Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Abandon Hope, part trio

This is Part Three of a series of posts critiquing the ads in the National Post’s Special Report on Small Business for Oct. 17. So far we’ve chronicled good, bad and ugly. What’s next?

How about “confusing?”

I’m a big fan of Mastercard’s long-running “priceless” campaign. (“There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's MasterCard.”) But the 1/3 page color ad on page 9 disrupts the usual rhythm and leaves me clueless. It shows a young couple hanging a “Grand Opening” sign over a storefront. The headline reads: “New store: $0. Moving the business out of the basement: priceless.”

What does this mean? Nothing - until you look down to the bottom of the ad and read about MasterCard’s new contest offering you a chance to win a $50,000 “business building fund” every time you use your MC BusinessCard card. (Yes, it really said “BusinessCard card.” Wordsmithing is not dead, it’s merely languishing, starving, in a forgotten storage room on Madison Avenue.)

That’s a pretty compelling benefit. Too bad they played coy. I bet very few people go from the puzzling headline to the explanatory copy; they’ll just shrug and move on.

Why not come out and say “Win $50,000 just for using your MasterCard.” Expecting people to read on when your copy confuses them is like expecting the rain to stop just because you've stepped out without an umbrella. Sorry: the world doesn't wait for you to explain yourself.

Pages 10 and 11 feature a one-third-page CIBC ad staring down TD’s half-page ad. I credit CIBC for trying to tell a story - in logical order, no less!

The head says “Helping your business succeed.” (Not too original, is it?) The photo shows a confident-looking woman standing in front of a shop that says “Beth’s Books,” while a workman teetering on his ladder is trying to add on three more letters: “.com” The benefit line below promises “Smart banking solutions to help you achieve your goals.”

It’s not much of a story. But a chance for readers to build a narrative line with CIBC as the hero.

Two quibbles: does “dot.com” on the end of a business really reflect people’s goals today? That seems very 1999.
And this may just be me, but I bet very few entrepreneurs consider bookstore owners as role models. They know a dying industry when they see it – and that going up against Amazon.com isn't any better than waiting on a street corner for Chapters/Indigo to scrape you off the bottom of their boot.

TD Canada Trust’s ad on the facing page shows an attractive young couple in a retail environment holding a sign that says “Grand Opening.” (Stop me if you've heard this one before.) “Here’s to the big dreams that help small businesses soar,” says the understated headline below. Yawn.

But wait! There are signs of intelligence in the body copy. TD cites its sponsorship of events across the country supporting Small Business Week as proof that it appreciates Canada’s hard-working business owners. It even invites you to a special web page for information on Small Business Week events in your area. Here’s an ad that’s not just about them – it offers a tangible, free benefit to me! Kudos to the TD for offering something that’s not just different, but useful.

Almost done. One post to go.

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