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Ad-libs: A simple way to develop ad campaign ideas

By John Foust

Raleigh, NC

Let’s say you’re meeting with a florist who has been running ads with the headline, “For all your floral needs.” Of course, you and I know this is an empty headline that speaks to no one in particular. It’s a terrible idea and a waste of the advertiser’s budget.

John Foust

What should you do?

1. Have a conversation. The first step is to diplomatically encourage the advertiser to consider something else. The headline – as weak as it is – may be near and dear to his or her heart. The florist has been spending money to run it, so don’t criticize. Simply say something like, “Your idea opens the door to a lot of ad possibilities. How would you feel about seeing where those possibilities lead?”

Every word of your statement is true. “All of your floral needs” does open the door to other ideas. And you do want to encourage a look at other possibilities.

This approach sends a signal that you are not looking for a quick, hit-and-run sale. You’re aiming for a low-pressure, collaborative effort to promote the florist shop.

2. Break it down. Like a technician who takes a machine apart to examine its inner workings, it’s important to learn specifics. What does “all” really mean? Make a list of the needs which the florist meets. It’s better to ask, “What do your customers need?” than, “What do you do?” That keeps the focus where it should be – on the florist’s customers.

As you go through the process, you’ll probably learn that the florist provides flowers for all kinds of occasions: weddings, anniversaries, proms, funerals, Christmas, church events, Valentine’s Day and birthdays, among many others. The point is to turn a generality into specifics. With the right details, you’ll have plenty of raw material for new ideas.

3. Develop a strategy. The next step is to look at the yearly calendar and figure out the best times to promote flowers for those occasions. While some are year-round and some are seasonal (Spring for wedding planning, for example), other occasions rely on the advertiser’s records and industry trends for development of an ad schedule and a creative strategy.

4. Create continuity. How are you going to tie everything together? Each ad should look like – and sound like – it comes from the same advertiser. There are a number of elements to consider: typography, color, illustrative style, ad sizes, frequency, coordination between print and digital and ways to link to their web site.

This four-step formula can help you generate more sales for your paper and for your advertisers. The end result will be a series of targeted and consistent messages, instead of the same watered-down ad over and over again. And the good news is that you don’t even have to start with a bad idea like, “for all your fill-in-the-blank needs.” Just start by figuring out what specific things your advertiser can do for their customers – and you’ll find that the future looks rosy.

(c) Copyright 2021 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

— John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information: [email protected]

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