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Altered State

Don't restrict your ads to the same clich├ęd images. Break away with visual special effects to create more bite.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of handsome, even hip, advertising sameness on display in the nation's periodicals, so you have to wonder how much of it gets passed over because of its monotony and, thus, invisibility. No, not every car ad displays its sedan against a backdrop of the desert, mountains or sea, but most do. Not every inkjet printer ad shows a color print of a cockatoo or clown sliding out, but few don't. And let's be honest, the predictably stylish fashion, liquor and fragrance ads do a better job of promoting the cheekbones and chest hair of their models than the products themselves.

Where's the originality out there? Where's the "try harder" mentality that's needed to grab the attention of the indifferent readers who typically breeze through a magazine with little regard for the ads it contains?

The answer is in advertising efforts like the one shown here, developed for Computer Associates, a data management and application development company in Islandia, New York. The challenge was to characterize how losing one's PDA doesn't necessarily mean losing the data it carries (assuming, of course, you use Computer Associates' enterprise management software).

The company's ad agency, Young & Rubicam, could have pulled that idea off in a jillion visually mundane ways. Instead, they decided to trick up a shot of a snake that swallowed a PDA device. It's an A+ image that is virtually impossible to ignore and almost guaranteed to stop the reader.

How did Young & Rubicam's advertising art director pull it off? There is standard-issue graphics-manipulating software that enables the "sampling" (onscreen cloning) of the snake's skin and can be used to electronically upholster the PDA, making it look like it's actually inside the snake.

Maybe you're saying, that's great for a big company like Computer Associates, with an advertising budget large enough to hire a hotshot ad agency to do original thinking and designing for them. But what can an entrepreneurial company with a more modest ad budget achieve? The answer is: Nothing less than the same.

How? Start by developing a collection of ads like this that break the mold. Use it for inspiration each time you and your team sit down to develop advertising. Say to yourself, "We need to come up with something at least this fresh to get the attention we want." When you hold up ads like this as a benchmark, you'd be surprised how they can ratchet up your own idea generation.


Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Altered State.

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