POURING MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN (column) -Trade advertising

Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 09/82 item 01 - scanned

Microcomputing advertisements in the UK have until now been aimed primarily at consumers and, since there were once so few magazines, they served the trade reasonably well too. Now of course there are so many consumer publications, it is unlikely that any of us have a chance to do a conscientious job of sifting through them. The launch of this trade-only magazine will, with any luck, give us a single source of all relevant information.

MicroScope also presents us with an unrivalled opportunity to throw advertising money down the drain. At least, it does if we follow the lead set by advertisers in the American trade press. It is quite astonishing how few advertisers over there actually consider the reader of their advertisements.

I recently analysed the advertising in one issue of a major US trade magazine and the results were extremely interesting. For example, almost thirty per cent of the advertisements were re-runs of consumer ads even down to the "contact your local dealer for further information". Since the majority of readers are dealers, I can't help wondering whether the advertiser had even considered the magazine's target audience. This type of advertisement could be useful in acting as a reinforcement of the advertiser's image and a reminder of the sort of media back-up the dealer can expect. This is fine if that is what the advertiser intended. However, if the advertiser expected some sort of action from the reader then he would be unwise to hold his breath while waiting.

A second healthy-sized group (17.5 per cent) decided that a public ego-trip was the best way to win the hearts of the trade. They go for mammoth headlines like "Bloggs and Company" or "Wombat". This sort of ad finally reveals its relevant information deep in the small print. Apart from a few companies who really are good, it seems that most ego tripping is inverse proportion to achievement. A lot of new companies take this approach as a quick way of cranking up their credibility. In general, if prominence is given to the company name or the product name, it has to be well-known already (IBM, Visicalc) otherwise the reader will yawn and pass on.

I always thought that one of the golden rules of advertising was that the headline and/or the layout should catch the reader's attention and hold it long enough to make him read on. Yet almost fifteen per cent of the advertisers failed in even this modest objective. Either the headlines were so vague that they induced a "so what" reaction or they were so smart that they were a distraction. In the 'too smart' category we find puns and optical illusions. My attention was certainly attracted but, by the time I'd finished musing, I'd forgotten that I was supposed to read the ad.

Altogether I reckon that something like 65 per cent of these advertisements failed to achieve their potential effect. If you've been counting, you will notice that there's a missing 2.5 per cent. These were just downright offensive. They made unflattering assumptions about the quality of the readers which, correct or not, could hardly fail to irritate "We're gonna teach you to sell", for example. These examples catch the mood of the heading but are not the exact words. I don't fancy being sued.

Of the remaining 35 per cent ten per cent stuck to a straight factual description of their products or services and the rest actually sold to the reader. Just 7.5 per cent, in my view, did this well with an eye-catching layout, a tantalising heading, text which described benefits to the reader, all backed up by relevant facts and an invitation to act. The heading "Why *** is a proven money maker" made me want to read on. Those which start with "why" or "how" tend to draw the reader into the text.

All through this article I have been very conscious of the fact that there must be hundreds of very learned tomes on the subject of advertising and, if you have the time and the inclination, please read one or two. For those with little time (most of us) here are the ground rules I extracted from the above:


- Decide who your audience is.

- Decide what change or reinforcement of attitude you want to bring about.

- Decide what benefits you can offer your target audience. If possible, find

impartial evidence to support your claims.


- Make the headline readable and an invitation to read on.

- Use a picture to attract attention but don't make it so impelling that the

reader forgets the rest of the ad.

- Outline benefits to the reader.

- Support the claims with objective or unbiased evidence - photographs,

performance figures, list of functions, press quotes etc.

- Suggest a course of action.

- Tell the reader where and how to contact you.

- Code the advertisement so that you can analyse responses.

Finally, did you notice the "Eyes and ears" ad for this very magazine? Isn't that face Van Gogh? And shouldn't the ad read "The Eyes and Ear of the Microcomputing Industry".