By Harvey Mackay

A lion and a tiger were drinking beside a river when the lion let out a huge roar. The tiger said, “Why do you roar like a fool?”

“That’s not foolish,” said the lion, with a twinkle in his eyes. “They call me king of all the beasts because I advertise.”

A rabbit heard them talking and ran home. He thought he’d try the lion’s plan, but his roar was just a squeak. A fox came to investigate and ate the rabbit for lunch. The moral of the story: When you advertise, be sure you’ve got the goods and can deliver them.

For every hundred ads that run, only ten are effective. About 85 sink beneath the waves unnoticed. The other five are noticed and give such negative sparks they work against the advertiser.

The Super Bowl presents an unequalled showcase for television ads — so much that folks who don’t care about the game watch just to see the commercials. The great ones run on air and online for weeks after, getting plenty of buzz. For those ads, the investment of $3 million for a 30-second spot, not to mention the $1 million to produce it, is worth it. Those that bombed will just leave their sponsors baffled, wondering where they went wrong.

What’s the difference between good and bad advertising?

Advertising is one of those soft sciences in which many people regard themselves as experts. The results often are ads designed for a target audience of one — the guy who pays the bills. Agencies may offer strong opinions, but there aren’t many that are going to refuse clients who insist on having their own way just because the ads are stinkers.

How do you avoid the pitfalls of bad ads?

Rule 1: Stay out of the picture. There are many egotists who insist on having their own faces leering out from amid assembled multitudes of refrigerators or used cars because “the public knows me” or the agency couldn’t talk them out of it. Consider this: Is it more important to sell your face or your product?

Rule 2: Don’t be your own copywriter. This is the common failing of glib corporate types who make their livings selling words to other people. The only problem is, they make their livings selling the wrong kind of words as far as advertising copy is concerned. They sell big words and technical words — and lots of them. Advertising people sell tiny words, and as few of them as possible. They know effective advertising isn’t about products. It’s all about the benefits people get from the product.

Rule 3: Hire an advertising manager. This is a tough one because so many corporate cultures are committee-driven rather than research-driven. It’s true that too many cooks spoil the stew. An ad stuffed with everyone’s idea of what’s most important results in visual and verbal clutter.

Rule 4: Don’t play it safe. The most common mistake of all is the “safe” ad. It doesn’t make any obvious mistakes. It just isn’t interesting enough to be noticed amid the multitude of ads clamoring for attention.

Rule 5: Hire an agency the same way you buy a suit. First consider quality. You can define quality as demonstrated success in working with companies similar to your own, with budgets similar to your own, and winning awards for those campaigns. I expect ads to be noticed, and I like hard data from consumer research.

Rule 6: Consider an agency’s style. There are two types of agencies to avoid: account-driven and creative-driven. If the account people dominate, you’re going to get terrific service. But what about the ads themselves? If the creative types dominate, you’ll get great ads, but they might be wildly expensive and wide of your target. You need an agency that has strong account services, plus creativity.

Rule 7: Then make sure you have a fit. You want an agency that isn’t so big you’ll be lost in the shuffle but big enough to include the range of talents or media-buying capabilities you need. You want to make sure that personalities mesh. And make sure there are no conflicts of interest.

Rule 8: Set the price of the contract. Agencies can and do make a profit on your account. Remember, it’s all negotiable. The good agencies will be open with you and discuss their fees.

Quality advertising shows your commitment to your product or service. Advertising puts a face on your company. Put your best face forward.

Mackay’s Moral: If you’re sold on what you’re selling, great ads will do the telling.

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