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Two Extraordinary Automobile Ads

Maybe it’s time to fire the agency

Vol. 6, Issue No. 11 | June 8, 2010 By Denny Hatch
12
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IN THE NEWS

OUR SPEAKERS CAN CREATE AN INTERESTING SOUND. SILENCE.
Most speakers only create sound. Ours, on the other hand, can also take it away. Microphones inside the cabin constantly monitor unwanted engine noise. When noise is detected, opposing frequencies are broadcast through the speakers to eliminate it, literally fighting sound with sound. The result is dramatically reduced engine noise for a quieter, more comfortable cabin. Active Sound Control in the Acura TSX V-6. The most innovative thinking you'll find, you'll find in an Acura. Learn more at acura.com.
—Honda Motor Co., Ltd.
The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, May 30, 2010
Take just a moment to read “IN THE NEWS” at right. It contains the entire text of a full-page ad for a Honda car in The New York Times Magazine, a jumbo size 8-3/4” x 10-3/4” Sunday supplement.

Now click on the first illustration at right in the media player and you can see the layout.

The type: 12-point for the subhead in mid-page and 8-point body copy—a teeny, unreadable band of copy across the middle of the page.

Cost of the ad: $107,075.

This Honda ad is a lame attempt to capture the consumer’s attention with a single, ill-written unique selling proposition (USP) that is the entire premise of the ad:

“The Acura car is very quiet.”

The ad breaks every rule in the book.

The Great Jay Abraham
One of the savviest and most fun Energizer bunnies in the world of marketing is an elfin figure who sports a full head of black hair (maybe it’s gray by now) plus a mustache and neatly trimmed beard—West Coast wizard Jay Abraham. He puts on $25,000 marketing seminars and routinely sells them out. If you decide to leave after the first day, he’ll give you all your money back. Few students take him up on it. He’s made zillions for a legion of clients. From Jay’s website:

Let me tell you a story. You may have heard it before, but it's a classic example of the power of preemptive advertising … Back in 1919, Schlitz beer was the #10 beer in the marketplace. Claude Hopkins [1866-1932], the classic marketing strategist after whom I've patterned my life, was called in to salvage the marketing of this #10 beer and lift it to success.

When he walked into the brewery, the first thing he did was learn how the beer was made. He toured the facilities and he saw that Schlitz was located right on the banks of one of the Great Lakes. And even though they were right there with this unlimited water source, they had dug five, 4,000-foot artesian wells right next to Lake Michigan because they wanted pure water.

The brewers showed Claude a mother yeast cell that was a result of about 2,500 different experiments that had been done to find the quintessential yeast to make the proper taste. They showed him five different, three-foot-thick, plate glass rooms where beer was condensed and redistilled and re-condensed for purity. They showed him the tasters that tasted the beer five different times. They showed him where the bottles were cleaned and re-cleaned 12 times. They showed him the whole process. At the end, he was incredulous.

Takeaways to Consider

  • Can you create a message that enables you to gain a preemptive advantage over your competitors?
  • Research, research, research!
  • “If you are too lazy to do this kind of' homework, you may occasionally, luck into a successful campaign, but you will run the risk of skidding about on what my brother Francis called ‘the slippery surface of irrelevant brilliance.’”
    —David Ogilvy
  • “See what others have done, find those direct mailings [and advertisements] that have proved successful and steal smart.
    Dorothy Kerr
  • “When you once get a person’s attention, then is the time to accomplish all you can ever hope with him. Bring all your good arguments to bear. Cover every phase of your subject. One fact appeals to some, one to another.”
    Claude Hopkins
  • “Type smaller than 9 point is difficult for most people to read.”
    —David Ogilvy
  • Never use sans serif type in body copy; it is the most difficult to read
  • Never run copy over a colored background.
  • “Every time we get creative, we lose money.”
    —Ed McCabe, former president, RCA Record Club
  • “If it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative.”
    —Benton & Bowles motto in the 1930s and 1940s

 

Companies Mentioned:

12

COMMENTS

Click here to leave a comment...
Comment *
Most Recent Comments:
Wash Phillips - Posted on June 08, 2010
Yes, the Acura ad is abysmal on several scores. Reminds me of a "charming" TV spot running a lot lately with a no call to action and a tiny 1-second tag/mark which supposedly directs me to--what?--and AT&T website? I'm never sure.

