By Trent Rentsch
The billboard read, “Bison Bill’s Buffet… More Than You Can Eat!” I can imagine dining there. You tell the server that you can’t possibly cram so much as another crouton down your throat, then you are escorted back to the buffet line to fill another plate. Perhaps they force you along with a cattle prod; Lord knows I’ve felt like part of a herd waiting in line for another pile of mashed potatoes and one more egg roll.
I noticed the billboard at least 20 years ago, and of the hundreds that line I-90 in the middle of South Dakota, it’s the one I remember, in fact, the one I look forward to seeing. Not only does it mean that food is available on that barren, monotonous road to the Black Hills, but it also proves that advertising genius can pop up where you least expect it.
Think about it. Bill sees about a gazillon cars drive pass the off-ramp that leads to his piece of land every summer. He knows that what passes for civilization in that part of the world is at least 100 miles either side of said off-ramp and land… restaurants, probably further. So up goes his eating establishment, and he’s instantly rolling in tourist cash, right? Bill is smarter than that. He knows that without some way of offering his goods to the happy wanderers, they’ll blow by his off-ramp in a 75-mph blur. Knowing that his business will rely on impulse hunger, a billboard is the obvious choice. Still, there is a problem.
When I mention the hundreds of billboards that line I-90 leading to the Black Hills, I’m not exaggerating. Cheesy attractions abound in the Black Mining Hills of Dakota, and all of them do their best to reel you in via the billboard. As you drive, promises of “Real Rattlesnake Round-Ups” or “Live Buffalo Petting Zoo” or the Granddaddy of them all, “FREE Ice Water” appear with such frequency that, after the first 300 or so, you actually quit noticing them. This is Bill’s problem. How do you make people notice your message, much less act on it, in a forest of “Petrified Dinosaur Dung” signs?
In a word, focus. He knows that he has a built-in, hungry customer base. He knows that his hungry customer base has been bombarded with outlandish messages for many miles, with quite a few miles to go before the cheese begins. So, “Bison Bill’s Buffet… More Than You Can Eat!” Simple, direct, focused. And if the packed parking lot every time I’ve stopped there is any indication, extremely effective.
Many advertisers I’ve worked with over the years could take their cue from Bill. Last month I wrote about a composite business owner who embodied many of the worst traits I’ve found in radio clients. While their advertising sins are varied, there’s one mistake that all of them have in common. They leave you wondering what the hell the point of their commercial was!
Do they want to be a talking phone book? You’d think so, considering how many times their phone number appears in their copy. Do they want to be an American Idol spin-off? With their teenage daughter/cousin/neighbor’s kid voicing and/or singing the commercial, it sounds painfully possible. Maybe they really want to advertise for the Wal-Mart next door, because THAT’S the business that appears last in the ad, supposedly as a “locator.” Then again they might secretly want to own a comedy club, judging from the bad jokes strung together to make their ad… oops, that might not be their fault.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for novice advertisers. They are spending money to tell the world about their place of business. They hope that they will get a response from that message, hopefully that it will more than pay for itself. It’s natural to cram everything they can think of into their commercial, in the hopes that they will lure in Everyone. The hard truth is, Everyone will NOT come. Some have been doing business elsewhere for years and have no intention of changing, some wouldn’t take the product or service if it was given to them, and some turned to the Oldies station the second time the announcer started giving the phone number. So not only have they set their sights too high by going after Everyone, they are diluting the message that might draw that SOMEONE who would be interested into their business. As the Creative, it’s up to us to save the clients from themselves, and save the station from a crappy spot. Remember that their bad advertising is just another chance for the fickle listener to tune-out.
Back to Bison Bill’s Buffet billboard. Simple, focused, and a good place to start when assisting a radio client. Ask them for the main point of the commercial, the unique selling proposition, the single most important goal… whatever you want to call it. The key is that they need to tell you in one sentence. No bullet points, no flyers from their distributors, just a single sentence that clearly states the FOCUS of the pending commercial. That sentence becomes the mission statement of the commercial, and any copy point that doesn’t further the mission needs to go away. The commercial ceases to be a pointless jumble of largely useless information, and becomes a message directed to the audience that might actually listen… AND, spend money with the advertiser.
Distractions are too numerous and sexy these days, the last thing a business needs to do is shoot themselves in the foot with an advertising malfunction. By keeping their commercials focused they will stand out amongst the hype and clutter, and those hungry for what they offer will come knocking. And isn’t that the sign of good advertising?