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Grab Attention With Unusual Advertising
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Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides.
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The sounds of a baby crying or a telephone ringing are impossible to ignore. Can the same be said about your advertising? Getting your prospective customer’s attention is the crucial first function of every ad, whether it be in print, broadcast, or on the side of your delivery truck. People pay attention to the unusual and the unexpected. As advertising legend David Ogilvy once wrote, “When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire.” There’s nothing wrong with the blunt direct approach as long as it accomplishes the task at hand without undermining the rest of your ad’s message. 

Each advertising medium has its own repertoire of techniques to help you capture the prospective customer’s attention. In print ads, headlines and illustrations help pull the reader in. The Newspaper Association of America, citing a study they commissioned by Roper Starch Worldwide, says that showing the product attracts readers 13% more than not showing the product. Multi-product visuals in ads are 25% more likely to attract readers and, in ads where three-quarters of the space is devoted to illustrations, recall rates improve by 50%. Using full color in an ad increases its recall by 20% over black and white.

Pictures aren’t everything, though. At one time, David Ogilvy estimated that five times more people read the headline than read the body copy in a print ad, so attention to the big, bold type at the top of the ad pays off, too. After all, it’s the job of the headline to make the reader want to continue looking at the rest of the ad. There are many standard headline-writing techniques you can use. Making it read like a news bulletin is one. Another is to offer “congratulations, you’ve won” and entice the reader to dig deeper to discover the prize. And don’t underestimate the power of the ever-popular word “free” to motivate someone to try to learn more. Just make sure when using come-ons like these that they are legitimate; a deceived reader makes a lousy customer.

Many of the same principles apply to getting attention in radio. Instead of pictures, though, you use sound effects, music, and high-impact copy. Regardless of the methods you use, it’s essential that your radio commercial sound different from the programming on the station on which it’s playing, since radio is often in the background of the listener’s consciousness to start with. If you’re advertising on a talk station, use music. If you’re running on a country music station, try spots that sound like news. Whatever you do, make sure it doesn’t just blend in with the sound of the station.

Television advertising presents a dilemma. On the one hand, it’s hard to get the viewer’s attention because of the cluttered ad environment. On the other, it’s easy because you have so many different and effective tools to use. You not only have an illustration, it’s in color and you can make it move. And, with today’s digital effects technology, you can make it jump, jiggle, dance, or morph in very unexpected and unusual ways. You get to use sound effects, music, and dialogue, too.

Don’t be afraid to try unconventional tactics to get attention with your television (or any other) advertising. Sometimes, an offbeat approach pays unexpected dividends. The single most important factor in gaining attention is being different. The crying baby always draws a response--unless it happens to be in the newborn room at the hospital where there are fifteen others crying the same tune. To make your ads work, make them stand out. It pays to pay attention to attention.