The Best Ads

How do you rank one ad as being better than other ads? Is rating advertising an objective act based on measurable criteria or is it subjective, based on whether you liked the model in that commercial or not?

There are 3 simple ways to rate the quality of an advertisement:

1. Popularity – how much the audience likes the ad. This appreciation could have different causes for each individual and each advertisement, but the end result is pretty much the same – people remember it, talk about it with their friends and family and when they come across that product / service / brand in real life, they’re reminded of that ad and how it made them feel.

2. Conversion – how well these ads convert viewers into customers (or subscribers). Compared to online and direct mail advertising, TV commercials and their conversions are somewhat difficult to measure accurately. However, the link between ad exposure and new customers is real and and an effective way to measure the success of an ad. It also goes on to show that popular commercials do not necessarily convert the best (just as in e-mail marketing, the most popular headlines may get the best open-rates but not the best conversion rates).

3. Overcoming Resistance – how well the ad overcomes initial doubt and answers questions. Traditional marketing (or as Seth Godin calls it, interruption marketing) has the unpleasant side-effect of being resisted by its target audience. Take TV commercials – they are almost always an interruption to the narrative that you’ve invested time and emotions in (i.e. your favourite TV show) and viewers can’t wait for them to end. By overcoming this resistance quickly and effectively, an ad can do really well.

Ideally the best ad would tick all three boxes – it would be entertaining and memorable, it would convert well and it would look nothing like an ad.

Most of the time though, advertising agencies go for the memorable option because they are trained at interruption marketing and know how to attract attention best – they have time-tested and proven formulas that work. This is why you’ll see people talk about branding and mindshare in vague terms and discuss ‘getting the name out’ as opposed to ‘effective advertising’ – by monitoring conversion and improving the effectiveness of their ads through reduced initial resistance.

The above model can be used to ‘create’ great advertising and TV commercials, but it’s not complete. It’s missing something essential, something that ad agencies tend to ignore.

The best ads are those that the audience WANTS to see

Imagine that. Instead of forcing people to see your ads by sending emails, direct mail, buying ad slots on TV, etc, you create advertising that your core audience will want to see – and will make an effort to see it.

Instead of working on how to interrupt the narrative most effectively to attract attention, you turn things around and figure out what your audience will be most attracted to based on their specific personal desires (as opposed to using trite psychological cues such as attractive models, lots of smiles, bright colours, excessive repetition and outrageous claims).

That means:

  • no interruptions (or better yet, a continuation of the narrative),
  • directly related to their needs,
  • a memorable pitch that sticks in their minds and
  • a easy, quick way to take action

We have way too many things demanding for our attention at the same time – it’s difficult for us to choose and this problem of information overload is going to keep getting worse. Advertising can adapt in two ways:

  • Commercials can get increasingly better at ‘interrupting’ (read annoying)
  • Advertisers can flip it around and get their prospects to actively take an interest in their ads

Which one do you think will work best in the future?

Once you create the right conditions, you as an advertiser don’t need to worry about creating interest or reducing resistance – both of these things would be automatically taken care for you. When it comes to resistance, it’s all about how well an ad sidesteps resistance in the first place, not how well it overcomes that resistance. When it comes to interest, it’s about tapping the interest already present, not about creating new interest in the prospect.

This article was originally written 11 Feb 2008 for

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