The all-important ad promise

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Advertisers should resolve in 2005 to define their promise and clearly communicate it. We thank a reader for that important reminder. We've been saying it for years under Chasers Criteria No. 4: "The Successful Ad Promises a Reward." Yet it's surprising how many advertisers seem to assume that the audience desperately needs what they're selling. By and large, b-to-b products and services have to be sold. They aren't simply bought.

Unless a promise is clearly communicated, there's a diminished chance of an eventual sale. We believe that the promise of a reward should be self-evident. That's usually done with the headline, often in concert with a visual element. It's sometimes not done until the copy, but by that time it may be too late. Copy works best when it reinforces a promise made in the headline or visual.

Fishnet Security Education Services strikes us as much too slow to the punch. Using a dramatic borrowed-interest image of a man scaling a rock face in combination with the headline "It's good to know what you're doing" could mean just about anything. Even the opening paragraph of copy fails to hone in on any sort of promise: "Sometimes, not doing something well causes more harm than good."

Certainly, you could argue that the lead-in, the visual and the headline are working together, but they're not working hard enough to quickly communicate the promise of a reward. Copy does zero in on Fishnet's selling proposition, but the opportunity to clearly communicate may have come and gone.

Projector maker InFocus displayed a better use of a borrowed-interest image and a headline. Astride the image of a stern-faced physician is the headline: "When Communication is Critical. The right technology is essential." The headline and the image of a doctor who makes life-and-death decisions seem to promise a technology that can be relied on in critical moments.

The lead-in graph of copy follows immediately through on the promise of dependability being made to an audience of business decision-makers: "You have strategies to develop, people to lead, and presentations to share. Sometimes at a moment's notice. At times like these, your technology simply has to deliver." Copy goes on to make a strong case for InFocus' digital projection technology.

FedEx Kinko's gets right to the heart of the matter with this headline: "Ship via FedEx Ground from any FedEx Kinko's and you can save up to 35% vs. shipping at the UPS store. Is that a good thing?" The visual and a small block of copy toward the bottom of the page make the humorous point that all small businesses-except one-say it is a good thing. The respondent explains: "The number 35 has always been unlucky for me. I once got a speeding ticket for doing 35 in a 25. And on February 4, I slipped on some ice and broke my tailbone-it was the thirty-fifth day of the year!"

FedEx Kinko's is playing for a laugh, and that's fine because it succinctly made the point that its ground shipping services save significantly more money than the competition's. We like how FedEx Kinko's is so specific about its promise. As we've long said, the headline "Less maintenance costs" is not nearly as effective as "You can cut maintenance costs 25%."

LexisNexis serves up promise on a silver platter with the headline: "Imagine getting just what you want ... from your next online search." Copy, which is loaded with promise, targets an audience of small-business people. It begins like this: "Introducing LexisNexis AlaCarte!" It provides just the information you need to compete with big business ... served directly to your desktop."

The promise is backed up with details on the number of sources, the number of documents and the cost of acquiring a document.

Another way to promise a reward is to assure the target that use of your product or service will make him or her a hero in the eyes of the boss or colleagues. Using a quasi testimonial, Copystar features a businessman clutching a coffee mug under the headline: "Copystar gets rave reviews around here for performance and reliability. So do I."

The promise of a reward is unmistakable in this ad, as it should be with every ad. 

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