What’s Wrong With This Ad?
Every weekend I receive PARADE as an insert in my Philadelphia Inquirer. Being a direct marketing junkie, I scan it for the bright, busy full-page coupon ads from:
- Bradford Exchange: Disney and Elvis plates and figurines, coins and Thomas Kinkade artistic kitsch
- Lenox: Sculptures and Christmas ornaments
- MBI/Easton Press: Sports collectibles, die-cast model cars and leather bound books
These ads are colorful with powerful offers, great graphics and immediately involving copy. They are masterpieces of their genre.
It was with astonishment that I came across a black-and-white full-page ad in PARADE looking for all the world like a personal note from a member of the Johnson family that makes well-known household products—Windex, Ziploc, Drano, Saran wrap, Fantastik and Pledge furniture wax to name a few. The body copy is set in a courier font that looks like it was generated on an ancient office Remington. At the bottom is a faded snapshot—presumably of the author—that could be the product of Kodak Brownie Box Camera from the 1930s.
You can read the entire text of the ad in the section titled "IN THE NEWS" to the right. And if you click on the illustration in the mediaplayer, you’ll see what the ad looks like.
Running a retro black-and-white ad amid PARADE's brash color is what they call in show business "casting against type."
The question: Is this a smart way for an advertiser to spend his money?
In Terms of Public Relations: A Masterpiece
First off, this strange little vintage black-and-white effort is a stopper. "The copywriter’s aim in life," wrote copywriter Vic Schwab, "should be to try to make it harder for people to pass up his advertisement than to read it." The reader’s immediate reaction is: “What in the world is this?” and to start reading it.
This is personalization at its most brilliant. For as freelancer Richard Armstrong has pointed out:
The most important word in direct mail copy (aside from "free" of course) is not "you"—as many of the textbooks would have it—but "I." What makes a letter seem "personal" is not seeing your own name printed dozens of times across the page, or even being battered to death with a neverending attack of "you's." It is, rather, the sense that one gets of being in the presence of the writer … that a real person sat down and wrote you a real letter.
"In the marketplace, as in theater," wrote the legendary copywriter Bill Jayme, "there is indeed a factor at work called 'the willing suspension of disbelief.'"
It is almost believable that Fisk Johnson sat down at his grandfather's battered Remington and typed a message from his heart, telling me how much five generations of the Johnson family have cared about doing what's right for me and my family in terms of supplying us with household products.
The reader feels real good doing business with these folks.
Cost of the Ad
I checked the current PARADE rate card and discovered that a black-and-white page in Zone 5 (Del., Md., Pa., D.C., Va., W.Va.) with circulation of about 4 million would cost $137,600. Incidentally, PARADE will not accept an ad for less than 4 million of its circulation.
If Johnson decided to blanket the country—run the ad to the entire 32.2 million circulation—the cost would be $780,900.
For a company with $8.1 billion in annual revenues, the cost of an ad in PARADE is relative peanuts.
But I for one hate to see inefficiency.
Further, this past weekend the same effort appeared as a full-page advertisement in The Philadelphia Inquirer, which leads me to believe it very likely ran elsewhere. The ante has been upped dramatically.
Winning the PR Battle, but Losing the War
This beautiful, unassuming little ad provided the Johnson family the opportunity to alert millions of consumers about their fine products and caring attitude.
Not mentioned: This privately-held company—with its 123-year-old policy of no employee layoffs—is No. 83 in Fortune's top 100 companies to work for in 2010.
More to the point, Fisk Johnson blew an opportunity to create a stronger bond with his existing customers and bring prospects into the SC Johnson extended family of consumers that rely on his products.
The reader is a momentary captive of Fisk Johnson's charms. At the end the ad's third paragraph is the following line:
We invite you to SCJohnson.com to learn more.
Remembering the ad, taking the trouble to boot up the computer, going on line and then getting to the SCJohnson.com website takes work—and for what? To "learn more."
This "nothing offer" would get minimal—if any—response. As a result, SC Johnson has blown big, big bucks on an ad with no way of knowing if anybody read it. Was it effective? Or was this the equivalent of Fisk Johnson peeing in blue serge (making him feel warm all over and nobody noticing)?
It would appear that no one at SC Johnson gave any thought to the back end—which is everything in advertising. An advertiser wastes money if an ad runs with no mechanism in place to get an order, donation or inquiry.
Make an Offer!
Johnson's ad got attention, and maybe generated some interest. The next step is creating desire. The obvious way would be to make an offer. Here’s a possible fifth paragraph by Fisk Johnson:
To say "thank you" for taking the time to read this message and learn about my family company, I invite you to visit www.scjohnson.com/PARADE and receive a personal gift from me—$25.71 in discount coupons for any or all of my 19 household products that can be redeemed at your favorite store. Not connected to the Internet? Call 1-800-JOHNSON and a representative will take down the information and mail you your coupons.
Note the "/PARADE" at the end of the URL above. This is not a live hyperlink, but it would take readers to a satellite landing page that directly relates to this specific advertisement.
Never make a specific offer and then send your prospects to your general home page that has no relation to what they just read. After stumbling around and trying to remember why they went there, they'll say, "The hell with it," and leave.
Always remember: on the Internet you are a mouse click away from oblivion.
We regularly use Windex, Pledge, Ziploc, Saran, Raid, Fantastik, Drano and OFF! It wasn’t until seeing this ad—and visiting the website—that I was aware these were all SC Johnson products. In addition, I would be interested in trying Scrubbing Bubbles (shower cleaner) Duck (toilet cleaner) and others and would welcome coupons (1) to remind me and (2) save me some money.
To make the responder feel like family (and be profitable for SC Johnson), an opt-in could be offered—permission to send announcements of discounts, coupons and news of new products.
An Added Surprise—A Private Invitation
Here’s an extra goodie Fisk Johnson could offer. I would guess that many Americans have heard of the great architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, but may not know that SC Johnson headquarters in Racine, Wi.—the Johnson Wax building designed and opened in 1939—is one of Wright’s greatest architectural triumphs. It is a masterpiece of space, light, color and innovation that takes the visitor’s breath away the first time you see it.
If I were Fisk Johnson, when I fulfilled the sheet of discount coupons by e-mail or snail mail, I would enclose a bonus—a private invitation for you and your family take a guided tour of this great treasure any time you happen to be in the Milwaukee-Racine area. Included in the invitation would be a phone number to reserve a tour and a personal ID number so you would be expected and get VIP treatment that would include a private tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Library and Reading Room, not open to all visitors.
Not only would the responder be delighted to receive the discount coupons, but also very flattered by the private invitation to tour the headquarters.
Benefit to Fisk Johnson
- He sees if anybody read the ad, as opposed to flying blind
- He acquires the names and addresses of customers that enable him to:
—E-mail future offers
—Persuade customers and prospects to try various Johnson products
—Move some merchandise off store shelves, which makes retailers happy
—Maybe get some word-of-mouth (buzz) marketing
—And ultimately get a sense of ROI, if any