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Advertising Principles - Part 1 -Who Writes Your Ad Copy?

Furniture World Magazine


Without an effective and creative message, your ad gets to the right people at the right time with the wrong result.

Bedell's five Great Headline Ingredients Help You Write Better Headlines:

  • Mention the prospect and his or her interests.
  • Promise benefits!
  • Use news that relates to the offer.
  • Provoke curiosity favorably.
  • Mention the product favorably.

Modern furniture retailing seems to have a "button" to push for everything these days with at least one critical exception. There is no button to push, nor any technology, to bring customers into a furniture store. As the playing field levels and the remaining players reach technological and market-research parity, what will be the next breakthrough?

In my judgment, the next great merchant will be the one who dusts off the neglected advertising wisdom of old, rolls up his or her sleeves, and adapts these principles to modern consumer needs and vernacular. This wise merchant will leap ahead of competition, and be difficult to catch.

This information you are about to read has been distilled from thirty years of experience in mainstream furniture marketing as well as hundreds and hundreds of promotional high-impact sales. Merchants pay thousands of dollars to learn these seven neglected secrets. The best advertising agencies generally know them, but it is prohibitively expensive for an independent furniture retailer to use a high level agency. The most enlightened independent retailers once knew and used them, but in recent years the seven secrets have been neglected in a frenzy to survive. Many hired-gun "promoters" know some of them, but few promoters understand the principles of mainstream advertising and merchandising, and the long-term effects of promotional appeals.

These key principles have produced a month's business in a few days, but that is not their most important value. They can also enhance your day-to-day business. These "lost secrets" will measurably affect your regular promotions. They will greatly improve your knowledge of marketing. In fact, when you know the "seven lost secrets," you will know more about productive advertising and sales than most expensive marketing "experts" of today. If you happen to be one of the few retail independents who grasp the basic underlying advertising principles of the "seven lost secrets," this may be the most important article you read this year.

The three essential advertising principles are:

  • Promotion and advertising are communication.
  • The furniture retailer who communicates information most effectively and vividly, and ALSO continually seeks new ways to ADD VALUE to that communication, will be serving prospective customers best.
  • All other things equal, the most effective and creative communicator will win more and more market share from the retailer who neglects to actively cultivate this opportunity.

These three cascading principles are the most important ideas an independent retailer can know to make advertising successful. In the fiercely competitive atmosphere of today, the furniture retailer who does not wake up every morning excited about a new way or two to add value and serve his or her customers and prospective customers better, will find it more and more difficult to keep up with competition.

LOST SECRET #1: The tested principles that make advertising work.
According to a study by Saxon Communications group, ninety-five percent of CEOs, executives, and retail merchants in America believe their promotional advertising is inadequate and unprofitable.

Why? Because retail advertising today is created - for the most part - without regard for the principles that make advertising work.

If you doubt this statement, walk through a few in-house retail advertising departments (including your own). Ask the copywriters - who create the direct mail pieces - what the five-step formula is for an irresistible sales letter. Or ask the TV copywriter how Caples applied his seven principles of mail order to TV commercials, with excellent results. While you are there, ask the person who schedules media how many times a TV commercial has to be seen to make it 'stick.'

Ask the newspaper ad creator what Clyde Bedell's "five great headline ingredients" are. Or ask if they know that Ogilvy spent millions of dollars to learn that a shaded background or dark color on body copy reduces readership by 38% to as much as 60%. Large amounts of reverse copy drops it even more.

The chances are that none of these "professionals" will know what you are talking about. Because retail ad people – with a few notable exceptions - no longer study advertising principles. Billions of dollars are spent annually on advertising that is created from scratch, without regard to the principles that persuade people, add value to products, and make advertising work - without negotiating prices on the floor. The necessary research and data about advertising is readily available, but too many of our ad people are "technicians" who know everything about computer technologies and nothing about the psychology of added-value persuasion.

Would you hire an attorney who didn't know about current law? Or a Pharmacist who claimed he was a "natural," and didn't need to study about the newest drugs? Or, would you take your taxes to an accountant who stopped studying tax laws after he graduated from school? Imagine checking into a hospital and discovering that the doctors and nurses have no idea of the latest medical techniques!

Of course you would not tolerate these things. However, many merchants entrust their advertising dollars to people who have never even read a current book on advertising, let alone been trained in the science of making ads work! Too often advertising people seem to get away with wasting money because advertising has often become a built-in expense. Advertising should be an investment that directly affects inventory turn and sales - or you should know the reason why it did not produce. Before we get specific, let's examine the original source of the seven lost secrets, especially secret number one.

Where Did Advertising Principles Come From? Do they still Work Today?
Generally, most of the advertising principles were developed by direct-response advertisers. Mail order, TV telemarketing and info-mercials and the like. Direct-response marketers have one thing in common: they must get positive results or they quickly go broke. Survival depends upon being good at persuading people to buy, using media alone.

In the old days, mail order pros tested headlines and layouts with micrometer-like precision. Either the ad brought in returns or it did not. There was no room for alibis. Soon the pros learned that they could change a word in a headline and the results would multiply! Illustrations, appeals, prices, types of coupons were tested.

A body of specific advertising knowledge began to accumulate. Copywriters learned what worked – and what didn't work. Ad experts coveted this knowledge like gold. A single proven idea could tip the scales for a client.

The results of all this testing began to accumulate into an increasingly reliable body of advertising principles and precepts.

