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October 2013 Posts

Reading Advertisements

Well-designed ad copy is developed in order to be read without reading. To put another way, the engagement is secondary. The mind must engage in order for the image to be perceived. But it is the activity, the non-subliminal awareness that is neither present nor required.

And this is the act of reading. Not in the sense of the letter but in the basis of perception. The root of how we read messages is in consuming a visual or auditory stimulus, letting it pass through the mind’s filters, and responding to those points which are most critical.

There are two most important advertisement categories: the bold and the subliminal. Bold ads grab your attention. You are caught off guard, distracted, and focused all at once. These are the ads that are the cause of many potential accidents between vehicles and pedestrians. We see and feel and cannot look away.

But the subliminal are often more effective in that they penetrate aspects of our lives without our being aware. The message connects to a portion of our existing mental structure like a parasite. The association no longer becomes with the brand alone but rather with a memory, a sound, a feeling. The brand message works its way into the mind and becomes part of a much older, more developed structure.

And this is the way the mind works already. We build upon an existing infrastructure each time we add new memories, like a new building developed over an ancient cistern – or perhaps lofts built out of a dilapidated warehouse.

Reading is the active connection between these various connected ways. When we read we introduce new tenants into an existing structure. To read an ad subconsciously is to read in the purest sense: the participation in a dialogue that is separate from your conscious awareness.

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Solutions: The Worst Word in the Business Lexicon

“Most English-speaking people, for instance, will admit that cellar door is ‘beautiful’, especially if dissociated from its sense.” – J.R. Tolkein

Of all the words in the business lexicon, one stands above the rest in terms of saying as little as possible while still filling a space: solution/s. No other word is able to equally demonstrate a marketer’s lack of customer, product,  or market knowledge. Certainly, you must be thinking, there is a use for such a word. Certainly, if used appropriately, it conveys some meaning that is relevant to the occasion. Or perhaps certainly it has no meaning except to convey that a meaning is potential. But what if a company does in fact offer a solution?

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Little Billy is in the first grade. His teacher asks him to supply the answer to the equation 2+2. His answer? Solution.
  • Thomas is applying to college. On his application letter he informs the acceptance committee that as a part of his education he intends to provide solutions to questions and scenarios proposed by professors.
  • On a first date, Sarah tells her potential mate that the solutions she provides far exceed that of the competition.
  • A gas station on the side of a highway tells potential patrons to stop if requiring consumable hunger-satisfaction, refined petroleum for vehicular mobility, and nicotine delivery mechanism solutions.

If it does not seem acceptable to use this language in the previous examples, why so in marketing language? Why do marketers use solution in the first place?

Three reasons, I hypothesize: broad product categories, trends, and lack of understanding.

In the case of disparate product offerings,  many large businesses will offer a collection of products organized into an application. These applications are often called “turn-key solutions”. Products are also organized into application categories to simplify the selection process. A company may also provide a series of different products in multiple industries or categories. Rather than say products or applications, they offer solutions as a way of telling the customer that their products aren’t just for sell, but rather satisfy needs. True? Sure. Meaningful? I would say no.

Marketing language is a two way communication in which one side is implied. To say solution is to say “yes” in the invisible conversation. It is to communication that you do something without saying what you do.

A potentially nasty habit often displayed by smaller businesses is to idealize larger businesses and pick up their behaviors and trends. Much like the high school freshman idealizing the popular kid, small businesses look to industry titans for their standards, language, marketing ideas, and general inspiration. Fortune 500 companies often hire brilliant, talented people. However, trends often have a specific purpose. Companies should always consider the intention of trends before consuming. Because a larger business uses a phrase does not add validity to the usage. It does not make you look larger or more professional any more than saying “rad” makes you seem like a surfer.

At every trade show I attend I like to stand in the middle of the floor and read all the signs I can see from one location. There are beautiful designs and creative layouts. There are streams of logos and flashing signs. And then there is the display copy. Too often a logo could be moved from one booth to another while the copy remains the same. The copy is not product of business specific and generally very heavily laden with business jargon. And I have to simply shake my head and wonder what the designer was thinking.

Too often marketing teams are interested in what sounds good or what sounds “business-y” than what communicates directly with the customer. Solutions is often used in this scenario. It is easier to tell customers that you offer solutions than it is to understand and communicate what those solutions happen to be. But this is a waste of both your time and that of your customer. They leave the sign knowing exactly the same as what they knew before.

In summary:

  • Never say solution when the solution can be defined. Your customers expect that you will solve their problems.
  • Only communicate phrases that contain meaning or you will waste everyone’s time.
  • Only follow the leader if it makes sense. Assuming a more successful entity has it all figured out helps no one.
  • I suppose you can in fact use the word solutions, in selling to marketers.

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