Why writing ads is like diapering a water tank


This fabulous quote about writing ads is from noted copywriter and advertising executive Philip Dusenberry, who chaired BBDO and was responsible for the famed Pepsi tagline, The Choice of a New Generation.

It’s funny, but it also points out an interesting notion about what’s required when writing ads. Let’s compare your typical ad to an average ransom note. (OK, maybe not an average ransom note. How many people are ransoming fashion accessories?)

Writing ads vs. writing ransom notes

writing-ads-versus-ransom-notes-2  writing-ads-versus-ransom-notes

What do we notice?

For one thing, the ransom note is chock full of persuasion. Assuming you give a damn about your scarf collection, to the tune of one million smackers, you’re going to be easily persuaded to do what the note says.

Meanwhile, the print ad intends to be persuasive by using a clever image. We know, of course, that no reasonable township is putting diapers on their water tanks. Who has that kind of budget? But we understand what the ad is driving at. We get it. And if we find it amusing, it may persuade us not necessarily to believe that this diaper can stop a bursting water tank, but that it might do the job for our newborn’s over-productive bladder. And even more importantly, that it’s amusing enough to like the brand.

Which brings us to likability. The ransom note scores pretty low on likability. After all, it’s a threat. A good one, perhaps, but a threat nonetheless. Most people don’t like being threatened. The print ad, on the other hand, is clever, unusual, and invites us into the joke quickly and amiably. It’s likable.

Also, there’s a big difference in the way each approaches us, the audience. While the ransom note threatens to do something to us, the print ad promises to do something for us. It promises us that it’s excellent at doing its job of leakage protection and that we can rely on it.

Writing ads also typically means rallying around a greater concept, while ransom notes are very direct and to the point. While the crux of the ad is its cleverness, the ransom note, again, is a simple threat.

Last but not least, both the print ad and the ransom note include a call to action. This is the moment where each ask (or tell) us to do something. The print ad wants us to go to the brand’s website to continue the story, while the ransom note wants us to pony up a million bucks. While not all print ads include calls to action, all ransom notes invariably do.

So, to examine Dusenberry’s original point, while writing ads can be profitable for both the writer and the client, writing ransom notes yields profit only for the ransomer, and at a potentially considerable cost.

See how a writer can help you be more profitable.

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