercial itself; it's the development of a strategy which very clearly defines the objectives of the communication. The process that I still use today and one that has survived the generations is an elementary "Creative Work Plan." It's a road map that leads to a clearly defined direction and guarantees that the advertising delivers against precise objectives. And here's the beauty…it's easy to compile, brief and concise (one page) and simple to use for expert and novice alike.

The Creative Work Plan Element

  1. The Objective: What is the purpose of the advertising? What do you hope to achieve from the effort? Is it to drive retail traffic, build awareness, create brand imagery or rectify an existing impression?

  2. The Audience: Who are they? Try to define them as clearly as possible. A broad audience definition such as "women 18-39" is less effective than "single women, 18-39, college-educated, full-time employed with career aspirations." While this demographic definition will normally suffice, it's even better to assess and understand the target audience from a psychographic viewpoint. How do they behave? What are their needs, desires, fears and aspirations? What's the psychological need that drives their buying decisions?

  3. The Promise: This is the key selling point of your message. How will the product fulfill the buyer's/prospect's needs? ("Use Alf's Toothpaste and you will be guaranteed the whitest of teeth.") Resist the urge to oversell by communicating too many features and benefits. They dilute the message and confuse the customer. Take one strong advertising point and drive it home. Clarity of focus is essential.

  4. The Support: What are the most salient facts that support your key promise. Verify the boast ("Only Alf's Toothpaste contains the miracle whitening agent... "). Remember that today's customer is cynical, jaded, and often disbelieving, particularly in response to an advertising message. Wherever possible, provide verification of the claim. Let them see or feel the truth whether it's a fact or an emotion.

  5. The Tone: What is the feeling or mood that the advertising must convey? If you're an auto dealership and you only have a weekend to unload a yard full of cars, it's understandable that your advertising has to "scream." The need is to command immediate attention in as strident a fashion as possible. Conversely, if you're a professional services firm, a much more sedate, philosophical tone will be in order.

  6. The Constraints: What are the legal and other mandatory constraints that must be fulfilled? Do you need to record trademark and copy registrations? Are there particular rules as to how the logo should be treated? What are the graphic standards requirements?

The business axiom, "good work in... good work out" is particularly relevant for the advertising development process. See a bad ad, and you can generally assume that it was result of an ill-defined strategy, a misunderstanding of the advertising need and probably a poor briefing to boot. The benefits of the Creative Work Plan are obvious. It will save development time and unnecessary cost, particularly the constant revising and fixing, and deliver a targeted message to a prospective buyer who yearns to be sold. One final piece of advice, every creative development assignment should undergo this process from the simple, quarter-page black and white newspaper ad to the most elaborate four-color brochure or the most expensive television commercial. And make sure that all affected parties (client management and ad agency development team) agree to the strategy by signing the document. Nothing focuses the mind or strengthens the commitment more than the application of a signature to paper.

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