Overselling can be kiss of death

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Looking and sounding like a leader in b-to-b advertising is a dicey proposition. On the one hand, you want to exhibit a certain confidence and create the impression that yours is the kind of business that will provide benefits to the customer.

On the other hand, you don't want to appear self-infatuated. Corporate chest-thumping might feel great, but it probably won't win you many friends. It may very well be true that your company is the biggest, the fastest, the most-respected or the best, but some modesty is still in order.

If your business qualifies for none of those superlatives, don't make such a claim. The market will see right through you. And by all means, don't feature your CEO making some pious pronouncement of quality or dedication to the customer in the ad. It's the kiss of death.

To have your cake and eat it, too, assert that your company is good, better, best, but quickly demonstrate how that translates into a customer benefit. The most logical place to do that is in the copy. Otherwise, you're just bragging and boasting, and nobody likes a blowhard.

Here's one we thought worked. Titleist tees up the image of a cluster of its golf balls bearing familiar corporate logos that surround the headline: "Excellence is the best investment." In the opening line of copy, Titleist states that it's "the #1 ball in golf" and restates that claim in its logo and tagline. Brag and boast? No, because Titleist can credibly make a claim of superiority. Any golfer knows that.

The ad is trying to drive home the point that it makes perfect sense for corporations to stamp their logo on a Titleist because its name has long been associated with quality. And what brand doesn't want that kind of association? Copy also makes the point that Titleist is more than a leading name; it can provide sophisticated color reproduction, custom packaging and other services.

Here are three ads that fall short.

Norlisk Nickel, which bills itself as a global leader in metals mining, features a blue microchip astride the headline "Blue chip." The combination is not gratuitous because, as we learn in the burst of copy, Norlisk mines platinum that's used in microchips and electronics. Copy explains how its metals are used in a variety of other industries and that it has mines from Siberia to Montana.

That's impressive, but it's never made clear how that kind of breadth translates into a benefit for the people reading the ad. Maybe the CEO simply wanted the world to know that Norlisk is big-time. Unfortunately, the ad seems oblivious to the needs of the audience.

PerfectLaw, a maker of legal software, enlists a noble-looking lion to demonstrate leadership in its field. Copy is nothing more than a laundry list of its services, including time and billing, general ledger and management reports. But there's no attempt to explain what's in it for the readers. Don't assume the reward is self-evident in a list of product offerings. Readers enjoy a good story.

EED, which provides electronic discovery services for the legal field, celebrates its 20th anniversary by declaring itself to be the "discovery leader" in the headline that dominates the ad. States the subhead: "There it is in black and white." Adds the copy: "With 20 years of experience, EED can truly be called the industry's standard-setting, full-service electronic discovery leader."

A major anniversary is certainly the right time for a company to demonstrate some leadership and even pat itself on the back.But a self-congratulatory ad risks turning off the people who should be helping you celebrate. The saving grace, however, is how the copy goes on to note that customers benefit from the most reliable solution on the market and how customer service is its first priority.

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