Fast Pitch

Ads that grab readers' attention in the blink of an eye.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the August 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Two-syllable phrases like "free book," "fast help" and "lose weight" are the kind of advertising messages that don't need to be read to be effective. By that I mean they are so easy for the brain to interpret as a whole thought that they're "read" in an eye blink rather than as linear verbiage. So for an advertiser trying to get attention in a world awash in advertising images, it makes sense to try this message-in-an-eye-blink route to the public consciousness--be it for a sales slogan or even a product name.

This kind of approach is particularly essential for billboards because drivers have little more than an eye blink's worth of time to glance at an advertisement and understand it before whizzing past. Newspaper and magazine readers do their own form of whizzing as they skim magazine or newspaper pages for whatever catches their eye.

Think Fast

Look around, and you'll find plenty of examples in advertising where such eye-blink phrases are used. Small ads in particular, realizing they must compete for attention with their bigger brethren, generally make one- and two-word bold beseechments.

One ad the size of a tea cracker blurts out the embarrassing question "Gas Pain?" which flags down its bloated audience and makes its point rather quickly. Another tiny ad in a computer magazine merely bellows "STOP" as a headline, followed by the subhead "font frustration." A great example in the product-name category is Breathe Right. (That's the adhesive strip you place across the bridge of your nose to open the nasal passages.) Breathe Right is a great name because it not only registers in an instant but also sends a benefit message.

For years, the phrase "Get Met. It pays" has been the simple-to-read advertising mantra for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. Even Smokey the Bear ads for forest-fire prevention grab readers quickly with the headline "Match Point," to address the need to snuff out campfires. Examples of eye-blink advertising abound, taking serious the warning of consumer indifference as described in the salty old rhyme "Say it quick and say it true, or, my dear, to hell with you." If you can get your message from paper to brain with such quick phrasing, you stand the best chance of reaching the scanning, often overstimulated reader.

That's my message to Kevin Grold of Del Mar, California, who wrote recently. Grold runs a mental-health referral service called 1-800-THERAPIST, which helps people in need of psychological counseling locate an appropriate therapist in their area. The service also helps mental-health professionals build their practice by being part of Grold's nationwide network. Grold has already glommed onto an understanding of eye-blink advertising and memorability with his hard-to-forget 800 number. But he says the downside is people sometimes think the number refers to physical therapy. There is also the possible secondary misinterpretation that this is a phone-in therapy service, much like a crisis hotline. To address the first concern, Grold included an illustration of a little character looking like he could use a sit-down session with a therapist. Reasonable enough. But he wonders what else he can do in a small space like this to further define the service and garner attention. My answer: additional eye-blink advertising.

More Of A Good Thing

Since Grold is off to a good start with his quick-to-register phone number and illustration, I suggest he add still another eye-blink element. First, I would move the phone number, still dominant and bold, to the bottom of the ad and, at the top, use the quick-read headline "FIND HELP." Then I would include the following words of body copy: "Just any therapist won't do. You want to locate someone with special sensitivity and experience in your area of need. That's how we assist. Call us now. We can help." Then, where Grold uses part of the ad to recruit therapists for the network, I would simply use these words: "THERAPISTS: To be part of our referral network, call: 619-481-1515."

I suggest that change because, frankly, if I were looking for a therapist and saw this ad, I would be offended to read the current solicitation, "Therapists: call 619-481-1515 to build your practice." The possible misinterpretation is that the advertiser is insensitively promoting enterprise-building on the backs of the psychologically needy.

The new "Find Help" headline more clearly identifies the 800 number as a referral service. And combined with the illustration and the new body copy, it's abundantly clear that this is a service involving psychological therapy, not the physical kind. These suggestions should help Grold overcome the ambiguity of the previous ad and add some extra motivation to boot.

Word Search

Need a creativity boost? Hit the books.

If you're a do-it-yourself advertiser, as many entrepreneurs are, you're always faced with the proverbial--and sometimes intimidating--blank page when you sit down to develop advertising. "What do I say and how do I say it?" goes running through your mind. The process can be frustrating and stressful, not to mention unproductive. Why? Because you're trying to pull good ideas out of thin air. Sometimes one of those rare birds comes flying across your consciousness and you bag it. But more often than not, you drum your fingers, make a few trips to the refrigerator, twist half a box of paper clips into S shapes, check your e-mail a dozen times, and still nothing comes up on the screen in your head.

So what do you do if an idea doesn't come quickly? You may not have thought of it, but there's an advertising-idea emporium in your town: the public library.

You say, "What kind of creativity could be hiding in a musty old place like that?" Well, let me tell you. You can pull numerous books on the subject of your advertising--let's say it's food--and just reading the cleverly written chapter headings will yield what I call "trigger words" that get your creative juices flowing.

I've borrowed snippets and paraphrased liberally from chapter headings to develop headlines, subheads and descriptions of various sorts. Then, when I go into the actual text of a book, I find glittering treasuries of words, concepts, thoughts and musings related to my topic that trigger my own thinking on the subject. Call it jump-starting, call it lighting a fire, call it massaging the right side of your brain, but such stimuli can make thinking creatively a much faster and far more productive process. And, for all this valuable assistance, the price is right, too.

Jerry Fisher is an advertising copywriter, consultant and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising ($39.95), which is available by calling (800) 247-6553. If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, send them to "Advertising Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or contact Jerry via America Online


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