What makes effective advertising?
There are classic volumes and numerous listicles that purport to answer this question. There are numerous research methods to pre-test advertising or measure it in-market.
Data only help us make well-informed decisions; data can’t write copy for us. Despite the advent of language-generating programs like GPT-3, data won’t drive creativity, although it can (and perhaps should) help us formulate strategies.
How do I know if advertising is effective?
These are not rules for how to write effective advertising. Every copywriter has rules and methods that work for them, as it should be. Very few will consult a 12-point article when sitting down to create an advertisement and a 2-rule blog post would be no less presumptuous. These are rules for the rest of us to keep in mind when writing a creative strategy or evaluating creative work.
Rule 1: Impossible to tell someone about it without mentioning the product.
You know advertising is memorable when someone is willing and able to describe it. The retelling will only be as accurate and complete as the ad’s story was compelling. But the retelling doesn’t matter if the product isn’t part of the story.
Two ads that make the product part of the story are Amazon’s tale of two friends, a priest and an imam, who order the same gift for one another, both using Amazon’s mobile app, and Metamucil’s “The Regulars,” in which three co-workers visit the restroom at the same time daily, due to the, uh, product benefit. (This latter example also shows you what a product demo can be, as well as offering a pack shot that goes with the story.)
Rule 2: Impossible to forget what brand created it.
You know advertising is persuasive when the recipient remembers the brand as well as the product. Common ways to improve the odds of success are a brand name linked to the product benefit (Chapstick, although they’ve let people use the name generically), a brand associated over the long-term with a clear positioning or benefit (Nike, athletic performance) or campaign elements consistent enough over time that they’re easily recognizable (IBM, still using the blue letterbox treatment for almost 20 years).
The two ads cited above follow this rule, too, mainly because the brand and product are so closely linked.
Be careful, however, because the degree of difficulty goes up if you’re launching a new product that would take your brand into an adjacent category or even segment.
DO try this at home
Be a consumer. Try this as you encounter advertising during the day, even/especially banner ads, billboards, any form of ad. See if it’s impossible for you to tell someone about the ad without mentioning the product, or impossible to forget what brand created it.
If you try this experiment at work — well, be careful. Look closely at messaging strategy and product portfolio. Almost every time, advertising that breaks these rules came from business strategy that failed to consider them in the first place.