Brevity makes for better ads

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In an age when 140-character messages seem to push the limits of the human attention span, it's best to keep things as short and sweet as a tweet. While it's yet to be seen whether Twitter becomes the next frontier in advertising, the exploding popularity of the social networking tool reminds us that there's a place for brevity. It's always welcome in b-to-b advertising, as decision-makers need to think fast. Advertisers that can concisely convey a message have a distinct advantage over those that force readers to slog through text, or puzzle over a headline or an image—or both. And there's nothing wrong with long-copy ads so long as they read like short-copy ads. Let's take a look at a handful of ads that allow readers to quickly process the selling proposition. The Vancouver Convention Centre doesn't waste a second in conveying the point that gatherings in its facility are anything but dull. The art director smartly sets the stage with the image of an empty, standard-issue conference room complete with a clock, a water cooler and a set of mismatched chairs. It's a scene that is painfully familiar to everyone in the audience. Against this setting, the headline says it all: “The most interesting thing in a meeting room shouldn't be the clock.” In the next breath, the Vancouver Convention Centre simply states, “Conventions should inspire,” and then invites readers to visit its Web site. Harvard University, which commands the strongest brand name in higher education, probably doesn't need to say much about its Executive Education Program. But it does and does it well with this copy that speaks efficiently and personally to businesspeople eager to enhance their management careers: “You're a proven leader. But you know there is more to learn and do. You enter the Advanced Management Program. Your perspective expands. Beyond expectations. Suddenly, you realize you're not just studying the networks of global leaders. You're in one.” A secondary block of copy reinforces Harvard's succinct message about the value of its executive network by noting that enrollees will study with leaders from around the world who will “challenge each other to reach the next level.” Nokia wants readers to think “elegant” when considering its new smartphone, the E71x. The headline “Email elegance” is juxtaposed with the image of the smartphone that includes a profile view of the superslim handheld device and concept art that depicts a stream of data bits morphing into a phantasm of marbled colors. On first glance, readers get an impression of both slimness and artistic elegance. The copy says little else, nor does it need to: “Equipped with mobile Web and e-mail, the new Nokia E71x empowers you to effortlessly manage both work and play. So you simply get more out of life.” The headline, text and image are concise. An ad for Visa Commercial would seem to be in the same vein as the Nokia ad, but not quite. Positioned against a brilliant field of white, a series of images—from a partially eaten donut to a flat-screen monitor to a fax machine—seem to say, well, we're not quite sure. At the head of the line is the number 28. Readers are supposed to deduce that Visa is saying $28 billion, but without a headline to connect the eye-catching images to the text, the concept gets lost on readers or at least forces them to figure it out. The copy explains the image: “Research shows purchasing cards helped save North American industry $28 billion in 2005. A Visa purchasing card minimizes paper-based and manual processes, and increases operational efficiencies, saving you money on everything your company needs.” While we appreciate the minimalism, the ad was too short and sweet for its own good. The trick, of course, is to display and say just enough to drive home a point about the advertiser's product or service. That's the ticket in an age of twittering distractions.
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