Business 101: How to advertise your substandard product, lecture 1

Business 101: How to advertise your substandard product, lecture 1


Allow me to set the scene: There I was this morning, reading The Melbourne Age online and drinking a cup of decaffeinated coffee (just don’t ask), when suddenly, I saw it. Again. An advertisement in the technology section that any first year media student worth their salt could trample all over. And I wondered, how do these travesties of advertising happen?

[Cue fade-out and chimes; cut to (day)dream sequence; fade-in...]

A long time ago in a classroom far, far away...

Okay, class, today we’re going to learn how to write an effective ad for our product. We’ll talk about placement, saturating the market, and of course, structuring the ad itself. Are we ready?. Now, firstly, we need to figure out who the target of the advertisement is. Well, yes, potential customers, obviously, but in the instance where we are also feeling threatened by the opposition, we might also want to get right up in their faces by not just targeting potential customers, but also targeting our own customers with reassurance, and the opposition’s customers with fear, uncertainty and doubt, so they think about switching over to us.. Alright. So next we work out market saturation. This is really about what we can afford. If we’re a start-up, we can probably only afford a little campaign relying on a couple of ads and some word of mouth. However, if we’re a big, monopolistic, multi-national, we should have enough to cover all our bases and advertise wherever the hell we want. You have to learn, in a big company, that advertising should get top priority in your budget. Because it doesn’t matter if your products are substandard, it’s about how pretty the box is and how many people believe your hype.. —Richard, why aren’t you writing this down? Are we boring you? Look over there, Bill and Steve are being very attentive, you could learn from them you know.. Okay, so let’s say we have a software business and an unlimited ad budget; because that’s how it should be. Now, where are the best places to advertise? In order to effectively get at our chosen demographic, we need to work out where they go, what they’re looking at. Clearly, online is where we’re looking here. But where? Obviously, we need to be a little choosy. I would recommend news sites, hubs, and technology sites, and be VERY SPECIFIC... you want to place your ad on articles and pages that relate to your competitors, so you can have that juxtaposition sitting right there. An article about your opponent? YOU NEED TO BE THERE. My suggestion is to target all of your opposition sites as well, and offer huge sums for advertising space on their sites. Some of them will go for it because they can’t afford not to, so get in there and take advantage.. —Richard, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Of course you’ll never get anywhere without a big, dirty advertising campaign. People don’t want “quality” and “community” and all that guff, they want pretty packaging and bells and whistles.. —Look Richard, I really think you should drop it. You are sounding a little naive and idealistic.. —Bill! Stephen! Stop that now! I won’t have you ganging up on Richard, thanks, it’s a complete waste of time. He’s doomed to failure anyway, because he doesn’t understand basic business practice. Idealism is the first step to the poor-house, and people in the poor-house can’t afford advertising.. —Just ignore him and he’ll go away.. —Well, if you’re sure, Richard, you’ll probably be better served in one of those philosophy based units anyway. Go on... get out!. Sorry about the disruption, class. Mr Stallman will never make it in advertising if he continues behaving like some kind of “out there” idealist. Now, let’s talk about the ad itself. If it’s mainly going to appear on news sites, what kind of a layout do you feel is suitable? Alright then, a NEWSPAPER. Maybe a bit juvenile, but alright. So we have it looking like the front page of a newspaper. Now, as to the writing. What do we want to SAY to our demographic? We not only want them to choose us, but we want them to fear that our competitors are expensive, unreliable, and unstable. Yes Bill? No, that’s a good question. It doesn’t matter if this isn’t true. My suggestion would be setting up a resource center, entirely funded by your company, who pays clients to attest that your products are superior, and then publishes what we call “impartial white papers” about it.. —No we wouldn’t be lying... the clients would be lying. Does that help? Good.. Now, we want to tell our demographic how reliable we are. So, what shall we call this “newspaper” our ad is based on? Steven?.... —“The Highly Reliable Times”? Alright then, that certainly does smack of reliability. Now, I recommend having a testimonial in the left column, from a client. It will personalise the experience for the reader. The reader could be that client! Maybe with a photograph above the testimonial, showing a happy businessman. We also have to use appropriate, serious looking fonts. Try emulating the Times, or another reputable paper. It needs gravity. Excellent.. Now we need a headline. What shall it be? It needs to be like a newspaper headline, punchy, drive the point home, and make the readers want to read more. We also want to take a sly dig at our competitors. So, what will it be? Steven? “Reliability is much more than just stability”, hey? Okay, let’s think about this one then. We have already called ourselves The Highly Reliable Times, so we are emphasising our reliability and driving it home. Also, we are having a sly dig at our competitors... they might be more stable than us, but we can show RELIABILITY in other areas. Yes Mark?.... —No, it’s not really contradictory.. —No, it doesn’t mean we’re saying that we aren’t stable! That’s ridiculous. No one’s going to be scrutinising the wording like that. It sounds good as it is, as though we’re taking our clients seriously.. —Put that dictionary away, Mark! No! This is advertising; we certainly CAN redefine “reliability”. NOBODY WILL CARE! Do you want to join Richard outside the class? Then just calm down. YOU don’t have to use the slogan.. Then, under the headline, we have a little bit of print, maybe citing one of our case studies. And there you have it! We’ve made our first ad! Well done, everybody. Sorry, what was that Bill?. —No, I haven’t copyrighted our example ad. Why do you ask?.

The finished ad... Note how we made “not back compatible” sound like a positive by changing the wording to say: “...without focusing on the rear-view mirror”.The finished ad... Note how we made “not back compatible” sound like a positive by changing the wording to say: “...without focusing on the rear-view mirror”.

Just a word of warning: I wouldn’t advise using this exact design, because I think Bill has already had his IP lawyers patent the idea of using a newspaper layout for advertising..

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Bridget has a degree in Sociology and English and a keen interest in the social implications of technology. She has two websites: Illiterarty and The Top 10 Everything. She also handles accounts and administration for Free Software Magazine.