"WHAT AM I SAYING?"
No, not me, your faithful rantmeister.
You. As the advertiser.
What are YOU saying?
And TO WHOM are you saying it?
Does your message make a point?
Does it evoke an emotional response?
Or does it just lie there, like a dead fish, lacking any purpose in the world?
HMM. SOUNDS LIKE ADVERTISING EXISTENTIALISM.
"Oh, man. Existentialism? There he is, going all long-haired and philosophical on us. What a waste of time!"
Because this is ultimately about not flushing advertising money down the commode.
But maybe we need to ask, what IS existentialism, anyway?
Besides a fulltime pursuit for intolerable bores and miserable people (as one philosophy major I know once described existentialists), existentialism is fundamentally about one thing: meaning.
For a little backstory, let's visit Demark in the 1800s , and a young gentleman who is a philosopher, theologian, poet and social critic with a fondness for irony, parables and metaphor.
His name is Søren Kierkegaard. (Yes, I know a smattering of Danish. I sound like one of those newscasters of Hispanic heritage who speaks perfect, unaccented American English until they say their own name.)
KIERKEGAARD IS CONSIDERED THE FIRST EXISTENTIALIST PHILOSOPHER
And he proposed that each of us--you, me, Mom, the milkman, their child--each of us is personally responsible for giving authentic and passionate meaning to life.
To dumb this down for the overtaxed mind of us 21st century marketing folks, let's turn to Existentialism For Dummies.
Yes, I have a copy in front of me. It's easier than hiring a philosophy professor. And it was written by two philosophy professors.
The first paragraph of the first chapter of the book is exactly eight words long.
"Existentialism is the philosophy that makes life possible."
HOW'S THAT FOR SIMPLE?
The philosophy that makes life possible.
So, by that measure, what is advertising existentialism?
Advertising existentialism is the philosophy that makes sales possible.
I just wrote that.
So, now what?
What does that mean?
Well, advertising is a sales message.
A philosophy is an idea, an attitude, a viewpoint, a way of thinking, even a way of life.
So, advertising existentialism is a way of thinking about sales messages that go out into the world
To make that sales message worthwhile, it must have purpose and meaning.
AN ADVERTISING MESSAGE HAS TO MEAN SOMETHING
Unfortunately, most advertising messages are an exercise in meaninglessness.
This not a swipe at small-business advertising.
It is not a swipe at big-agency advertising.
It is a swipe at meaningless advertising.
Look around you.
There are messages without meaning coming at you every minute of every hour of every day unless you live like Ted Kaczynski, in a remote wilderness shack without electricity or indoor plumbing.
And the height of his anti-social behavior is a whole other brand of existentialism we will not visit here, other than to say his message was clear. Kaboom.
MEANINGLESSNESS DOES NOT ENGENDER A SENSE OF WORTH OR VALUE
And ultimately, advertising has to convey some sense of worth or value.
It can be as simple as guaranteeing the lowest price of any national chain motel while making you feel special.
Or it can be as lofty as being entrusted with delivering excellence and value in the form of a $350,000 car that belies a vision of changing the world.
Motel 6, meet Rolls Royce.
That's quite a range of worth and value. Many, many others fall in between on that vast spectrum. Your business is probably one of them.
So, here now, an example of a common kind of co-op advertisement.
A PHOTOGRAPH OF A PRODUCT
The product might be a refrigerator. Hard to be certain.
Above the photograph is the local advertiser's name, which you may not know.
Beneath the photograph is the manufacturer's name, which you also may not know.
And that's all.
If the need for worth and value are a given, does this advertisement measure up?
What is it saying?
Who is it saying it to?
Does it make a point?
Does it evoke an emotional response?
IT'S EXPENSIVE AND IT'S UNCLEAR
Some manufacturer probably paid a lot of co-op money.
And the local advertiser probably paid more money.
And the only message is a Post-It Note that says, "If you know who we are, and what this is, we sell it."
As a bonus, this ad is on a billboard.
So the person reading it has very little time to process it.
And there's almost nothing to process.
Especially in the context of 70-mile-an-hour traffic, if you don't give the reader some reason to pay attention, the advertising has no reason for being.
SO HOW ABOUT THIS...
Instead of the advertiser's name at the top of the ad, how about a headline?
"This Swiss refrigerator is cooler than your German car."
And then, at the bottom, the brand name and the advertiser's name.
What is it saying? What point is it making to whom?
It's saying, "You are a certain kind of person with a certain kind of taste. Even if you've never heard of it, this product is for you. We have it here."
And does it evoke an emotional response? Of course it does. Suddenly, for the person who likes precision cars and enjoys a luxury lifestyle, it evokes intrigue, curiosity, amusement, interest, maybe even desire.
SUDDENLY, THE MESSAGE CONVEYS A SENSE OF WORTH AND VALUE
And all it took was took nine words.
I wrote in less time than it took me to explain it.
Of course, I'm conditioned. I am immersed in a mindset of advertising existentialism. I see or hear a meaningless ad and I want to apply meaning.
I also write these kinds of things daily.
But I wasn't born this way.
I've learned to think this way.
And the extent of my training and my learning by doing might make me faster at it.
But it doesn't make me special.
And anyone who creates advertising or buys advertising or sells advertising is able to ask the question...
DOES THIS MATTER?
Does this message tell the reader anything?
What is the message?
What does the reader take away?
What are we doing this for?
Having seen the message, how should the reader feel now?
And what should they do next?
One of the problems with really good advertising is that it seems effortless.
And when something seems effortless, people often don't think very hard about doing it.
YOU HAVE TO THINK HARD ABOUT DOING IT
Because if you don't, the advertising is good money spent badly.
Talking about a billboard (which, in this case, could've just as easily been a print ad) is pretty simple to do.
Talking about this in the context of radio or TV advertising is a bigger challenge because of all the moving parts.
People think websites are immune to this problem. Website frequently exhibit this problem, possibly more so than any other medium.
Pay-per-click advertising. When was the last time you saw a pay-per-click ad that made you care? Most of the time, you just gloss right over them.
For everything, it’s still the same, fundamental problem.
Radio especially is crawling with immature writers who don't understand how to craft a relevant message.
But you find those people everywhere, even in ad agencies. As an advertising copywriter, the Fabulous Honey Parker was once teamed with an ad agency art director whose only goal was not to create advertising that sells, but create advertising that wins an award.
THAT IS NOT THE MISSION
The mission of any advertising professional is to craft a message that resonates with the prospect in a way that turns him into a buyer.
The advertising professional is presumably trained in this.
To have any other goal is corrupt.
To not know that's your goal is negligent.
To be a small-business owner who isn't trained this way is a fact of life.
Learning to think this way is actually pretty easy. It's harder to find someone who will tell you as much.
So here it is: a guy telling you as much.
Be an advertising existentialist.
Ask what and why.
Your advertising will thank you by sending you more customers.
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.