What makes a good ad?


I think this exercise is going to be along the lines of asking someone “What makes something taste good?” Everyone’s going to have a different answer. Can we boil a good ad down to a set of criteria? Or is “good” so subjective that it simply can’t be defined? Well, here’s my list. Let the debate begin…

1. It has to be part rational, part emotional. We all know ads that are only rational don’t work. We’re not purely rational creatures. If that was the case, no one would smoke or do drugs. But purely emotional ads are rarely possible because they’re entirely unpredictable. What’s emotional the first time you see it may not be emotional the 5th time you see it.

2. It has to communicate something your audience cares about. This sounds really stupid and basic, but how many Super Bowl commercials did you watch this year and then just go, “Huh?” The great Rosser Reeves once said “You must make the product interesting, not just make the ad different. And that’s what too many of the copywriters in the U.S. today don’t yet understand.” (FYI: He said that back in the 1950s and it’s still true.)

3. It has to contain a benefit, not a feature. Again, this probably seems like advertising 101 for most of us. But then again we’ve all had clients who demand we cram an add full of things that mean a lot to them, but nothing to the audience.

4. It has to communicate quickly, but not necessarily communicate everything quickly. Everyone loves to say how people “don’t read copy.” Wrong. People don’t read copy unless it interests them. When you’re in the market for a car, do you read the brochures? When you’re searching for a vintage suit on Ebay, do you read the description? Of course you do. If we grab someone quickly and hold their interest, they’ll give us the luxury of their time.

5. It can’t be familiar. No one pays attention to the things they see every single day. If an ad seems like something they’ve seen before, you won’t be able to accomplish #4 above.

So given those 5 points. Is this ad about ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) good or not?


2 Responses to “What makes a good ad?”

  1. 1 Sarah Barger Ranney

    Based on your five (well-articulated, btw) criteria, this IS a good ad – emotional/rational, resonant, benefit-oriented, and new. But, to your first point about our subjective definitions of quality, the ad doesn’t work for me. I think it’s because the image is too emotionally affecting, and the copy doesn’t pay it off. I immediately sympathize and put myself in the position of both the woman and the old man…such a sad scene. You’ve got my attention. So I turn to the copy for something that will make me feel better. Unfortunately, the copy, while also affecting, leads to a call to action that’s too distant from the scene at hand…donating money is a solution for future pain, but it’s clear there are no immediate solutions to this daily struggle. So, rather than feeling inspired or hopeful, I feel sorta bummed about the whole thing.

  2. Huh?
    Double huh?
    Triple huh?

    If you hadn’t drawn my attention to this one I would have flipped the page faster than crossing a “finish” line. But I did spend some time with it. Why does this man have a sketch, oh I see, a maze sketched on his body. Can the woman giving him a shave see it?

    Then, ok, Start and Finish. Oh now, I see the raggedy trail on his elbow that is disconnecting the maze. Ohhhhh…I get it. He can’t shave because he has a maze on his body. No, that’s not it. He has a disconnection that keeps him from shaving.

    Now I “get” that this ad is horrible, neither emotional or intellectual, just a maze of confusion which leads to your rule #4, Communicate Quickly. One means of doing that is not adding layer upon layer to an advertising message.

    The saddest part about all of this is, ALS deserves better communications on behalf of people who suffer from this disease. If it were an ad for a soft drink, I’d just roll my eyes. This is unpardonably self indulgent, and irresponsible.

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