By Roy H. Williams
Great ads can be either product-specific or store-specific. Bad ads are generally category-specific. And then there are franchise ads.
Franchise ads build the master brand. The hope of every franchisee is that the ads provided by the franchisor will generate enough brand magnetism to pull customers into their store. Due to the fact that a franchisor can afford to create a higher quality ad campaign than the typical local merchant, this strategy often succeeds.
Category-specific ads are written broadly enough to fit every advertiser in a category. A transparent fabric of smoothly woven clichés, a category-specific ad is a generalized template into which one merely inserts a store name and address. “All you have to do is fill in the blanks.” But remember: Ads that fit everyone don’t work very well for anyone. These were once called institutional ads. I do not recommend them.
Product-specific ads benefit every retailer who sells the product, but they aren’t really about the retailer at all. They’re about the product. This is why the independent retailer should question whether or not to take the manufacturer’s fifty cents to run their product-specific ads. Are they really paying for half of your advertising, or are you paying for half of theirs? Only when the co-op requirements are extremely flexible do I recommend that independent retailers accept the so-called “free money” offered by manufacturers. If you’re paying half the cost, be sure at least half the message is about you.
Store-specific ads are the foundation of local branding, but to write them requires intimate, detailed research on the part of an expert ad writer. Rarely will a good, store-specific ad fit another advertiser in the same category. The story I’m about to tell you is true. I’ve changed only the name of the store, the town, and the vegetable:
Heisenberg’s Jewelers had been in the same building on Main Street in Cabbage Valley for 105 years. A facelift 7 years earlier had given the store white carpet, walnut paneling and a huge chandelier in a high, domed ceiling. Heisenberg’s was the Sistine Chapel of jewelry stores. Not a problem, except that Cabbage Valley is the turnip capital of the world, a little farming community of about 45,000 people. Even the wealthiest of Cabbage Valley’s farmers felt they weren’t dressed well enough to enter that store. Heisenberg’s was truly an intimidating place.
“You need to understand who our customer is,” my client told me as soon as I arrived. “Our customer is a 40 year-old woman with money. Upscale. Very upscale. Well dressed. Always buys the best. That’s our customer. That’s who you need to target.” This was in mid-October. I had been hired by Heisenberg’s to help save Christmas because if they had another season as bad as the previous six, they were going to have to close their doors in January.
“Let’s get something straight,” I told them. “There’s no handle I can crank that will spit out 40 year-old rich women. I’m going to have to write ads that appeal to men or you’re going to have to find another way to make a living.” It’s statements like those that separate consultants from salesmen.
This is the radio ad that saved Heisenberg’s:
“Ladies, many of you will be fortunate enough this Christmas to find a small, but beautifully wrapped package under your tree bearing a simple gold seal that says ‘Heisenberg’s.’ Now you and I both know there’s jewelry in the box. But the man who put it there for you is trying desperately to tell you that you are more precious than diamonds, more valuable than gold, and very, very special. You see, he could have gone to a department store and bought department store jewelry, or picked up something at the mall like all the other husbands. But the men who come to Heisenberg’s aren’t trying to get off cheap or easy. Men who come to Heisenberg’s believe their wives deserve the best. And whether they spend 99 dollars or 99 hundred, the message is the same: Men who come to Heisenberg’s are still very much in love... We just thought you should know.”
That ad was delivered slowly and thoughtfully with style and grace. No hurry. No street address. No store hours. No phone number. We simply told listeners what they already knew about Heisenberg’s but made them feel differently about it. What we said in essence was, “If your husband voluntarily came to this scarily expensive store, he must really be in love with you.” It worked like magic.
Throughout the month of December, men wedged themselves into Heisenberg’s, waved stacks of cash at the register and shouted, “I don’t care what you put in the box, but make sure it’s got that damn gold sticker.” Heisenberg’s made a blistering fortune that year and reversed their downward trend.
Thirteen months later I got a phone call from a jeweler in Connecticut. “You the man they call the Wizard of Ads?”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“I ran one of them ‘wizard’ radio ads that’s supposed to work. Had the worst Christmas I ever had. Didn’t work at all. Terrible. What’ve you got to say for yourself?”
A few probing questions revealed that my client in Cabbage Valley had given this fellow a copy of my “simple gold seal” ad as though it were some kind of miracle cure.
“I have to disagree with you,” I told the man. “That ad didn’t fail. It worked extremely well for whoever is the scary expensive jeweler in your town. He had a tremendous Christmas. And he has you to thank for it. The people in your town just knew that your store wasn’t the one described in the ad.”
Like every great store-specific ad, the Heisenberg’s gold seal campaign would never have worked if Heisenberg’s hadn’t already had the reputation of being extremely intimidating and expensive. That same ad could just as easily have been delivered by newspaper, direct mail or television and it would have worked just as well. It was the message - not the media - that delivered our miracle.
Franchise ads are for team players who want to help build a strong collective brand. Product-specific ads are for special promotions. Store-specific ads are for local branding. Category-specific “institutional” ads are a waste of money.
What kind of ads are you running?