Selling services all in the image

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The challenge to selling services is that you don't have something as tangible as a product to feature in the ad. Services such as health care or consulting are much more abstract than products like microchips or blast furnaces. But there are plenty of ways to convince an audience that your service is just what they need. Let's take a look at several ads that use different techniques to advertise services. Some work, some don't.

As is true for product advertising, you can always hire a pitchman to help sell your service. Accenture, a technology and outsourcing consultancy, enlists golf champ Tiger Woods to trumpet the research it has done on the qualities of the world's most successful companies. It's undoubtedly a valuable report for any business hoping to find its way to the winner's circle, and who better to say winner than Tiger, whose success formula, according to the ad, is 50% attitude and 50% aptitude.

The photo of a pumped-up Tiger in his red Nike shirt against a sea of green is an eye-catcher. The risk to using a famous pitchman, however, is that his presence may overwhelm the ad—what's known as "vampire creativity." The pitchman sucks all the life out of the advertiser that is making the actual pitch.

It's too easy to mistake this piece for a Nike ad or for any number of other products or services that Tiger represents.

We're not sure if the leading man in the ad for NIIT Technologies is the face of the company or the face of the customer. The man in the pinstripe suit casts a penetrating stare at the audience from above the headline: "You've left the competition far behind!"

But that matter is the least of our concerns about this ad, which did not create a very positive impression among the Chasers. The poor writing and editing undermines whatever NIIT Technologies is trying to sell to prospects and customers.

We'll start with the exclamation points in the headline and the first word in the copy: "Possible!" They're amateurish. If the points are so compelling, they should speak for themselves without the embellishment of dramatic punctuation marks. Here are the ungrammatical opening lines: "Possible! When you partner with NIIT Technologies."

Under the subhead: "Our BPO and Contact Center Services," technical help desk is listed twice. And while we're nitpicking, there needs to be a space after the comma and the word right after it: " …no matter what, wouldn't you rather go with …" The ad for this service provider appeared in a major business publication where space is not cheap. It was not money well-spent because the ad's technical problems overwhelm the message.

Unum, which markets insurance services to businesses, puts its best foot forward with an ad that immediately suggests health care with the microscopic image of staph bacteria. Astride the image is this series of headlines: "Staphylococcus bacteria attacks call center of Fortune 500 company … Half of department hospitalized … Employees miss a total of 540 workdays … Company bleeds red ink."

This case study doesn't name names, so we can't be sure if this was an actual emergency. But case histories are often credible ways of demonstrating that an advertiser can solve a problem for a business. Unum explains in copy that it can provide income protection to disabled workers and offer solutions to get them back on the job sooner.

Another smart way to sell a service is through a testimonial. Done correctly, testimonials carry lots of weight with readers who figure if an advertiser can make business better for one company, why not for them, too?

Grant Thornton, a provider of accounting and audit services, turns things over in its ad to Brad Johnson, chief financial officer of REI, who sings the firm's praises. The testimonial copy sounds genuine, which is key to convincing an audience that your company's service may be the answer to a reader's problem. And the ad looks clearly like a Grant Thornton ad thanks to its trademark red rose.

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