The 7 Secrets of Successful Advertising (for 9-year Olds)

Computer work

I’ve just had to explain advertising to 60 9-year olds.

Let me explain. My son’s class (year 4) is studying persuasive writing – they’re creating posters, radio and TV ads to promote their chosen country (in my son’s case, Norway) – so I offered my services to come in and give them some tips.

It’s a worthwhile exercise working out how you’re going to explain something to a room full of children. It forces you to go back to basic principles and simplify things – to drop the jargon we might use in a roomful of our peers just to prove we’re ‘one of the club’.

But why am I sharing this with you? Most of you, I’m sure, are older than 9. Well, many of us get so bogged down with the tools, the media we use to reach our audience, that we lose sight of the basics of marketing – human psychology and the principles of persuasion. I’m a great believer that the most important things for marketers to understand are human beings and how and why their brands appeal to them, and not get too bogged down with the technical detail of how some of the tools our trade work.

OK, enough preamble – if you were a 9 year old, you’d be fidgeting in the front row by now. Here are the 7 principles of successful advertising I shared with my son’s class.

1. Know Your Audience

Pretty fundamental and I know I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, metaphorically speaking but I’m still surprised (well, a little shocked really) when I hear my peers talking about pushing destinations, hotels, room types, airline seats etc and not talking about the types of people they’ll be marketing those things to.

2. Grab Their Attention

I did my research and found out that estimates as to how many ads the average adult consumes in a day vary from 300 to 3,000. Clearly, if you want to deliver your desired message, you’ve got to get people’s attention first. To do that, you have to ignore your fundamental human instinct to fit in, and work out how you can stand out. You need to study what everyone else is doing and then do something that none of them are. That’s not as easy as it sounds, and it means you’re going to need to take some risks.

I worked on the very latest ‘Find Your Amazing’ TV ad for Kuoni (including an arduous trip to the Maldives to supervise the shoot – I don’t need your sympathy) and the first half of the ad was all about capturing the audience’s attention. Of course, a woman walking on water is pretty likely to capture somebody’s attention but, in this case, don’t underestimate the power of the music. The fact it started almost inaudible, compared to the instantaneous blaring of the ads surrounding it was just as important – it made people look up from what they were doing and give it their undivided attention.

3. Talk About Features, Not Benefits

This was the very first thing I was taught as a early 20-something graduate selling advertising space for Marketing Week. It means, don’t talk about your product, talk about what your product can do for your audience.

So for my son’s Norway promotion, I told him not to talk about the mountains but tell people what they can do in the mountains – walk, cycle etc. Tell a story and place your audience in that story as the leading characters.

4. Make Them Like You by Using People Like Them in Your Adverts

Showing your audience ‘people like them’ in your ads works on a couple of levels. It makes them like your brand more – people like people like them – and it provides a degree of social proof (I want to buy a product which other people like me buy).

Remember, people often buy things – particularly premium goods – to bridge a gap between their self perception and how they’d like to be perceived. They want to look at idealized versions of themselves – better looking, younger – rather than reality.

5. Tell Them What to Do Next

Ignore your advertising agency here, who want you ad to look all beautiful and clean and not get cluttered up with a call to action. If you tell someone what to do, they’re more likely to do it – it’s just the way we’re programmed. If you want your ad to exist as a work of art, then leave a CTA out. If you want it to deliver some sort of commercial return, put one in.

6. Make Them Think That If They Don’t Do Something Now, They’ll Miss Out

Again, we’re back to the fundamentals of human psychology – sales and limited time offers work because we hate to miss out. Nothing seems more desirable when it’s about to be taken away. Just witness the mayhem that Black Friday unleashed.

7. Always Include Your Logo and Strapline

Ok, I really am teaching my grandmother to suck eggs now. Nuff said.

That’s not a comprehensive list (I’m a sucker for alliteration and ‘7 Secrets’ sounded so much better than ‘8 secrets’) but it’s a not a bad little checklist and I hope you find it useful.

The other the piece of advice I’d give based on this little exercise? Next time you’re explaining your product, strategy (or anything really) to a roomful of your peers, imagine you’re writing it for a 9-year olds. Jargon clouds your meaning – simplicity is the key to successful communication, whether you’re talking to your peers, your customers or a roomful of children.