Question about Ogivly's oft-quoted Rolls ad: Goodies = features. So what about associated benefits? :5-6 of the 13 Rolls features cited have none, implied or spelled out. What's your take on this, Denny? To paraphrase Fitzgerald on Gatsby, are the rich different from you and me in needing less pointed/relevant persuasion?
Paul Bobnak - Posted on June 08, 2010
Terrific piece! I've been looking a lot at space ads from bygone days lately and the Rolls-Royce is a "new" one to me. Again, my biggest problem with modern-day space advertising (and much of radio & TV advertising as well): "Learn more at acura.com"
NOT "Learn more at acura.com/nytimes" or "Hear(or not)the difference for yourself at acura.com/nytimes"

Basically, they have no idea how exactly many people have or will go to the site, or visit a showroom, take a test drive, etc., based on this ad. Tsk-tsk.
JP - Posted on June 08, 2010
"Never use sans serif type in body copy; it is the most difficult to read."

Denny, does this mean you will be changing the sans serif type used for your Business Common Sense columns?

JP
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
DH RESPONDS:

Thanx for taking the time to write.

One of my first columns was a very long research piece on what the best type style is for the computer screen (as opposed to print). After researching this challenge I reluctantly decided to go with sans serif. Here is that column. It’s old, so some of the hyperlinks won’t work. But you get the idea. Cheers.
http://tinyurl.com/5qs6m4

Steve Spillman - Posted on June 08, 2010
Denny, As a typical small business owner (publishing) I don't have time to read through the constant barrage of e-mails I receive - even the good ones. But today I read through yours on Acura and Ogilvy - I'm glad I did. Good advice, well stated, with the takeaways. Typical Denny Hatch. Thank you.
Drayton Bird - Posted on June 08, 2010
A splendid piece, as ever..

1. Ogilvy did not love headlines that told all. He loved headlines that made you want to read on.

2. He (and Rosser Reeves, coiner of the U.S.P) lunched with Bill Bernbach, so I imagine there was mutual respect.

3. That pretentious headline, on the other hand, does tell all - which was not very much.

What is the conceptual world? Is it the opposite of a world without ideas - which is where that ad came from.


Bernie FORESTELL - Posted on June 08, 2010
Like many of Denny's readers, I look forward to his "Business Common Sense" essays.

I spend most of my copywriting time creating appeals for non-profits. I always have my ear tuned towards creating appeals that elicit an emotional response.

Advertising and fundraising is much the same. Grab attention. Keep it. Ask for a response.

My takeaway: Research. Know your audience. State a clear case. Identify how the readers life will improve once they support the organization.

Thanks Denny....you solved a messaging problem I was handed this morning!

Bernie F.

Peter Rosenwald - Posted on June 08, 2010
Another superb piece Denny. I`m going to make my MBA students learn it by heart (and take it to heart).

Thanks,

Peter
Chris Altwegg - Posted on June 08, 2010
Love your crankiness, but I wonder if it's just a bit misplaced.

I think there is indeed a "headline." It's the combination of a blank set of lines and the text underneath. While Ogilvy loved headlines that told all, Bernbach introduced the "conceptual" world to advertising, where neither the text nor illustration stands alone but taken together creates the message. (I wonder what you and David O would have thought of the classic VW ad; "Lemon" in its initial viewing.)

I will grant that the body copy is a bit obtuse. I think for the target audience of Acura buyers, they could have simply said "Think of it as noise-cancelling headphones for driving noise."
Rezbi - Posted on June 08, 2010
Research - done the right way - can mean the difference between a successful copy and a total flop.

I recently wrote copy for someone in China. Before I started, my client's favourite snack food was fish and chips... in Shanghai!?

He didn't know anything about his own culture. By the time I'd finished the copy we both learned a lot about Chinese culture.

In the end, he said he liked the copy so much he wanted to buy his own product.

