Let your service be the star

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B-to-b advertisers walk a fine line between emphasizing their name and emphasizing their product or service.

If they're too modest about their company name or logo, there's little chance their brand will register with members of the target audience. If they insist on making the company name or logo the biggest thing in the ad or set it in boldface wherever it appears in copy, readers may dismiss the ad as brag-and-boast. People prefer to do business with companies that are user-oriented, not maker-oriented.

There was a time when we were opposed to the use of the advertiser's name in the headline. We've softened on that point because the headline plays such a critical role in establishing the advertiser's message and brand. But we remain firm in our belief that the company name or logo should not be the dominant element in an ad.

AIG is unabashed about the use of its logo in an ad promoting its security and privacy insurance. Before it can even begin to sell its service, AIG emblazons its oversize logo against a photo of a credit card transaction. It's the largest element in the ad. The overprinting of the logo against the photo perfectly illustrates why it's not a good idea to entangle letters and photos?because it makes a muddle of each element.

We would strip out the logo from the visual because AIG clearly establishes itself as the provider of the service in the bottom right-hand corner of the ad?the place for a corporate logo. Because the eye tracks from left to right and from top to bottom, it naturally scans toward the bottom right of the page.

But before the reader's eye lights on the logo, the advertiser must build a case for itself. To AIG's credit, the headline and text do a solid job of selling the service, which makes the oversized logo at the top all the more unfortunate.

The largest element in an ad for SAS is the photo of a handsome, silver-haired gentleman sporting a patch of stubble on his face. The second-largest element is the headline/subhead: "SAS Business Intelligence/Better answers, faster."

Although the headline containing the SAS name is large, it does not overwhelm the execution as the AIG name did in the previous ad. We'd say the ad falls safely on the user-oriented side of the fence. If there's a gratuitous element in the ad, it's the photo of the man, whose role is never explained in the copy. We suspect he was trotted out to serve as the face of the customer.

The dominant element in an ad for Hewlett-Packard's Integrity servers with Intel Itanium 2 processors is a paper plant in Oberkirch, Germany. The user of the product is clearly the star of the show, which is a textbook case of selling the service before the source. Copy explains how the Koehler Group in Germany uses the servers to efficiently manage its operation on a 24/7 basis.

It's not until the tagline?"Itanium+integrity. And on and on"?and the presentation of the co-branded Intel and HP logo that the source of this service is fully established. If anything, Intel and HP are almost too modest, but we prefer advertisers err on the side of modesty.

A final example is from IBM Corp., which also uses a product-solution case history to establish the value of its service before it establishes the source in the closing lines of text and the familiar-looking logo. IBM illustrates the ad with the visual of a Santa Barbara County sheriff's officer handling a call on a robin's egg blue highway. Brightly written copy explains that the cops were spending too much time in court presenting evidence and not enough time on the street. To solve the problem, IBM designed an in-car digital video solution to record criminal activities and upload secure files directly to the station. It's a superb example of selling the service before selling the source.

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