Advertising Creative – Why You Should Go with Your Gut

When I started my career in travel and tourism marketing, an old boss of mine (who now, I should add, is a good friend) had a particular habit when it came to appraising creative that used to drive me up the wall.


‘I don’t like it,’ he used to say. ‘Just get them to do it again.’


‘But what don’t you like about it?’ I would ask.


‘I just don’t like it. Get them to do it again,’ he would repeat.


No further promptings or pleadings would yield me any further information so my only feedback to an often perplexed agency would be, ‘Sorry, he doesn’t like it. Don’t ask me why. You’re going to need to do it again.’


Back then, I was hot out of sales. I was numbers driven and analytical – I wanted reasoned argument, not gut reaction.


Of course, I still appreciate numbers and analysis. But I understand my old boss better now, because there are times when the gut is better.


When someone shows you a piece of creative, go with your initial reaction. If you like it great. If not, throw it out.  Don’t try and second guess your target market if you’re not one of them. Why? Because:


A. You can’t.


B. Human beings tend to react to things in similar ways, so if you love it, your customers will probably love it. If you don’t, they probably won’t.


You can make this process more robust by showing it to some people who are in your target market, but then just gauge their gut reaction – don’t ask them to analyse it. It’s a false situation – only marketers analyse marketing – customers have better things to do with their lives.


And guard against all those agency tricks they use to get you to like their favoured creative.  All that preamble about their thinking and how they arrived at that solution. Your customers aren’t going to get an introduction when they see that ad. They’re not going to have 3 other versions to compare it to. They’re just going to see it – pure, unadulterated, unexplained.  You need to replicate that experience. Tell your agency to cut to the chase and show you their favoured creative – they shouldn’t need to explain it to you.


And while I’m on the subject of agencies, they always make your logo too small – probably because they know that whatever size they make it you’re going to ask them to make it bigger. ..

Happy 10th Birthday to 100% Pure New Zealand

Hats off to Tourism New Zealand – their consistency has been rewarded.


Congratulations to Tourism New Zealand on their ‘100% Pure New Zealand campaign’.


100 Percent Pure NZ - 10 Years Old

100 Percent Pure NZ - 10 Years Old

OK – so it first launched 10 years ago but Tourism New Zealand has just been voted ‘best at destination branding’ during a survey of their peers by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and European Travel Commission. ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ was the factor sited by their peers for the accolade.


I remember going to the launch at Vinopolis back in 1999 (showing my age…), a memorable event because Neil Finn of Crowded House played live, and I have to admit, I was a bit underwhelmed. It didn’t have the cleverness of the previous campaign – you remember, the one contrasting the stresses of London with the wavy green grass.


But sometimes us marketers are too clever for our own good and forget our target audience isn’t our peers.


“100% Pure New Zealand” is a simple but thoroughly researched and well thought through campaign that combines a clear brand strategy with great imagery and fantastic music. It gives a destination short on icons a clear, straightforward positioning, as relevant and appealing to audiences now as it was 10 years ago (and probably in 10 years time as well).


It struck me a while back that there’s much too much chopping and changing in the marketing profession. As each new Marketing Director comes in, they’re keen to make their mark and shake things up a bit – I’ve done it myself. New strategy, new campaign, new direction.


But people aren’t in the real world aren’t as intimately involved with our brand as we are. And neither do they get bored with something as quickly, because they’re not seeing it every day.  A consistent message delivered over a long period – as long as its consistent with brand’s essence – builds recognition, credibility and trust.


For example, I have no idea how long that Jack Daniels campaign has been running on the Tube but I recognise it instantly and often wander down the platform to stand opposite one because despite the campaign’s longevity, they’re always entertaining. In fact, over the years I’ve probably become a minor expert on whisky maturation and I don’t even drink the stuff.


And look at what that long running Patek Philippe campaign has done for them – from niche brand to the one of world’s most desired watches.


So when you’re starting in a new role, think twice before you dispense with the old campaign. It will mark you out as a considered individual, prepared to put ego to one side.


And if you do decide to make a change, just bear in mind that when you dispense with the bathwater, the baby just might go out with it too.