What’s wrong with award-winning advertising

November 4, 2013

By Jerry Bellune
Publishers Toolbox 

A friend I highly respect e-mailed some award-winning advertising to me the other day. I know he was being helpful even to think of sending them to me.

There were more than 50 of these award winners, but they set my teeth on edge. These “excellent print ads” are the kind of branding garbage that’s designed to win contests.

I know I’m being a grumpy, iconoclastic curmudgeon, but the truth is:

• Their creators know next to nothing about human psychology.

• They care little about how consumers make buying decisions.

Contest judges give awards to ads that are clever, cute and well designed. But these award-winning branding ads sell few if any products and services. And that’s what newspaper ads are supposed to do.


Your newspaper doesn’t work

None of us want to hear that but it’s quite common for advertisers to blame us for their lousy ads. When we’re given something created by their agency, we tend to take it and run it. Then, when the ad generates little or no business, we get the blame.

The solution: Be honest, even if you lose the account. That’s better than having him or her tell other prospects he or she “tried” you and it produced no results. This is one of the reasons ad salespeople have to deal with constant churn among advertisers.

These award-winning ads produce little ROI and the ad salespeople are constantly rebuffed.

“I advertised in your newspaper and got zilch,” the advertiser tells the salesperson.

Not only that. Disappointed advertisers tell other business friends that they wasted their money. When your people call on them, they are polite but they don’t buy.

They’ve already heard from their friends about how your newspaper does not work. That hurts.

And often, the salesperson goes away without knowing what was going on in the prospect’s mind.


Why these award winners fail

Most of these ads are clever and graphically appealing. But after looking at the first dozen, I gave up. None of them have the essentials of direct-response advertising that produces great ROI.

Those direct-response advertising essentials are:

1. An eye-catching headline. It should address the target audience.

It should identify a solution to their pain and or the fulfillment of their dream.

2. An offer the ideal prospect will find irresistible.

It should convince the target audience that this is the answer to his or her prayers.

3. A strong call for action.

This should include takeaway selling and deadlines for response. Also, a limited quantity available of what the target audience craves.

For a good example of how skillful copywriters do this, look at Parade magazine’s ads. Look at the National Enquirer and the growing trend in direct response print ads.


The mission is to sell

About all I can say for these great ad examples is that they have eye-catching artwork. Unfortunately, the designers and copywriters just don’t get it. The mission is to sell.

As Claude Hopkins, one of the fathers of scientific advertising, wrote almost 100 years ago, the one and only job of advertising is to sell. Nothing more. Nothing less. If it doesn’t sell, Mr. or Mrs. Advertiser, you’ve wasted your money.

Ad awards are nice, but when was the last time you met payroll with one of them?

November takeaway: Every newspaper print and online advertising salesperson and/or copywriter and designer should read Claude Hopkins “Scientific Advertising” at least twice before they are allowed to touch another advertiser’s advertising. For a free copy, go to www.claudehopkinspdf.com/. © 2013 The Bellune Co. Inc.


Jerry Bellune teaches newspaper owners the strategies that have made his family’s book, newspaper and digital publishing businesses successful. You can write to him at JerryBellune@yahoo.com

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