Break through the clutter: Good advertising must have impact


Guess how many ads you are exposed to in a typical day. Fifty? A hundred? More?

The average consumer is exposed to more than 1,500 advertising messages every day. From billboards to bumper stickers, print or broadcast or online, to logos on caps and T-shirts. They’re everywhere you are.

There are advertisements in public restrooms and on the grocery store floor. They even sell space on the inside of the cup at the golf course. Sink your putt. Retrieve your ball. Drink Pepsi.

Advertising is pervasive. And it is not likely to abate any time soon. If anything, advertising is becoming more ubiquitous.

Most newspapers are about 60 percent advertising; trade journals often contain even more. Your utility bills arrive with multiple ads enclosed. Go online and you’re inundated with ads, many specifically designed with your needs in mind, guided by complex algorithms that record and analyze every site you visit and how long you linger at each.

Yes, advertising is everywhere, but nowhere is it more apparent than on your television screen. New research released by the American Advertising Federation, an advertising industry trade group, says the number of television commercials, public service announcements and station promotions reached an all-time high in 2015.

And it’s not because the networks think you need more time to fix a snack or go to the bathroom. Costs are going up for networks, and advertising is what covers those costs.

Among networks, only about 38 minutes of every hour is devoted to programming. For cable, it’s even less. The balance is called “clutter.”

Clutter worries the advertising industry. Its leaders figure the more commercials stuffed into an hour, the less likely you are to remember their clients’ ads.

Clutter, whether on television or in any medium, also makes their jobs harder. It’s up to the advertising agency to create commercials for their clients that stand out from the rest of the commercials you see.

Their ads must communicate their client’s message more clearly and be better remembered than the muddle of mediocrity that exists among most media advertisements.

The ads must have punch, make the viewer stop from changing the channel, the reader from turning the page, or the browser from moving on. They must break the “boredom barrier.”

In short, good advertising must have IMPACT.

It’s a fundamental precept of all advertising. No matter how persuasive your copy, no matter how strong your offer, if your customers don’t read your ad or see your TV spot, you’ve wasted a lot of money.

So how do you create ads with impact?

In print or online, start with a good headline. Five times as many people read a headline as read the body copy. A good headline is therefore worth 80 cents of your advertising dollar. For your 80 cents, pack in your brand name, its product benefit, and a catchy appeal to your target audience if you can.

Don’t be afraid of a long headline. Research has shown that headlines of 10 words or longer, containing news and information, consistently outperform shorter headlines.

Famous ad man David Ogilvy’s best headline was “At Sixty Miles Per Hour the Loudest Noise in the New Rolls-Royce Comes from the Electric Clock” (which prompted the chief engineer at Rolls-Royce to comment, “It is time we did something about that damned clock.”).

Certain words or phrases work wonders in a headline: how to, suddenly, announcing, miracle, wanted, the truth about, hurry, compare, and so forth. They may seem like clichés. But they work.

In broadcast, the same principle holds. The “headline” of your TV or radio spot is often the opening line, a catch phrase, or words superimposed on the screen.

The most important factor in creating impact is to make it easy for your customers to recognize your product at a glance.

At Leo Burnett Advertising Agency, we called it “The Big Idea.” It was a theme, or a catch phrase, or sometimes even a “critter” that embodied the brand and what it stood for.

United has the friendly skies. McDonald’s has the golden arches. Keebler has elves. Each identifies the product or service quickly and efficiently. Each jars the memory and alerts a potential customer to the product being advertised.

Even if a potential customer skims over your newspaper or online ad without reading it carefully, the tag line or corporate symbol may register.

Just one more way to break through the clutter and register with your customers.

-Robert Grede, author of “Naked Marketing – The Bare Essentials,” is president of The Grede Co., which offers marketing and strategic planning consulting ( He can be reached at

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