If I hadn't done the research would I have been able to create such copy? Considering I knew nothing about China, the answer is a definite no.

Best,
Rezbi
http://commonsensedirectmarketing.com/
Rebecca - Posted on June 08, 2010
I have a confession to make. I am in marketing, and have been since 1995. I have dealt with ad agencies, corporate ad groups, and creative teams. I have some experience on this end of things.

But... consumer advertising makes me sick. Maybe 1 out of 100 ads gets my attention. All the rest make me want to throw up.

I don't know whether it is because TV commercials seem to last as long as the programs do, or that they are a few decibels louder, even for someone like me who is hard of hearing. Maybe it is because they try to brainwash the viewer into believing that what they say is the truth, that they NEED to buy this product if they want to be beautiful, sexy, or have lots of friends.

I am just sick of it all. Beauty comes from within. We are a society of people who put too much on what others think of us. We need to get back down to earth and realize it doesn't matter how others treat us that makes us special, but how we treat others.

I am glad I am leaning a lot more toward online, SEO and social marketing. I can get my message across to those who "friend" me, or to those who search for a keyword and find me. Passive marketing. Not blatant, in your face advertising.

Sometimes I just want out of this rat race.
Kevin Nielsen - Posted on June 08, 2010
Denny,

Once again you write with insight, relevance and challenge. New to print 'sales', my 'sales training' has taught a serial approach. Repeatedly I reach out to print buyers, sharing one product feature at a time that my company offers, with little response.

Perhaps it's time to apply Claude Hopkins - when someone gives their attention, accomplish all I ever hope with them.

Sean McCool - Posted on June 08, 2010
A beautiful and well laid out "compare and contrast" explanation of these two ads.

However, I have to give some credit to Acura.

At least they tried copy over just a big glossy photo of a car riving through a winding road stirring up leaves.

It seems to me the Acura ad is a cross between Ogilvy's ad and the "Think Small" ad Volkswagen used so effectively years ago.

Unfortunately, it appears they failed on both accounts. But we may never know since there is no way to track the ad results.


Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
Wash Phillips - Posted on June 08, 2010
Yes, the Acura ad is abysmal on several scores. Reminds me of a "charming" TV spot running a lot lately with a no call to action and a tiny 1-second tag/mark which supposedly directs me to--what?--and AT&T website? I'm never sure.

Question about Ogivly's oft-quoted Rolls ad: Goodies = features. So what about associated benefits? :5-6 of the 13 Rolls features cited have none, implied or spelled out. What's your take on this, Denny? To paraphrase Fitzgerald on Gatsby, are the rich different from you and me in needing less pointed/relevant persuasion?
Paul Bobnak - Posted on June 08, 2010
Terrific piece! I've been looking a lot at space ads from bygone days lately and the Rolls-Royce is a "new" one to me. Again, my biggest problem with modern-day space advertising (and much of radio & TV advertising as well): "Learn more at acura.com"
NOT "Learn more at acura.com/nytimes" or "Hear(or not)the difference for yourself at acura.com/nytimes"

Basically, they have no idea how exactly many people have or will go to the site, or visit a showroom, take a test drive, etc., based on this ad. Tsk-tsk.
JP - Posted on June 08, 2010
"Never use sans serif type in body copy; it is the most difficult to read."

Denny, does this mean you will be changing the sans serif type used for your Business Common Sense columns?

JP
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
DH RESPONDS:

Thanx for taking the time to write.

One of my first columns was a very long research piece on what the best type style is for the computer screen (as opposed to print). After researching this challenge I reluctantly decided to go with sans serif. Here is that column. It’s old, so some of the hyperlinks won’t work. But you get the idea. Cheers.
http://tinyurl.com/5qs6m4

Steve Spillman - Posted on June 08, 2010
Denny, As a typical small business owner (publishing) I don't have time to read through the constant barrage of e-mails I receive - even the good ones. But today I read through yours on Acura and Ogilvy - I'm glad I did. Good advice, well stated, with the takeaways. Typical Denny Hatch. Thank you.
Drayton Bird - Posted on June 08, 2010
A splendid piece, as ever..

