Bury the lead, pay the price

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The Bible admonishes us to never "hide our light under a bushel" to ensure that others can appreciate our good qualities. Similarly, journalists should avoid a practice called "burying the lead" for fear that their audience will miss the key point of the story. If the essence of the story doesn't appear until the fourth or fifth paragraph, it's likely that by then the audience has moved on to something else.

Marketers need to keep these principles in mind as they promote their wares to prospects and customers. They sometimes get so close to their brands and the stories that surround them that they think the key messages are self-evident. They're not.

Successful advertising makes the case quickly and succinctly—especially these days when audiences are more likely than ever to scan their way through a story. Let's take a look at several executions that in our estimation buried the lead.

Sprint, which bills itself as the "Now network," takes its sweet time in presenting the product name in this ad for its HTV EVO 4G phone and service. Like a litany, the word "First" appears in Sprint's yellow brand color at the start of each phrase, as in: "First is fast" or "First isn't later, it's now." It's not until the final line of copy that the audience is introduced to the word EVO. "What will you do first with the EVO, the first 4G phone?"

This approach makes sense if the phone is called "First." But it's not. It's EVO, and we believe the ad delayed identification so long that it only left readers like us confused as to the name of the brand being promoted. Nothing else is said about EVO in the copy. Perhaps Sprint believes EVO has become such a household name that nothing more needs to be said. Diminishing this ad's effectiveness even further is the product image at the bottom of the page that looks like every other smartphone ad.

New Breed Logistics features a dramatic shot of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner ascending to the heavens below the headline: "We help big ideas take off." But we're supposed to take New Breed's word for it because there is no copy block in which it can explain all that it's done to assist a blue-chip client like Boeing. It strikes us as a lost opportunity.

On first glance, many might mistake the piece for a Boeing ad, which will undoubtedly thrill the aircraft manufacturer. But New Breed buries the lead, ironically, at the top of the page, where it merely "bullets" its key functions such as "manufacturing support," "materials management" and "supply chain consulting."

The key functions are presented as mere afterthought at that point on the page. The reader's eye naturally gravitates toward the bottom of the page during the scanning process, meaning the nondescript text at the top is easily overlooked.

D&H says in its ad that its employees partially own the company. To celebrate its unique business structure, the "D&H" are blocked out against the backdrop of each employee's name in the fine print. It's certainly a clever idea, and it puts the brand front and center. But the problem is D&H fails to explain what it does. A visit to its website shows it's a technology distributor. But we didn't know that, and perhaps some readers in the technology trade didn't know that either.

D&H assumes that all are familiar with its services. Maybe they are, but we'd still seize the moment and explain how D&H makes life easier for its clients. The platitude: "Our success is your success" doesn't say nearly enough.

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