To find advertising success, focus on The One Thing. Yes, that is the crusty cowboy’s signature from the movie City Slickers. It is also the title of the New York Times bestselling book by Gary Keller which was published by Ray Bard at Bard Press. More than half of Bard Press publications hit top seller lists. Flip to the back cover of any Bard Press published books and you’ll see something interesting.
Quick! Describe the back cover content of every book you’ve seen. It’s predictable. There’s a predictable list of endorsements from a predictable list of endorsers. Being predictable is boring and doesn’t draw attention. Ray decided to try unpredictable. He put a massive question mark on the back of his book and nothing else.
Are you wondering what this has to do with advertising? The answer is “everything.” As Ray was thinking about his target customers (business people), he imagined where he would find them and thought about how to get their attention. Ray envisioned an airport concourse with a book stand. Thousands of people walk past the book stand and see hundreds of books. He envisioned the orientation of the books and realized the back covers would show through a glass bookcase and would be visible to people from 50 feet away. Ray made the back cover an ad that was interesting and different from all other books.
Yes, the content matters after you get people’s attention. But after listening to Ray spend an afternoon talking about books, I realized he didn’t even say anything about the content. It was all about the cover design and attracting attention by being interesting. What was the result?
- #1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller
- #1 Amazon Bestseller
- New York Times Bestseller
- USA Today Bestseller
- 200 Appearances on National Bestseller lists
- Translated into 24 languages
The reality is there are many great books just like there are many great bands. But not all bands become famous and not all great books become bestsellers. Ray knows this and he makes his book covers interesting and unpredictable.
Translate this insight to your ads
First, make sure your ads actually fill a need and are interesting to your target customers. Hubspot research shows that the number one reason people click on ads is because the content is of interest.
But this poll has an important assumption. It assumes you remember seeing the ad. Only 14% of users recall the last display ad they saw and the content it promoted.  So, first you have to make a memorable ad. Ray Bard answered this challenge by placing a giant question mark on the back of his book. You, too, must do something that is not predictable and simultaneously interesting.
I went to the New York Times website and grabbed the first 4 ads I saw. Here is your challenge. Identify anything that is both unpredictable and interesting to you.
- A mobile carrier claiming to have the fastest network
- The New York Times telling you should subscribe because Fall is coming. Really? Because all the prior seasons kept me from subscribing?
- A credit card company citing an interest rate.
- A new “premier” development advertising a house price that is only slightly higher than the median house price of $402k. Doesn’t sound very premier.
In the age of ad-blindness, how will these ads grab attention? How about some different headlines that are unpredictable and entertaining?
- Verizon: Your friends will beg you to slow down when you run at the speed of Verizon LTE.
- New York Times: Be the one your friends go to for answers. Start your New York Times subscription.
- Capital One: Start Living Now.
- Newport Beach Club: You live while others exist. Time to Live More.
We could refine these headlines further, but you get the point. Don’t be predictable. Be distinctive. Be interesting. This is how your advertising gets attention. Invoke the emotions of your target customers and do it in a surprising way. Surprise is always at the center of delight.
People Don’t Hate all Ads – Just Yours
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking users hate all ads and it doesn’t matter what you do. User surveys show that users don’t hate ads. Just the ones that are obnoxious and intrusive. In fact, almost half of people surveyed believe ad blockers should be used selectively.
Still skeptical? What do people talk about the day after the Super Bowl? Yes, entertaining and engaging ads are enjoyed and discussed by viewers. A significant number of people look forward to the ads as much as the game. Why? Because they are interesting!
Now Go & Be Interesting
It is time to review your advertising and ask yourself some tough questions:
- Are your ads predictable?
- Are your ads interesting?
- Are your ads relevant to your customers? (Or are they about you?)
- Are your ads intrusive?
- Do your ads seduce your customers to engage?
Great ads generate a positive emotional response in the viewer and people are thankful for seeing them. If that doesn’t characterize your ads, then it is time to change.