Just the facts on how to do more effective advertising.

by John Furgurson on January 25, 2013

When I was growing up I used to watch re-runs of an old cop show called Dragnet. The theme song alone left an indelible impression on me.

Narration from the main character begins every show: “This is the city; Los Angeles California. It’s 7:18 a.m. I’m sergeant Joe Friday. This is my partner, Gannon.”

Dragnet approach to bad advertising Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday in Dragnet

Joe Friday means business.  He works his case methodically,  interrogating everyone. He’s buttoned up so tight he can hardly part his lips to deliver his famous lectures. His favorite line: “Give us the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.”

That might be an effective approach to police work, but it’s a waste of money when it comes to advertising.

In the Dragnet advertising, all you do is list the facts: Who, what, when, where, how much. It’s the preferred approach of deluded business owners who believe, “if you list it, they will come.”

Very few businesses are that good. The fact is, most of the time there’s nothing compelling about the facts.

For example, one orthopedic practice is pretty much the same as the next. They’re all board certified specialists and skilled surgeons who can fix you up and get you back on your feet.

One golf shop’s pretty much the same as the next.  (Unless it’s a big box golf shop)

One Toyota dealer’s pretty much the same as the next. They sell the same cars, at the same price, and offer service that’s competitively similar.

So the facts can’t be the centerpiece of the advertising. Facts have no emotional hook. No differentiating qualities. No reason for the brain to pause and ponder your offer. In fact, the human brain is hard-wired to gloss right over that stuff, and move on to more meaningful messages.

Facts tell, stories sell.

The storytelling approach to advertising is superior in every way.  Whenever there’s a commercial that you recall and talk about, I guarantee you there’s good storytelling involved.

Instead of the droll, Sergeant Friday talking AT people like they’re middle school kids, create beguiling characters, use disarming sound effects, and come up with a story line that sucks people in — hook, line and sinker.

Check out this example from the deodorant brand AXE. The benefit of using deodorant is embedded into the storyline, quite brilliantly. Every guy on earth will relate to this spot.

http://bcove.me/40qldfqq

And my favorite spot of the year.  The brilliantly on-brand hit of the summer Olympics from Nike and Weiden & Kennedy Portland:

http://bcove.me/x75flg0w

I know what you’re thinking… “Sure, anybody with budgets like Nike can do great TV spots.”  Well guess what. That spot was ridiculously simple and inexpensive to produce. No special effects needed. No big-name endorsement deals. No facts about running shoes.  Just an incredible story of human achievement that absolutely nails the Nike brand.

Print ads, websites, even simple direct response post cards can employ exceptional storytelling techniques.The Got Milk campaign is a great example. Two words. One simple photo. And endless stories to tell.

Got Milk print ad

You don’t see any facts about milk. Not a drop. The entire campaign was built around the emotion of finding yourself milkless with a plate of cookies or a bowl of cereal, or whatever.

The emotional hook of NOT having the product was way more compelling than the facts about milk could ever be. The client at the California Milk Advisory board was smart enough to recognize that.

Business people who insist on the Joe Friday approach to advertising are probably scared and insecure. They know, deep down, that their value proposition isn’t anything to write home about. They know there’s parity in the market and a better competitor could come along any time and beat them out.

So they think they have to say everything in every ad.  And they justify the excessive bullet points by saying they have to “maximize their spend.”

Unfortunately, Friday-style facts actually minimize the effectiveness of your ads. It’s like golf. The harder you try, the worse things get.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying you should eliminate facts altogether. If, in fact, you have a product or service that’s truly different and superior to the closest competitor, be overt about it. Absolutely!

But don’t just say it, flat out, Dragnet style. Find an engaging, emotional way to communicate that overt benefit. And keep it short. It’ll work better.

That’s a fact.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brand taglines February 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm

People dont like to read long long content. i really like the Got milk ad idea. its called effective advertising.

Jonathan Rodriguez February 17, 2014 at 9:25 pm

The best line of that first video ‘In my mind I was a peasant before the queen’. I agree with you, the campaign is brilliant.

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