We live in a world where vintage is cool and yet, advertisers don’t seem to be aware of this. Sure, they may be aware that hipsters exist, after all, they use them in adverts all the time. However, they don’t make a connection between their adverts and what the hipster wants. Classic Advertising! In this article, we’re going to look at some good old fashioned advertising techniques from the glory days of marketing and show you how to use them.
Here is an example of lazy advertising:
Why is it lazy? Because everything about it screams, “we’re jumping on the bandwagon and we’re not really sure why.”
Ok, so they’ve got the hipster premise and they’ve dressed an older gentleman up in some silly clothes with the slogan ‘it’s better feeling young on the inside’. Great, so who is the target audience? It’s almost impossible to tell. If it’s young people then they aren’t going to buy the slogan. If it’s for older people, they aren’t going to buy the design. In other words, it isn’t targeted. Instead, it’s using a concept because it’s popular, not because it markets their product.
There’s a lot of advertising like this which makes it to print and lot of agencies who are willing to pump it out. Of course, not every idea will be a good one, but there really is no excuse for not taking your audience into consideration when making campaigns.
Too much of today’s advertising seems to come from the thinking that ‘Well, it looks cool and people like [insert popular thing here], so let’s go with it.’ However, in the immortal words of Peter Griffin ‘that really grinds my gears.’ With just a little more thought, you can turn something ordinary into something extraordinary and we’re going to show you how.
How Advertising Works
The first thing to do if you want to understand how advertising works is to take a closer look at adverts. According to marketing firm Yankelovich, Inc., we are exposed to approximately 5000 ads a day. Therefore, there is no shortage of material to work from.
As marketers, we really need to learn to pay attention to the adverts which stand out and look at why they grab our attention. Most advertising can be split into two camps, Direct Marketing and Brand Awareness.
When it comes to affiliate marketing, we are all about Direct Marketing. We play the short game and we want results. Therefore, we need advertising which is decisive. Major companies, however, use a mixture of short (Direct Marketing) and long-game (Brand Awareness) advertising. We’ll be looking at both because they can be equally useful if you want to gain an edge over your competitors.
Adverts which are created simply to promote brand awareness will not necessarily have an obvious message. If this is the case, consider how you feel about the company after seeing/watching their ad. A good example of this is Guinness’s 1999 ad ‘Surfer’.
In this landmark TV ad, the original proposal wasn’t to get more gallons down gullets but to make consumers value the time it takes to properly pour a Guinness, rather than view the wait as a disadvantage. In short, it was about changing the company’s image by turning a negative aspect into a positive.
The result was a beautifully executed short film, with incredible visuals that showed surfers waiting for just the right moment to surf the wave of a lifetime. As well as promoting the wait, the advert also went one step further, and put an obstacle in people’s way. As the ads copywriter Tom Carty describes, “Instead of making the kind of surf film where people say, ‘Hey, I’d like to do that,’ we wanted to say, ‘Maybe you should think twice about coming out here.‘” By doing this, it lifted the perception of Guinness to something more than ‘just a drink’.
Brand Awareness is all about establishing a connection between the ad and the brand in people’s minds so that the next time they walk into a shop, pub, etc, they subconsciously make the association between your product and how your ad made them feel. It acts as a delayed CTA, which is designed to trigger the customer to choose their product when the time comes.
Direct Marketing should aim to reverse the brand awareness principle. In other words, rather than hoping to create an emotion which triggers later, it should play to the emotions people have stored up and trigger them at that moment. This means getting across a lot more information in a much shorter space of time, which is much easier said than done.
Luckily, in digital marketing, we can create and control the scope of our sales funnels much more easily than classic marketers. For example, we can actually use a mixture of Brand Awareness and Direct Marketing, to get consumers primed and ready for the sale. Take the humble blog post for example. Most people go to blogs looking for answers and advice. Blogs can then provide the answers and links to possible solutions. This is similar to the Brand Awareness stage. If they trust the source of the information, then people will trust the information and be more likely to buy.
Once they click a link on the blog, they will go to a page that has more information about the product described and why it will work for them. The copy on this page could then drive them towards a CTA, enticing them to buy there and then. This is the Direct Marketing stage. It’s important to understand that these stages are different because if you use Direct Marketing on your Awareness page then you can put people off. The same is true vice versa. For example:
Blog Post/Brand Awareness
‘When I was 13 I really wanted this really cool red bike. I dreamed about it every day and saved up my pocket money for 18 months just to buy it. When I finally got it, it was the best feeling in the world…’
‘This really cool red bike could be yours for just $129.99! That’s right, you could own a piece of history! Take to the road and be the envy of all of your friends by purchasing this legendary machine. It even comes with bespoke handles and free decals. Get it before it’s gone.’
As you can see, Brand Awareness is all about creating a story, whereas Direct Marketing is about driving home the sale.
