Show a little personality

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An ad says a lot about your company. At least that’s what your agency has been telling you. And the agency is correct. A company’s advertising represents the best opportunity it has to portray its personality. ¶ A disorganized ad tends to indicate an unfocused company. A brag-and-boast ad suggests the company is maker-, not user-, oriented. A dull-looking ad indicates the company has nothing to get excited about.

Judging by its ad, H.B. Stubbs Co., which creates events, environments and exhibits for trade shows, would appear to be unfocused. Its ad is a riot of rectangular images that offer little directional guidance for the reader. The layout all but overwhelms the message. It took us too long to even determine the name of the advertiser.

Dull doesn’t get it done in b-to-b advertising. It subtly sends the signal that the company is behind the times or is slowing down. That may not be the case for 3Com Corp., but its ad sure seems to say so. A pair of gray, interoperable switches displayed on a pair of gray pedestals set against a gray background drains the life out of the ad. Oh, for a splash of color.

Advertisers always walk a fine line between sounding like leaders and sounding like braggarts. Readers, of course, are only interested in what’s in it for them, so they have little tolerance for self-aggrandizing suppliers. MOL (America) seems more impressed with itself than interested in solving a customer’s problem. The headline, "No one moves the world like MOL," tips readers off that they’re in for some corporate chest-pounding. Copy trumpets the claim that MOL is leaving its competition in its wake because of its extensive fleet. Customers would rather hear how MOL can help them leave their competition in their wake.

On the brighter side of the ledger is an ad for Philips that seems to speak volumes about the company’s personality. The image of the tiny hand of a premature baby grasping the hand of an adult is so human and so engaging that the reader has no choice but to reflect on the miracle of life. The headline is just as poignant: "What if the hardest day of your life was the first?" Inset below the image is the Philips Neonatal Monitor. Copy doesn’t say much, nor does it need to. The image and headline tell readers that Philips Electronics is bent on helping neonatal care teams produce positive outcomes for babies facing long odds. It’s certainly the kind of company with which people want to do business.

Covad displays a sense of humor-always a reassuring quality in a potential partner-in an ad touting its business-class broadband that integrates voice and data. Covad whimsically features the image of a dog-eared paperback titled "Death by Dialtone" with a distressed-looking IT manager trapped in a communication nightmare. While the image is all fun and games, the text makes a very serious promise: "Manage all of your communications from a single screen, simplify your network, increase productivity and save up to 40%."

Finally, we liked how Hoffman, a maker of enclosures for networking devices and systems, expressed its personality in an ad featuring a burly but friendly looking network installer who’s got some challenges on his hands. Subheads in the upper right-hand corner spell them out: "I need to provide LAN access for 750 students out of broom closets. ... I need a variety of wall-mount solutions to conserve floor space."

The main head and subhead below the image cut to the quick: "You know networks. Hoffman knows protection and storage: We can help you find what you need and consider what you haven’t." In other words, Hoffman is at the service of the customer. It’s a message that will make the company liked, respected and admired.

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