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Simple Messages in Advertising -- The Better to Understand You With, My Dear

By: Kevin Nunley

Kevin Nunley provides marketing advice, copywriting, and promotion packages. See his 10,000 free marketing ideas at Reach Kevin at or 801-328-9006.

It is better to advertise with simple messages and have everyone understand you, than to advertise with complex messages and have only 20% of viewers understand you.

Brilliantly clever advertising executives often come up with ad campaigns that dazzle viewers. Viewers may be dazzled, but whether they can discern what is actually being communicated in the ad remains to be seen.

When considering how you want to phrase your advertising copy, don't tailor the message to what would impress you. Tailor the message to what would sell to everyone.

The fact is, most people only read, listen, and watch advertising with a tiny percentage of their brain. When I'm watching TV and it comes time for the advertisements, I usually head to the kitchen for a handful of M&Ms. But I can still hear the TV.

The human brain takes in everything that goes on -- sights, sounds, feelings -- so whether your viewer is consciously paying attention to your message or not, some level of their psyche is taking it in. But whether your message is stored away in the long-term memory depends on the clarity of your ad.

I don't remember things I don't understand. No one does. So your advertising will only make a long-term impact if the message is clear. Otherwise, it will be forgotten within minutes.

That is why it is important to keep your advertising copy as simple as possible. One of the top two reasons marketing fails is because the ad isn't clear.

Here are some imperative tips to keep in mind when writing and designing your ads:
  1. No jargon.  Many advertisers make the mistake of using their own industry jargon and buzz words when writing their ads. As much sense as they make to themselves, they may not be making a bit of sense to the common consumer.

    Remember, your advertising isn't just targeted at your fellow lawyer or your computer engineer friend.  You are talking to administrative assistants, mechanics, artists, hair stylists and teachers. If you want their attention, speak the same language they do.

  2. Smaller words, bigger impact.  In an effort to look smart, we sometimes try to flex our vocabulary muscles too hard in advertising. But advertising speaks to people the same way you speak to a friend. You want to be on the same level, so don't use five syllable words in your copy. It will only come off as condescending and confusing.

    After you write something, try speaking it out loud. If you sound like you are reading an excerpt from a literary essay, change it to sound more natural, like your normal style of speech. Remember, as Stephen King advises, "Never say emolument when you mean tip."

  3. Don't lose your message in overly complicated copy.  Searching for the message in some advertisements can be like separating sand from sugar--you really have to work to find the good stuff.

    Only say what you need to say. Keep your message concise. You don't need to tout every magnificent quality of your product or service. Pick one or two of the best features and focus on those.

  4. Use phrases that sell.  These are familiar phrases that don't make people think hard about the implications. When they hear them, they know exactly what is being said and how to respond.
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    These are just a few of the simple, yet effective phrases that spark a listener's interest in your message. Notice that they are all under five words.

  5. Simple ad campaigns, not just simple messages.  Pick something that works and stick with it. Each time an ad runs, it builds on the time it ran before that. The secret to becoming a household name is simple--repetition, repetition, repetition.

© 2002

Other Articles by Kevin Nunley

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