Classic Brand Awareness vs Direct Marketing
Notice how the ad above builds up an image in the readers’ minds in order to trigger an emotive response.
‘The bucket seats, the rich appointments add to your big time feeling…you’re quite a guy…successful, and if you aren’t exactly handsome, the car can do a lot for almost any face.’
This is a classic example of get the car, get the girl and be somebody, even if you look like Shrek.
What really matters here is the image and the story. Now, the reader can go home with this vision of the lifestyle they want and they can dwell on it. They can look at their own lives and be disappointed. It’s the classic ‘the grass is always greener’ effect. The next time they see a Buick, they’ll think about the ad and the kind of lifestyle the person who drives it has and they’ll want it. The 2D printed version of the car will become a reality and the ugly git driving it will be the person they aspire to be. Eventually, when it’s time for a new one, they’ll be more likely to choose a Buick.
Notice also, there is a call to action at the end, but it’s not strong and is there just to nudge the reader in case didn’t realise they could test the car out.
Is this good marketing? Well, it’s a little generic and not particularly creative. In fact, it could even be considered lazy, but it looks good. However, it’s certainly not on the same level as Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB’s) Volkswagen ads.
There’s only one year’s gap between the 1962 VW ad and the 1963 Buick Ad, but as you can see, while the layout remains similar, the picture and the message are wildly different. With DDB, you’re getting a compare and contrast story, with each additional point promoting the brand and the car. With Buick, you’re getting, ‘sex sells’ and “look at how bad your life is. This would make it better.” Both have potential, but the VW ad is far better quality as it builds the product up as an all American icon.
In this ad, the purpose is to get people to cut out the coupon and send it off to join the book club. Notice how the ad is split into different sections. It has a headline that requires further reading in order to find out the answer. Then, in the first section they lead the reader in with a question.
‘WILL YOU ADD these three volumes to your library - as an introductory offer made only to new members of The Classics Club?’ This section then outlines the offer.
Next, under ‘Why are Great Books Called “Classics”?’ they explain why some books are considered ‘classics‘. This lends authority to their product, much like a blog. It tells the readers why they should buy.
In the third section, ‘Only Book Club of Its Kind’, they explain why the reader should buy from them and not someone else. This lends authority to the company. It also outlines the benefits they will have from choosing their club.
The final section definitively states the offer with a clear call to action to ensure that customers know exactly what to do. ‘Mail the Invitation Form now.’
This ad provides a whole sales funnel from A-Z in a very short space of time and it highlights how condensed you can make your information. For a marketplace where audience attention spans are decreasing, tactics like this might be worth adapting and trying out.
How to Harvest the Fruits of Fortune from Classic Advertising Campaigns
Now that we’ve looked at the differences between Brand Awareness and Direct Marketing in Classic Advertising, it’s time to see how we can cherry pick the juiciest bits for our campaigns. In order to do this, it’s best to break down individual ads into their most basic components and keep the bits you like and toss the ones you don’t.
The component parts to focus on are:
- Product Messages: Benefits/Features
- Calls To Action
- Images and Layouts
Here is an advert which covers nearly all of these and highlights one of the key dividing lines between classic advertising and modern: courage of conviction!
We’ll discuss this ad in more detail further down, but for now, see how many of the key component parts you can spot and how they have been used.
Headlines! Make a Bold Claim
When was the last time you read a headline like the one above, which said, in no uncertain terms, ‘Here is the problem and this is the solution!’? Everything that needs to be said is said, and the rest is just clarification. In the mid-twentieth century, this type of advertising was commonplace, but it seems to have disappeared in favour of sentiment and intrigue, which is a shame.
If there’s one trick which marketers miss in the 21st century, it’s having a message and believing in it enough to say it simply and with authority. We are so used to companies understating their products that we don’t even notice it, but if you think back, 20 or so years, ads used to be much more ‘in-your-face’ than they are now. This is because the hard-line ‘we know what we’re talking about and you should trust us because we are the best’ has been replaced by clickbait such as ‘OMG, you’ll never believe what happened when I drank this new soda…’ or ‘10 reasons why this soda will blow your mind’. In fact, clickbait has become so popular that even ‘trusted’ news organisations like the BBC have been caught using it…
Because standards, who needs ‘em right?
Admittedly, it’s not the worst crime the BBC has committed, but it does go to show how marketing has a real impact on the way we receive and digest information and that even age-old institutions are not invincible.
One of the reasons companies steer clear of the type of claims used classic advertising may be due to the ‘compensation culture’. In a world where people will sue for even the most minor instances of false advertising, marketing giants need to be careful that they don’t overstate their clients’ products. However, that doesn’t mean you should always be afraid to put your money where your mouth is. You don’t need to overstate your claims if you believe you have a great product. If you want others to know it’s great, then tell them. Heck, your burger doesn’t have to save lives, but if you think it tastes good then it tastes good! Remember, no one can sue you for subjectivity. At least, we don’t think they can…
Just because classic advertisers weren’t working online, doesn’t mean they didn’t employ the same tactics as the clickbaiters of today. Let’s go back to the ad we mentioned earlier and take a closer look:
As you can see, they use the same clickbait tactic of withholding information and making you read further to find out what they know. They also make a bold claim that what they know will be enough to convince you that locating in Georgia is the best option.
