For years, advertisers have attempted to target "the right customers" through carefully selected media vehicles. But mailing lists aimed at specific demographic, geographic and psychographic profiles have fallen short so often that a 3-percent conversion rate is considered a big success. Carefully selected TV shows and radio formats have also failed to deliver equally as often. And now e-mail "opt-in" lists are disappointing a whole new generation of advertisers.

Not surprisingly, it's media salespeople who are largely responsible for today's overemphasis on reaching the right customer. After all, if they told you the truth--that business reputations and advertising results are built on saying the right thing, rather than on reaching the right person-they'd have no leverage to convince you that you need exactly who they reach.

In your next advertising experiment, why not try targeting through the content of your message rather than through demographic profiles? There are four simple steps to creating a sharply targeted message. First, take a look at an ad I carefully crafted for a Canon PowerShot S500 camera:

"If the lowest price is all you're after, this isn't the camera for you. Another downside of this camera is that it's not the sleekest, prettiest one in its price class. No one is going to tell you how cool your camera looks. The upside is that it takes far superior pictures."

"The prettiest camera in this price class has a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. But the shutter speed of the ugly Canon PowerShot S500 is a super fast 1/60th of a second, allowing you to take fabulous photos in low-light situations. Your indoor photos will look rich and vibrant when all the others look dark and grainy. And your nighttime photos will make people's eyes bug out.

"Beautiful contrast and luminance, even without the flash. This camera can see in the dark. Take a picture of your lover in the moonlight. It will become your favorite photo ever. And that super fast shutter speed is also very forgiving of movement. That's why no one ever replaces their PowerShot S500. Go to your local pawnshop and see if you can find one. We're betting you can't. But you will see several of those "prettier" cameras available cheaper than dirt. So if you're looking for a great price on a sleek-looking camera, that's probably where you should go."

1. Choose who to lose. Inclusion is directly tied to exclusion. The Law of Magnetism says that attraction can be no stronger than repulsion. In the example above, I'm choosing to lose bargain-hunters and posers. (Not that there's anything wrong with bargain hunters or posers. In another campaign, I might target them with great success.) When you're saying the right thing, you'll be surprised at how many people suddenly become "the customer you needed to reach."

2. Gain their attention. If the reader/listener/viewer isn't with you, you're toast. We live in an over-communicated society whose attention has been fractured by too much media. So never assume that people will be paying attention to your ad. Assume instead that you must wrestle their thoughts away from powerful images and distractions that are tugging at their mind. "If the lowest price is all you're after, this isn't the camera for you." That headline or opening statement attracts the quality-conscious consumer to the same degree that it repels the bargain hunter. The only task remaining is to explain precisely why our camera is worth the premium price we ask.

3. Surprise them with your candor. Traditional hype and ad-speak make today's customers deaf and blind. They can smell hype and phony promises a mile away, and they're turning away from them in greater numbers every day. So bluntly tell your prospects the truth. Confess the negative, or they won't believe the positive: "Another downside of this camera is that it's not the sleekest, prettiest one in its price class. No one is going to tell you how cool your camera looks. The upside is that it takes far superior pictures."

4. Make it make sense. Believability is the key. Tell your prospects how and why your product can deliver what it promises. Take another look at the ad above, and you'll see all the reasons people should purchase this camera.

See what I mean about choosing who to lose? Are you beginning to understand the power of candor.

I promise that targeting-through-copy works. But do you have the guts to do it.