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Consumer Behavior

The Perfect Ad

Motivation is the key to creating a successful ad.

I saw it on I-75 South heading into Atlanta, Georgia. It was exciting to see -- like spotting the nearly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. But this was no rare bird; it was a perfect ad. Perhaps just as rare. Five words in black print against a pale purple ground. No design. No graphic device at all. No need; the words said it all. Two of those words were even from the top-ten list of words that generate the strongest response.

The ad presented a clear benefit. It made a powerful offer. It was aimed at a specific target audience. All that in five simple words. The ad was on a billboard, but its message would work in any media: TV, newspaper, radio, magazine, internet, direct mail, or... restroom stall.

It called out only to people who could benefit from the company's products and services. It did not need to entertain anyone. It was not trying to win any awards. It did not waste the time of anyone to whom the message did not pertain. I have no doubt that it has been extremely successful. Here it is:

20/20 or FREE
Lasik Guarantee

It's beautiful isn't it? I'd say pure poetry, but you'd think that I was referring to the fact that it happens to rhyme -- that's just a bonus -- it doesn't need to rhyme. Those five words communicate volumes. To a person who is undecided about having eye surgery it says, "Relax, we are so skilled at Lasik -- you will have perfect vision when we're done." An effective sales pitch must dispel the consumer's doubt and instill confidence in its place. This ad does both. By the way, I did not write this ad. Congratulations to the person who did!

Here is a newer version using a pair of eyes as a design element

But, you're thinking: "Sure, that ad is fine for a specific service like corrective eye surgery, but my company offers a common product with lots of competition that nearly everybody uses. I can't use straight-forward advertising like that. I need to be funny or clever to get attention. Or, I have to speak to the emotions of my customer and get them to relate to my product on a subconscious or visceral level."

Nonsense! That's the image-advertising trap. And, unless you've got millions of ad dollars to spend, I'd stick to the scientifically proven formula of benefit driven advertising. Every product or service -- no matter how generic -- can advertise a benefit. Yes, soft drinks too! I can replace the above billboard with the following:

Driving is Tiring
Coke is Refreshing

Exit 112 -- Now!

I've selected a specific audience. I've offered a clear benefit. I've even snuck in a Call-to-Action. Brilliant! (I might also include a mouth-watering image of a sweating bottle of Coke -- the right graphic device can communicate a benefit even faster than words). Coca-Cola actually used to advertise this way. I'd encourage them to test a quarter of their advertising budget (maybe a billion dollars or so) on it again.

Communicating effectively in the marketplace means identifying what motivates your target audience. Every product and service solves a problem or satisfies a need for someone. A good ad speaks in terms of solutions to problems. People are motivated by solutions.

Luxury items that "nobody needs" still satisfy emotional cravings. Even good image-advertising seeks to motivate us on a subconscious level by playing on our needs of belonging to a group or feeling important. Just look at clothing ads targeting teenagers.

What powerful compelling benefit can your company offer? Put it in words; be concise and specific; then run with it. The results will be amazing.

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is also the author of the humorous children's book: The Annoying Ghost Kid. For more information on Robert, please visit

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