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THE PROBLEM WITH INDUSTRIAL ADVERTISING
I think it true to say that industrial advertising, the sort that fills the pages of the thousands of technical and semi-technical magazines, is the most neglected of all advertising types. You only have to flick through the pages of publications like Bulk Handling International, or Building Services & Environmental Engineer, for instance, to see that advertisers are nowhere near as clever with their promotional work as are their counterparts at the consumer end of things.
This is no reflection on the professionalism of the magazines mentioned. They can only publish the material they receive. What it is a reflection of, however, is the belief held by many industrial advertisers that cleverness and creativity in advertising are luxuries to be indulged in only by those soft mass-media advertisers with all their millions to throw away on fripperies. Many of them also hold the view that advertising is pretty much a waste of time, energy and money. They do it only because their competitors do it and it is therefore expected of them.
These are fallacies to end all fallacies; and the result of such thinking is tired, lifeless and unimaginative advertising that sells nobody anything. And I’m sorry to say, too, that much of this work originates from those advertising agencies which profess to specialise in industrial-type work.
To be sure, it may come as a comfort to an industrial advertiser to find an ad agency whose executives and writers are passingly familiar with digital voltmeters, modular breadboards or higher-frequency potential avalanche transit-time diodes. To be able to talk to them about high-power logic triacs or tantulum capacitators without them looking bemused or falling asleep must make such clients feel that they’ve stumbled upon the Holy Grail.
But this is an understanding simply of the nuts and bolts of a client’s business; and that’s a different thing altogether from having an understanding of the basic precepts of advertising – and, I submit, a far less important thing.
It’s a sad fact that that the great majority of industrial ads don’t have anything specific to say. They may kid themselves that they have; but if their originators would look at them dispassionately, even they would concede that they haven’t.
This is perfectly understandable. No advertiser can expect to come up with something new and exciting every time he hits print. This, incidentally, is the reason why the bulk of industrial advertising is, or should be, a long-term and strategic exercise, rather than short-term and tactical – but that’s another subject entirely.
Now, the ability to take nothing in particular and to devise around it something that is interesting and striking without being foolish is a rare gift. It is the essential art (or artifice or artfulness) of advertising. It is what advertising is very largely about; and the fact that it is a difficult, demanding and mentally corrosive task explains why the people who are best at it are so grossly overpaid, why their intake of alcohol is so excessive, and why life-assurance actuaries have nightmares about them.
The kind of people I’m talking about are as scarce as cab’s on a wet night in ad agencies which specialise in handling technical/industrial accounts only. Professionals you will find there, for sure. Good, honest hard-workers with a refreshing absence of temperament But those gifted with the rare ability consistently to make an extraordinary something out of a very ordinary next-to-nothing? Not very likely.
There are two simple reasons for this. The first is a sordid commodity called money. The second is that, for the best writers and designers, the pabulum of the soul is not only creative freedom but also creative diversity. And, in technical agencies, they just can’t get it.
So where does that leave us? In the first place, industrial advertisers should take a long, hard look at their promotional philosophies. In the second place, whether their material originates from their own publicity department, or from a technical-type agency, they should think very seriously about hiring people who are capable of producing original and effective campaigns that actually sell product. Just because someone has a marketing degree or has studied on one of those dubious communications courses, it doesn’t make them capable of producing the kind of work I’ve described above. Likewise, a BSc and a likeable demeanour carries no guarantee that the person concerned will be a whiz at moving your product.
If this means spending a little more money on securing the right personnel, then so be it. In the long term, and I guess we are all in business for the long term, we are judged by appearances. And no matter how ground-breaking our product may be, if our appearance is shoddy, unimaginative and dull, we shouldn’t be surprised if buyers go and spend their money somewhere else.
And there the matter, whatever it is, rests for the moment.
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Patrick Quinn is a copywriter, with 40 years' experience of the advertising business in London, Miami, Dublin and Edinburgh. Over the years, he has helped win for his clients just about every advertising award worth winning. His published books, include:
The Secrets of Successful Copywriting.
The Secrets of Successful Low Budget Advertising.
Word Power 1, 2 & 3.
© Markethill Publishing 2005.
For a free monthly newsletter with copywriting tips and tutorials, plus advertising and marketing know-how, just click here.