This is quite a long blog post. Deliberately so, to be honest.
If you have even a passing interest in what actually makes people buy stuff (your stuff, maybe), what makes for ‘good’ advertising and what deserves to be instantly consigned to the trash, this will be riveting, eye-opening stuff (particularly if you believe the nonsense peddled by so many fools about ‘people won’t read it if there’s lots of text’, and ‘fill it with lots of pretty pictures and not much else…’).
Take one of the world’s top car makers, Honda. This esteemed Japanese company spent no less than $US107,000 on a full page ad in the New York Times magazine. Take a moment to cast your eyes over this ‘masterpiece’ below.
For their $107,000, Honda – thanks to the geniuses at their high-priced agency – ended up with an ad that clearly gave the ‘creative’ art director a warm fuzzy feeling, but breaks almost every rule in the advertising book.
The Honda ad misses the mark in so many ways. Here are just a couple:
1) the entire premise of the ad is a single small headline in the middle of the page – “Our speakers can create an interesting sound. Silence” – followed by one paragraph of text so tiny you need a magnifying glass to read it. Here is what it says (clumsily):
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.
2) “The wickedest of sins,” said ad guru David Olgilvy, “is to run an advertisement without a headline.” This pathetic effort for Honda contains a bizarre headline of three blank treble clefs with no notes of music. Er, doesn’t the sound system in the Honda play music??
3) Then, in a tribute to laziness, the copywriter has left the remainder of the page entirely blank. A complete waste of (very) expensive real estate.
Ogilvy, the creator of the most famous ad agency in the world, Ogilvy and Mather, was a stickler for research. And that discipline produced some of the world’s greatest advertising campaigns. The writer of this appalling Honda ad clearly didn’t do any research. If he had, he would have been able to creatively ‘steal’ some of Ogilvy’s work.
One of the most famous automobile ads in the history of advertising was David Ogilvy’s masterpiece for Rolls-Royce that ran 50 years ago. Like the Honda Acrua ad, the headline is pinned to the same USP—the quietness of the car. Here is that ad:
From “Ogilvy on Advertising”:
You don’t stand a tinker’s chance of producing successful advertising unless you start by doing your homework. I have always found this extremely tedious, but there is no substitute for it.
First, study the product you are going to advertise. The more you know about it, the more likely you are to come up with a big idea for selling it. When I got the Rolls-Royce account, I spent three weeks reading about the car and came across a statement that “at sixty miles an hour, the loudest noise comes from the electric clock.” This became the headline, and it was followed by 607 words of factual copy.
Here is Ogilvy’s copy:
Headline: At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.
Subhead: What makes Rolls-Royce the best car in the world? “There is really no magic about it—it is merely patient attention to detail,” says an eminent Rolls-Royce engineer.
1. “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise comes from the electric clock” reports the Technical Editor of THE MOTOR. Three mufflers tune out sound frequencies—acoustically.
2. Every Rolls-Royce engine is run for seven hours at full throttle before installation, and each car is test-driven for hundreds of miles over varying road surfaces.
3. The Rolls-Royce is designed as an owner-driven car. It is eighteen inches shorter than the largest domestic cars.
4. The car has power steering, power brakes and automatic gear-shift. It is very easy to drive and to park. No chauffeur required.
5. The finished car spends a week in the final test-shop, being fine-tuned. Here it is subjected to 98 separate ordeals. For example, the engineers use a stethoscope to listen for axle-whine.
6. The Rolls-Royce is guaranteed for three years. With a new network of dealers and parts-depots from Coast to Coast, service is no problem.
7. The Rolls-Royce radiator has never changed, except that when Sir Henry Royce died in 1933 the monogram RR was changed from red to black.
8. The coachwork is given five coats of primer paint, and hand rubbed between each coat, before nine coats of finishing paint go on.
9. By moving a switch on the steering column, you can adjust the shock-absorbers to suit road conditions.
10. A picnic table, veneered in French walnut, slides out from under the dash. Two more swing out behind the front seats.
11. You can get such optional extras as an Espresso coffee-making machine, a dictating machine, a bed, hot and cold water for washing, an electric razor or a telephone.
12. There are three separate systems of power brakes, two hydraulic and one mechanical. Damage to one will not affect the others. The Rolls-Royce is a very safe car—and also a very lively car. It cruises serenely at eight-five. Top speed is in excess of 100 m.p.h.
13. The Bentley is made by Rolls-Royce. Except for the radiators, they are identical motor cars, manufactured by the same engineers in the same works. People who feel diffident about driving a Rolls-Royce can buy a Bentley.
Price. The Rolls-Royce illustrated in this advertisement—f.o.b. principal ports of entry—costs $13,995.
If you would like the rewarding experience of driving a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, write or telephone to one of the dealers listed on the opposite page. Rolls-Royce Inc., 10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York 20, N.Y. Circle 5-1144.
When Ogilvy presented his copy to Rolls-Royce management in New York, the senior engineer said, “We really must do something to improve our clock.”
According to the Ogilvy agency, this ad ran in only two newspapers and two magazines. Yet it sold a ton of Rolls-Royce cars and the headline is Ogilvy’s entry in the “Oxford Book of Quotations.”
Why Ogilvy’s Ad Was a Masterpiece and the Honda Effort Is a Dud
The Rolls-Royce ad dazzled the reader with an avalanche of goodies, whereas Acura pinned its pitch to one small element of a very complex machine: its quietude. Here is Claude Hopkins on why an advertisement—such as Ogilvy’s Rolls-Royce effort—should tell the whole story:
Whatever claim you use to gain attention, the advertisement should tell a story reasonably complete …
Some advertisers, for sake of brevity, present one claim at a time. Or they write a serial ad, continued in another issue. There is no greater folly. Those serials almost never connect.
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.
Omit any one and a certain percentage will lose the fact, which might convince.
People are not apt to read successive advertisements on any single line. No more than you read a news item twice, or a story. In one reading of an advertisement one decides for or against a proposition. And that operates against a second reading. So present to the reader, when once you get him, every important claim you have.”
In terms of copy, Ogilvy tells the quietness story in six succinct words:
Three mufflers tune out sound frequencies—acoustically.
To say the same thing—clumsily—the sad-sack Honda copywriter takes 64 words:
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.
Finally, you judge which ad has the sexier call to action:
“If you would like the rewarding experience of driving a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, write or telephone to one of the dealers listed on the opposite page.”
Or…“Learn more at acura.com.”
And when you go to acura.com and you get a navel-gazer of headline created by a copy team talking to itself:
Rational thought meets freedom of expression
Acknowledgement: Although I have written extensively on the subject of ‘telling the whole story’ before, I thank Denny Hatch (www.dennyhatch.com) for much of the source material for this article.