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Against the Tide

To grab attention in a crowded marketplace, try breaking away from the pack with an understated ad.

Flip through most big consumer magazines, and what do you see in between the editorial matter? A blur of colors, exclamations, toothy pitchpersons, toll-free numbers, a coupon here, a Web site there. Or maybe it's page after page of anorectic models, greased in almond oil and draped in designer gear. Or perhaps it's a sheaf of toddler images showing little Trevors, Trents or Madisons goo-gooing over their strollers, burpy dolls, car seats or lozenges for little sore throats.

If any of these represent the kind of environment in which you plan to advertise, maybe you need to be a contrarian and create an ad that leaps out with clever understatement. That's what the ad shown here does. Created by Chicago's famed Leo Burnett USA ad agency for Eggo, a division of Kellogg, it is designed in an unexpected letter format (contrasting with most of the ads before and after it) and sports a fresh and whimsical, triteness-free headline. No, the heading doesn't directly promote a benefit, as we're taught in Headline Writing 101. But it gets an exemption for being relevantly offbeat. To quote one of my favorite advertising pooh-bahs, the late Victor Schwab, on the value of developing headlines like this: "Many a headline fails to stop readers because its vocabulary is so hackneyed. No word or phrase in it has any attention-getting element of surprise. No words, expressions or ideas are used that are not commonly seen in the headline of an ad." So "You're sticky and we're sorry" gets a thumbs up.

The rest of the letter-ad reads, in part: "To our friends: For years you've had to eat your Eggo waffles with syrup that can drip from the bottle onto your fingers. But now we are putting an end to your suffering. [Eggo Syrup is] a great tasting complement to America's favorite waffles . . . and even better, it comes in a high-tech, no-drip bottle."

The new Eggo Syrup bottle, with a "perfect pour no-drip spout" (no doubt a shoo-in for the next technology time capsule) leaps out as the only color element on an otherwise black-and-white page. By contrast, the ad could have shown a kitchen table full of little kids using the product and a headline proclaiming the end of the sticky syrup bottle. But to me, it would have been just another fleeting image in a blur of ads, lost in the flutter of an eyelid.

What should you take away from this example? When it comes to getting attention in advertising, always consider going the opposite way of traffic.


Jerry Fisher (www.jerry-fisher.com) is a freelance advertising copywriter and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.

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This article was originally published in the March 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Against the Tide.

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