Breaking the rules the right way

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There are the immutable laws of nature, never to be broken. And there are the Chasers' Criteria, commonsense guidelines for effective b-to-b advertising that allow for some creative license.

We suggest the license should be exercised sparingly and only to achieve an effect. Know the guidelines; otherwise, they are broken in ignorance and not in the name of creativity. This month, we take a look at some ads that would seem to violate Chasers' guidelines yet still work.

The Chasers like ads that select the right audience. That's often done with an image that relates to the target audience's job interests and often in combination with a headline that drives home the connection. The combination essentially says: "Hey, this is for you."

Air France, which is targeting corporate travelers and corporate travel managers, does none of that in this ad featuring a man lying blissfully in a soft, grassy field. There's not the standard image of a businessperson luxuriating in business-class seating. There's not even a headline. And the logo, which usually works best in the lower right-hand corner, floats above it all in the upper right-hand corner.

Yet somehow we came away with the impression that traveling in Air France's new business class is a slice of heaven. Three bullet points are superimposed on the photo—the comfort of a 6½-foot bed, exquisite food and wine, and privacy—combine with the idyllic image to create the desired effect. To help distinguish it from a clothing ad, the art director cleverly includes "Seat 8B" over the man's head.

To emphasize the service rather than the source, the Chasers recommend that advertisers avoid the temptation to make their name the largest element in the ad or even include their name in the headline. In many cases, that technique suggests the advertiser is self-infatuated and less concerned with the needs of a client.

Yet we're willing to give CORT a pass for trumpeting its name in the headline: "Wherever you're heading, CORT will be there." That's because there's no brag and boast in the copy. CORT, which supplies relocation and other services for companies and individuals in transition, uses personal-sounding language to describe how it can lighten the load for people and companies on the move. A panel of friendly faces helps to humanize the pitch. And it doesn't hurt to include a photo of Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns CORT.

Visuals—be they photos, graphics or even cartoons—are almost always a good way to grab the eye of the audience. As noted earlier, a well-choreographed image can help select the right audience. To say the least, designing an ad without a visual element is a risk. Yet our eye was drawn to this ad for Unisys, whose only visual element is a gold half-circle adjacent to the headline: "Throw the first punch."

Perhaps it was the commanding headline or maybe it was the unusual color scheme, but Unisys managed to draw us into the message that its consulting, outsourcing or systems integration services can help a company be bolder and more confident in the marketplace.

The Chasers' approach to typography is fairly conservative. We suggest black type on a white or light background. Text should be large enough for easy reading, and it should not extend from one side of the ad to the other. It should also stand free of entanglement with other elements of the ad.

Cyveillance uses reverse type to tell the story of how it can help protect companies from the entire spectrum of Internet threats, including phishing, identity theft and corporate espionage. Spooky stuff and perhaps best explained against a dead-of-night background.

Cyveillance bends the rule but doesn't completely break it by wisely using a highly readable sans-serif typeface that's given an extra measure of leading. The text extends no more than three-quarters of the width of the page. These steps allow the text to resonate against the darkness and deliver Cyveillance's message.

Our advice: Stick to the guidelines, unless there's some compelling reason not to do so.

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