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Advertising Trends: Pushing Past Media Overload

Take a look at how technology has changed the business advertising landscape and how to get through to today's savvy consumers.

Do you suspect that DVRs are keeping most people from seeing your ads on TV? Are you convinced that radio is losing its listeners to satellite radio and the iPod? Do you wonder if the newspaper readers of yesterday are getting their news from the internet today?

It's no secret that advertising isn't working as well as it once did. But media fragmentation isn't the problem.

In truth, only 11.7 percent of U.S. households are equipped with a DVR, but response to TV ads is off by far more than 11.7 percent. Broadcast radio has only lost about 4 percent of its audience over the past three years, and even the most aggressive doomsayers are predicting that radio will lose no more than 11 percent of its audience by the year 2010. But response to radio ads is off by far more than that. Newspaper readership peaked in 1984, and today's number is only about 16 percent below that banner year. But the response to newspaper ads isn't nearly what it was back then.

What's Going On?
We've entered the age of stimuli bombardment, visual saturation, sound bites and microscopic attention spans. The number of images and voices shouting for our attention has accelerated beyond critical mass, and the resulting explosion has fragmented the public mind. In a nutshell, we've developed mental filters to guard against hypercommunication.

I'm paid according to how much my clients' sales grow, so I needed to figure out what the problem was--and then fix it. Here's what I discovered, tested and proved. Hopefully it can help you:

  1. Internet browsing has trained the public to more quickly disregard empty words.
  2. Message relevance has become more important than repetition. (Keep in mind that I did not say repetition no longer matters.)

Bottom line: Meaningful messages are working better than ever, especially when the fundamental premise of your ad is clearly stated in the opening line. Ads full of unsupported claims and overworked "image building" phrases are rejected quicker today than ever before.

You and I spend about a minute a day sorting the mail, right? Up until a few years ago, these six minutes each week were our only exercise in high-speed content evaluation. Now we're spending at least six hours a week scanning search engine results, web pages and e-mail for relevant, meaningful information. These hours of practice are teaching us--and our customers--to more quickly recognize and disregard empty words.

The buying public is still out there. What's gone is their willingness to pay attention to drivel.

Ads are failing today that would have once produced good results just a few years ago. Other ads are working far better than expected. Fortunately, there's a pattern--and things you can do to ensure your ads get noticed. To see the kind of results that advertising can still deliver, you're going to have to:

  1. Talk about things your customer actually finds interesting.
  2. Write your ads in a style that rings true.
  3. Avoid heroic chest thumping, such as "We are the number-one."
  4. Close the loopholes in your ads--ambiguous claims make you seem dishonest.
  5. Use specifics. They're more believable than generalities.
  6. Remember that substance is more important than style.
  7. Relate to the customer on their own terms.

If your ad delivers a meaningful message that rings true from the moment of contact, you'll find that it works regardless of which media you choose to deliver it.

The new rule is to say what you've got to say, and say it clean. The opening line of your ad is its most important element, so open big. I'm not talking about hype--something of the "Save up to 75 percent off this week only at blah blah blah" variety. I'm talking about making a statement that's fundamentally more interesting than what had been in your customer's mind.

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Roy William's is the founder and president of international ad agency Wizard of Ads. Roy is also the author of numerous books on improving your advertising efforts, including The Wizard of Ads and Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads.

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