Speaking directly: Mag ads need to motivate consumers to act

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.Strategy also...

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.

Strategy also invites other news items or column submissions for this section. Enquiries should be directed to Mark Smyka, editor, (416) 408-2300.

A recent, albeit unscientific, survey of magazine ads leads me to the conclusion that advertising may be contributing to its own obsolescence by simply being what it has always been, and not adapting to the reality of today’s competitive marketplace.

To wit, only a handful of the ads that I read carried any call to action on the part of the reader.

And, those that did often used that insipid little phrase, ‘For more information, call 1-800…’

In other areas of marketing, organizations have fully embraced the important concept of customer dialogue (such as the 1-800 ‘customer information’ telephone numbers, customer-focussed service types, and so on) but not in the glossy world of four-color, full-page magazine advertising.

At its root, I suppose, is the notion that such ads are museum pieces (suitable for framing, perhaps); messages of a higher plane than their newspaper cousins, which tend to be retail- or results-oriented.

Thus, art direction, photography and typography are pre-eminent factors in the creation of such messages. Reader response is not even on the agenda. Yet, response is a fundamental idea behind media advertising, is it not?

Here are three examples.

ibm has a print advertising execution of its television commercial promoting its involvement with the 1994 Commonwealth Games.

Neither the tv commercial nor the print advertisement solicit any type of consumer response, and, it is possible that such names would have no value.

But, then, isn’t this the same ibm that is testing direct marketing of its pcs?

I wonder if a postcard offering an ibm product catalogue would have any value to individuals who, for one reason or another, are impressed by ibm’s affiliation with the 1994 Games?

Nokia, the cellular telephone maker, has a print ad headed ‘Congratulations, Elvis.’

What an opportunity to offer Elvis Stojko fans a poster, reinforcing the endorsement of one by the other. What an opportunity to collect names of potential customers for a myriad of future purposes. Opportunity lost.

Canadian Airlines International’s series of magazine ads, ‘We bring Canada to the rest of the World,’ look like miniature travel posters (which they probably are.)

Perhaps interested travellers might like a set of these images (without the advertising copy), which Canadian could no doubt offer on a full-cost-recovery basis, at the same time picking up a few new customers.

The point is, media advertising should generate names for the company’s marketing database, at least on a test basis, that is, until it is proven that such efforts do not pay.

The second point is that the phrase ‘for more information’ foregoes one last opportunity in the body copy of an ad to drive home its central message for those handful of readers who have stuck with you.

You tell me which is more compelling, if this was your ad:

‘For more information, call 1-800-555-1212,’ or, ‘For an informative booklet on the 12 ways that ‘X’ can improve your life/home/sales/profits/gas mileage call Robin at 1-800-555-1212.’

(Incidentally, everyone there would be named Robin.)

Provided, of course, that you are prepared to actually send the booklet in a timely fashion. And, that’s another story.

David Foley is a marketing consultant and an instructor in database marketing at York University in Toronto. He may be reached at (905) 940-8784; fax (905) 940-4785.