1. Ogilvy did not love headlines that told all. He loved headlines that made you want to read on.

2. He (and Rosser Reeves, coiner of the U.S.P) lunched with Bill Bernbach, so I imagine there was mutual respect.

3. That pretentious headline, on the other hand, does tell all - which was not very much.

What is the conceptual world? Is it the opposite of a world without ideas - which is where that ad came from.


Bernie FORESTELL - Posted on June 08, 2010
Like many of Denny's readers, I look forward to his "Business Common Sense" essays.

I spend most of my copywriting time creating appeals for non-profits. I always have my ear tuned towards creating appeals that elicit an emotional response.

Advertising and fundraising is much the same. Grab attention. Keep it. Ask for a response.

My takeaway: Research. Know your audience. State a clear case. Identify how the readers life will improve once they support the organization.

Thanks Denny....you solved a messaging problem I was handed this morning!

Bernie F.

Peter Rosenwald - Posted on June 08, 2010
Another superb piece Denny. I`m going to make my MBA students learn it by heart (and take it to heart).

Thanks,

Peter
Chris Altwegg - Posted on June 08, 2010
Love your crankiness, but I wonder if it's just a bit misplaced.

I think there is indeed a "headline." It's the combination of a blank set of lines and the text underneath. While Ogilvy loved headlines that told all, Bernbach introduced the "conceptual" world to advertising, where neither the text nor illustration stands alone but taken together creates the message. (I wonder what you and David O would have thought of the classic VW ad; "Lemon" in its initial viewing.)

I will grant that the body copy is a bit obtuse. I think for the target audience of Acura buyers, they could have simply said "Think of it as noise-cancelling headphones for driving noise."
Rezbi - Posted on June 08, 2010
Research - done the right way - can mean the difference between a successful copy and a total flop.

I recently wrote copy for someone in China. Before I started, my client's favourite snack food was fish and chips... in Shanghai!?

He didn't know anything about his own culture. By the time I'd finished the copy we both learned a lot about Chinese culture.

In the end, he said he liked the copy so much he wanted to buy his own product.

If I hadn't done the research would I have been able to create such copy? Considering I knew nothing about China, the answer is a definite no.

Best,
Rezbi
http://commonsensedirectmarketing.com/
Rebecca - Posted on June 08, 2010
I have a confession to make. I am in marketing, and have been since 1995. I have dealt with ad agencies, corporate ad groups, and creative teams. I have some experience on this end of things.

But... consumer advertising makes me sick. Maybe 1 out of 100 ads gets my attention. All the rest make me want to throw up.

I don't know whether it is because TV commercials seem to last as long as the programs do, or that they are a few decibels louder, even for someone like me who is hard of hearing. Maybe it is because they try to brainwash the viewer into believing that what they say is the truth, that they NEED to buy this product if they want to be beautiful, sexy, or have lots of friends.

I am just sick of it all. Beauty comes from within. We are a society of people who put too much on what others think of us. We need to get back down to earth and realize it doesn't matter how others treat us that makes us special, but how we treat others.

I am glad I am leaning a lot more toward online, SEO and social marketing. I can get my message across to those who "friend" me, or to those who search for a keyword and find me. Passive marketing. Not blatant, in your face advertising.

Sometimes I just want out of this rat race.
Kevin Nielsen - Posted on June 08, 2010
Denny,

Once again you write with insight, relevance and challenge. New to print 'sales', my 'sales training' has taught a serial approach. Repeatedly I reach out to print buyers, sharing one product feature at a time that my company offers, with little response.

Perhaps it's time to apply Claude Hopkins - when someone gives their attention, accomplish all I ever hope with them.

Sean McCool - Posted on June 08, 2010
A beautiful and well laid out "compare and contrast" explanation of these two ads.

However, I have to give some credit to Acura.

At least they tried copy over just a big glossy photo of a car riving through a winding road stirring up leaves.

It seems to me the Acura ad is a cross between Ogilvy's ad and the "Think Small" ad Volkswagen used so effectively years ago.

Unfortunately, it appears they failed on both accounts. But we may never know since there is no way to track the ad results.