Let’s take a look at the body copy.
By modern standards, the beginning is a little strange, but it’s important to remember two things: the age and the audience. This ad is from the September 1969 issue of ‘Nation’s Business’ and let’s face it, business English isn’t the sexiest thing in the world. However, the call to action is pretty hot.
‘Just about every fact you’ll need for a particular location in Georgia is stored in computer memory banks. And all you have to do to get the information is call 404-523-5357. Your request will be processed in minutes.’
Imagine that, all you have to do to get the information you need is call a number! What a wonderful time to be alive.
This is a great CTA as it lures the reader in and makes the process sound super simple. The tactic being employed here is offering value for effort; another trick people miss these days. It’s not quite the same as just saying something is really easy but rather, ‘for your phone call, we’ll give you this’. It’s a great touch and one which is supported by recent research done by behavioral economist Dan Ariely.
However , there’s also something else going on here.
When Text and Image Speak
Look at how the pride of New York, the Empire State Building is rising out of the rugged landscape of Georgia like an oasis in the desert. If there’s one place you’re going to go and get some information from it’s there. But hold up, the building is pointing to something. What’s that you say? Read here? Where it talks about computer memory banks and then leads into the CTA? Ah, because you’re a visual representation of Fantus’s data bank in the heart of Georgia and you want us to make a subconscious connection to reinforce the idea so that we call. Very clever!
You see, good visual advertisers really know how to make their images connect to the text. Consider the relation between text and image in this ad to the one at the beginning with the geriatric hipster and you’ll see why the earlier ad is lazy. Combining image and text so that they support each other in this way can be really fun to play with if you’re doing your own campaigns, and it’s a great skill to practice.
Sourcing Classic Ads for Inspiration
The internet is filled with Classic ads, however, if you want to find a treasure trove of past examples of advertising displayed in their original format then check out archive.org. The past copies of Esquire are a really good place to start. In fact, they weren’t really magazines at all, but glossy catalogs with a few articles thrown in wherever they could find space.
It looks bizarre and jarring to see so many ads, especially today when we expect ads to be set aside or disguised so that we barely even realize that they’re there. But this type of advertising allows you to pick out the ones which catch your eye and then dissect them to work out how and why they caught your attention.
Here are a few interesting examples of Classic Advertising which use different tactics to grab the readers’ attention.
This ad uses reverse psychology to build up a case for buying the car. The advertisers want people to know that if they buy it, they will be the centre of attention. They do this by telling them not to buy if they don’t want people to stare. Readers will then think, “Wait, I want to be the centre of attention!” It’s a really nice tactic and one you can quite easily use in your campaigns.
‘If you don’t want men to look at you, then don’t buy this bikini!’
‘If you don’t want people to try to steal your chips, then buy another brand.’
Turning Negatives into Positives
In this ad, they hook you with the headline ‘sixteen intolerant men’. Out of context, this seems like a definite negative. It also makes you want to find out why these men are so bad. When you read the ad, you quickly discover that they are intolerant of low standards, which is why they like the ‘Lincoln’. This is a great way to grab people’s attention and then quickly turn their initial reaction upside down.
This method will take a little more thought and planning, but can produce great results.
‘These women aren’t satisfied…Unless they have the best!’
‘Jim hates shaving! Which is why he uses…’
Wait, did they just insult me?
‘Oh! You mean my razor’s head. Well, gee whizz! Why didn’t you say so in the first place sport? I was about to get awful angry.’
This technique is similar to the last but requires a bit more thought and some clever copy. It can be achieved by thinking about all of the things your product does and then seeing what they sound like when you say them directly.
_‘Stuff your Face! With this delicious burger.’ _
‘Go fudge yourself! With our amazing fudge maker. Heck, why not fudge your whole family? Your grandma will love it.’
We’re not actually sure whether or not this one was meant to be taken seriously but it certainly gets your attention.
‘Buy this hat thing that this guy’s wearing! It’s like magic cloth for your head. It even doubles up as a tea cosy. Be the envy of all of your friends by, you know, sticking a badge in it or something or stuffing it into your pocket! That’s right, the ultimate hobo hat for “gentlemen” everywhere. Seriously, buy it! It’s not just made from cheap offcuts that we were going to throw away’.
‘Wow! Look at that! It’s roughly $5 and should be available in a place which sells it somewhere near you. Hurry before this baby’s no longer available. Seriously, take it! We don’t want it.’
This kind of campaign could work for its sheer novelty value, but the fact that the product died a death suggests that it wasn’t particularly effective.