More and more, professionals relied upon experienced-based principles to evaluate an ad - even before it ran. Creative and astute copywriters enjoyed huge salaries because they mastered the principles of selling through the media. In the late thirties copywriter Bernice Fitzgibbons of Macy's was paid $90,000 a year - equal to over a million in today's take home wages.

A man named Clyde Bedell made a fortune advising furniture and mattress retailers on how to advertise. He organized the principles of advertising and made them work on a retail level. Bedell advocated focusing upon the selling benefits, not products. "People buy only to get benefits." he declared. "No one wants to buy a one inch drill bit. They are buying one inch holes."

Many of today's furniture retailers seem to have forgotten that they are NOT selling a recliner to some forgettable customer. They are helping someone acquire a special present for dad that will melt his weary heart and help him forget his problems. Sales persons should not imagine that they are selling a mattress set to some couple they will never see again. They are providing better sleep, which may result in better health, more energy, and a better quality of life - and winning a new lifetime customer.

Bedell insisted that without one or more key headline ingredients in a headline, the advertiser was not addressing a prospect's need or an interest, and the customer could easily shrug off their appeal. Bedell isolated five great headline ingredients - principles that attract a prospect's attention (see inset on page 6).

Modern advertising experts now augment these five with four more: the direct command headline, the challenging question, limited time urgency, and scarcity of the product.

How the Seven "Secrets" Were Lost to Retailers
Suddenly something happened back in Bedell's time that changed all retailing forever. World War II came. No one had much to sell. When merchandise was available, it sold on sight. No one needed "good" advertising. After the war ended, the demand for consumer goods skyrocketed.

Merchandise - much of it shoddy - sold very quickly. In later years, merchants who lived through that period fondly recalled when a "big picture and a big price" sold anything. They couldn't understand why that formula quit working. Actually, the price-item 'formula' never worked as a principle. All you had to do in those days was announce you had merchandise, put a price on it, and stand back.

Mass Merchandising, Marketing, & the rise of the "Bean Counters"
On the heals of the post-war boom came a 'new' science: marketing. Clyde Bedell used to say: "Anyone can sell the right item at the right price to the right customer at the right time. But that's dumb luck, not advertising." However, through modern marketing techniques, it was suddenly possible to know exactly who, what, when, where, how, and why - marketing was now virtually a science. You didn't need good ads, just a marketing education, some consumer research, and a slide rule. (This was before the computer and the calculator!)

With the most notable exception of direct-response mail advertisers, advertising experts were not needed. Most retail ad people were glorified mechanics. The number-oriented marketing people - known as the 'bean counters' - dominated agency and retail advertising. In the process, the overall positioning and timing of products took the place of the need to arrest the prospect's attention and motivate them to act through exciting messages.

Increasing clutter in television, print, and radio advertising caused further problems. Only the direct marketers and the big-time agencies retained advertising skills.

Independent Retailers Begin to "Exit"
Mass retailers began to push the smaller operations aside. Print and broadcast media, overwhelming in volume, drowned out independent after independent. In the next several decades good merchants watched helplessly while their advertising efforts achieved less and less response, and their market shares continued to erode.

In the meantime, as the art of strategic marketing was mastered by mass retailers, the vast arena of retailing became a stand-off. All the giant retailers had convenient, modern locations, easy parking, instant credit of all kinds, famous brand merchandise, selection, and good prices. It seemed the only thing left was to make 'good' prices better - by cutting them more and more.

Now a customer could buy pretty much the same merchandise at nearly the same prices at one giant or another. Loss-leaders were snapped up (as always) by customers, but these fickle customers often left the store and bought nothing else.

A New Ultimate Weapon: Customer Service
Low price points and convenient locations, credit and so on had become table stakes. But the customer, on a personal level, was being forgotten. America became a customer-service wasteland. This customer service situation - which has not yet fully been addressed - is a golden opportunity for the wise independent retailer.

Any person who has shopped in a department store during a special event and tried to make a purchase knows it takes a great deal of determination to buy anything.

We will discuss this customer service opportunity for independent retailers in depth - later in this series of articles. For now let's return to the original question. How can you quickly make your advertising work more effectively? Advertising is supposed to attract customers. Without customers, how can an independent retailer, even with the best service and merchandise in the world, be successful?

Of course, you don't have time to become an advertising expert. You could hardly read current books on tested advertising principles, and continue to keep up with marketing research and trends. At least for most retailers, this is impossible. The average furniture retailer wears upwards of fifteen hats today: general manager, display director, complaint department, collections, credit manager, "chaplain" (or psychologist), accountant, and on and on. How can an independent furniture merchant find time to plan a promotion of real power and effectiveness? One that would be a virtual sure winner, worth all of the effort and financial risk?

Perhaps you could hire an expensive agency. But by the time you taught the account representative the principles of retailing furniture, and explained your unique operation, the agency's 'meter' would have run up a tremendous bill. And - you still might not get what you need.

What you can do is learn to apply a few common-sense principles that will help you hold your ad people's feet to the fire. In the December/ January issue of FURNITURE WORLD, I will give you a formula for creating more effective print advertising. You can use this formula to make solid improvements.


Larry Mullins, President of UltraSales, Inc., has 30+ years experience in the front lines of retail furniture marketing. Larry's mainstream executive experience, his creative work for "promoter-specialists," and study of advertising principles has enabled him to continually develop new High-Impact strategies for independent furniture retailers that are sound, complete, and innovative. Inquiries can be sent to Larry care of FURNITURE WORLD at editor@furninfo.com.

Copyright 1998 Towse Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved

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