Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Abandon Hope all ye who read SB Week ads

Small Business Week is almost here, so the media are unleashing their “Special Reports” on small business in order to get ads from guilt-edged advertisers who need to be seen supporting Canada’s entrepreneurs.

(When I was editor of PROFIT Magazine, I used to get frustrated that we couldn't do something similar. But since we covered small business year-round, there was really nothing special for us to say this time of year. As I used to tell people, “At PROFIT, every week is Small Business Week.”)

Anyway, today was the National Post’s turn to release a 14-page supplement on Small Biz, so I thought I’d leaf through the pages and annotate the ads – to spare you the trouble.

Ad 1, on pg 3, is a half-page color ad from RBC with a bad graphic – a giant hand holding a little business card. The business card doesn’t stand out, but if you take the time to read it, it says “Marcus Evans: Small Business Owner, Sales, Marketing, Reception, Bookkeeper, Payroll Manager, Reception.” So the entrepreneur is a multi-tasker? How novel. (Not!)

But the main headline makes up for the intellectual vacuity of the photo. Managing to be knowing, authoritative and caring at the same time, it says: “If you don't have time to talk, it’s probably time to talk.” Kudos for great copy, despite the uninspiring graphic.

Ad 2 is an Intel 1/3 pager on Page 4. I’m not usually sure what Intel is advertising at the best of times, but this is not even a good time. The picture shows a woman reading some book below a big white lamp. The headline is: “with Intel built in, Mission Critical has reassurance built in.” I have no idea what that means.

To figure it out, you have to read some very small type that’s white on black. In other words, you really need to care. But why would you? There’s nothing remotely compelling or relevant about this ad so far.

(Okay, okay. In case you're wondering, the small type at the bottom says: KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON (that would explain the big white lamp in the photo): Thanks to Intel Centrino Duo mobile technology, a small Canadian business like Mission Critical Unmanned Services can survey low-lying power lines where cabling is not an option…zzzzz” (Three more boring sentences deliberately omitted here.)

I’m all for case studies and testimonials in ads, but this reads like a technical manual. Memo to agency: good copywriting is normally a pre-req for getting into this business.

Plus, using a case study doesn't mean that you have to muscle the reader out of the ad. If they can't see themselves in the picture alongside the chosen example, they won’t care what you're advertising. And don't expect busy, self-absorbed people like entrepreneurs to go reading the fine print just to find a reason to like you.

Good news for Intel, though. On the same page the Post offers a headline that is not only dull, but offers an evil double-meaning. It makes Intel’s copy look good by comparison. The offending headline? “Customs broker helps slow border tie-ups.”

This is taking longer than I expected. More in the next post.

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