SO THERE IT IS, COMING AT ME OUT OF THE RADIO
The famous local radio host (who is obviously pretending to be live, since he's not on the air for another three hours) says something like this:
"You hear a lot of mortgage advertising here on [the name of this radio station], but one I've recommended for years is National Loans. [Not their real name.] They get you the lowest interest rates available. And the best loan for your situation. They have all kinds of loans. Right now, they have 3.875 percent on a 30-year fixed. And if you want to pull out some cash out for home improvements, they can do that, too."
Blah blah blah blah.
I don't even remember if there was a tagline.
There sure wasn't any effort at focus.
Low rates. All loans. Cash out re-fi.
It's an exercise in throwing a handful of stuff at the listener and hoping some of it sticks.
But it won't. Because nothing is sticky. It's calculated to make the listener glaze over and start thinking, "Do I need to cut my toenails?"
THERE MAY BE NO OTHER CATEGORY THAT BETTER DEMONSTRATES HOW NOT TO ADVERTISE
The word "Mortgage" is French for "death note." And that is a really apt metaphorfor much of the category's advertising.
It's so bad, I once wrote a book about it.
This was back in 2004.
It set a first-day sales record for Wizard Academy Press.
The book explained how bad the advertising is, and how to make it better.
Routinely, I'd get emails from advertisers who'd read the book. They'd say, "I loved your book! Here's my new commercial!"
And I'd listen to it or read the script, and I'd think, "OK, seems the only part you read was how not to do it."
Why don't these guys pay attention? It's not complicated.
The book was called Million-Dollar Mortgage Radio.
YES, IT SOUNDS REALLY BORING
It's also mercifully short.
And as one reviewer said, "If I only owned one book on Radio it would be this one. I'm a little bummed the title says Mortgage Radio since truly this is a radio copywriter's secret weapon...no matter what the product."
But if what we do here in the screed is learn from other people's mistakes, the mortgage category is a brilliant learning tool.
Let's take the message mentioned at the beginning of the screed. Let's forget the category for a second.
What advertiser on a radio station wants to hear himself lumped in with all the other advertisers in the category that aren't endorsed by this host?
"THANKS GIVING US YOUR MONEY, BUT YOU'RE NOT AS GOOD AS THIS GUY!"
There's a way to win friends and influence people.
Now, the jab at the other advertisers aside, here's the problem with advertising, "Low rates!"
It's the price of entry.
Nobody wants to pay high rates.
What customer wants to pay more? None.
You also can't throw a series of bullet points at a customer and expect it to mean anything.
You. Need. Focus.
You need to pick one thing to talk about.
You need to make it matter to one person.
DO THAT, AND ONE PERSON WILL CARE
And then, that one person will call.
Along with a whole bunch of other individuals just like him or her.
This works. That simple.
But, I was thinking, Am I being too hard on the category? Should I cut them some slack?
So I started by looking at that advertiser's website.
No, I'm not being too hard.
"Welcome to National Loans, one of the leading mortgage companies in the city."
How's that for a meaningful introduction?
"IT'S ALL ABOUT US AND NOT ABOUT YOU!"
The site's copy was blossoming with words and phrases listed in the Little Boy's Big Book Of Hackneyed Copywriting.
"Lowest rates ."
"Level of service."
"In business for XX years."
"Better Business Bureau A+ rating."
"The best loan program for every individual situation."
"You won't find better rates or lower costs anywhere else."
"Trained and experienced."
AND JUST FOR FUN?
The copy shifts the narrative voice.
It starts by talking about "You," as a customer, then suddenly starts talking about customers as "Them."
And here's the kicker.
Buried way deep in the copy that doesn't demand to read, there's a feature that actually makes sense.
It could have been used to inform a brand direction.
It could have made the prospect feel good about the purchase.
It could have made this company matter.
And it was hidden down in the depths of banal words and lazy phrasing.
BUT STILL: AM I BEING TOO HARD ON THE CATEGORY?
So I continued searching the category.
National Loans (not their real name), meet State Loans (also not their real name).
But the names might as well be real. They're both close enough.
"Begin Your Dream of Home Ownership."
"Trust. Experience. Knowledge. Commitment."
"All loan programs available."
My favorite: "Do you qualify? Find out now in 60 seconds."
Is that now?
Or in a minute from now?
"Buying a home?"
"WE DO EVERYTHING AND WE STAND FOR NOTHING! WELCOME!"
I kept digging.
There is a bevy of brand names so generic, they could be interchangeable and they make the prospect feel nothing useful.
There's endless banal phrasing.
"Setting a higher standard."
"Putting customers first."
"Get started on your journey to home ownership."
"Becoming a Homeowner In This State Has Never Been Easier."
"One of the state's premier mortgage lenders." With the name of the state spelled wrong. Nice.
Here's my favorite, which does actually take a stab at differentiation and giving the prospect a reason to care--but in doing so, shoots itself in the foot: "We are a 100% referral-based business. 100% of our business comes from folks like you."
THEN WHY ARE YOU ADVERTISING?
The copy goes on to proclaim they don't need any of the elements of good branding. They actually profess to be immune to things that help the prospect recall them and feel good about the business.
I dug through pages of Google search results and plowed through paragraphs of trite and trivial copywriting hoping to find something that matters.
And I did.
It wasn't brilliant.
BUT IT WAS AN HONEST AND THOUGHTFUL EFFORT TO MATTER
Many of these websites have generic videos offering words, and the company names are tacked on.
But this guy (whose company name was not grand and stately, but small and folksy) brands himself as "A better way to mortgage."
And down the page is a video, not fancy, not slick, just very real and honest, in which the guy explains "Four simple steps to your best loan."
And the website reinforces that simplicity.
Yeah, it has some typical mortgage website stuff. Loan calculator. Rates.
But ultimately, it's very simple, very clear, and wants you to have "A better way to mortgage" through four simple steps.
IT'S JUST NOT THAT HARD
Stand for something.
Matter to your customer.
Make it simple.
Don't tell me you're honest and you put the customer first. Show me. Demonstrate your worth.
Define your core customer, and deliver one coherent message that makes the customer feel one right thing about your business.
We can all do this. The size of the business doesn't matter.
Yes, mortgage advertising has rules and regs that most of the rest of us don't.
They also have a much higher-value customer than most of us do. They can afford to hire advertising people who Get It.
If you can't or won't do it yourself, hire a real pro. Not the guy with the lowest fees. Someone with obvious proficiency.
A real pro understands how to tap into the advertiser's psyche, the customer's psyche, and bring them together in a place where magic happens and the phone rings.
That's today's soapbox. And please, do not go buy Million-Dollar Mortgage Radio.Check it out on Amazon, and if you really think you want it, I will send you a hard copy for free. Just send an email to submissions at slow burn marketing dot com. This offer is good until May 15, 2017. Which you can remember because it's also everyone's favorite holiday, Relive Your Past By Listening To The First Music You Ever bought No Matter What It Was No Excuses Day. Really.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.