In 2018 alone, American advertisers poured a cumulative $240 billion dollars into TV, digital, radio, print, cinema, and podcast commercials . That number is projected to reach around $270 billion by the end of 2022. If Wanamaker’s famous quote about half the money spent on advertising being wasted is right, that means we are tossing over $100 billion out the window, right?
Well: yes and no.
Whether the origin of Wanamaker’s oft quoted maxim can be credited to the industrial pioneer himself remains open for historical argument, the fact remains–despite all the technological advancements the industry has undergone since his death in 1922–his words continue to reveal two profound questions that reside within the bedrock of advertising philosophy:
- How do we identify which half of our money we are wasting?
- How do we then eliminate the waste?
With the relatively recent birth and subsequent explosion of digital ad platforms and technologies, advertising has been speeding toward a science of measurable precision, advanced strategy and psychology, and specified, person-to-person message targeting. Demographics are tighter now; more specific and contained. Individual reactions to sensory input can be tracked, stored, and qualified with increasingly exacting detail.
It is important to remember that, alongside these tremendous advancements, we arrive rather quickly at a paradox. Every new benefit and tactic the Internet provides to give your ad budget unprecedented effect relative to your competition is, consequently, available to every single one of your competitors. Thus arises a rapid commercial saturation on TV, over the airwaves, and on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc…. Right away, marketers return to the same question: how to avoid wasting half their budget, without knowing which half….
The answer is surprising: avoiding waste comes down largely to the quality of writing. And good writing begins with The Setup.
“To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.”
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1937)
“Don’t be afraid.”
Toni Morrison, A Mercy (2008)
These two sentences open classic works by a pair of Nobel Laureates who never met, and crafted their vast outputs on opposite sides of 20th Century America. At first, it seems no two opening lines could structurally differ more from one another. Steinbeck’s language is mythic, vivid, and apocryphal, almost conveying a sense of divine allegory. Morrison, on the other hand, deploys a lean, plain-spoken command, driving straight into the hearts and minds of the reader in just three well-chosen words.
The sentences are, however, bound by a central similarity. Both grab your attention, compelling you to investigate the story before you. Though John Steinbeck and Toni Morrison were divided in time, gender, race, style, and a myriad of other factors, both were communicators of extraordinary focus and emotional capacity.
The point is: powerful openings, while instantly recognizable, do not abide by any particular pattern of structure or form. What they share is the ability to claim all the real estate of a listener’s mind. There is no space for anything else because the message is so engaging. In marketing, exactly as in literature, the rest of the message lives and dies with the impact made by this first impression.
At Oxford Road, we understand that crafting the best opening for your advertisement is key. If you don’t connect immediately–and POWERFULLY –all else is for naught. That is why the first of nine Key Components of Audiolytics™,our proprietary formula for Decoding and Optimizing creative, is The Setup.
Here’s how we define The Setup: Establish an immediate connection with a succinct, powerful statement that will capture the attention of the audience, while calling out the problem the product solves or the opportunity it represents.
Here are a few examples from Oxford Road’s repertoire that captures attention and demands that the listener/viewer to pay attention to what’s next:
- “If you’re buying sneakers online, there’s more than a coin flip’s chance that the shoe you’re looking at is fake. How can you be sure it’s real?”
- “If you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business. I learned this the hard way with my first company, so I created NetSuite.”
- “None of your friends are going to tell you, so I will. Your blinds look terrible. This is your home. Your showcase to the world, so why let it look like a crackhouse?”
- “Would you buy a shirt for $50 if you knew it only cost $7 to make?”
For the purposes of this Nine-Part series, we will be referencing the Audiolytics™ Grading of the ads featured in Super Bowl LIII for our examples of each Key Component. The Winner of the “Best Setup” Category was “Expensify Thi$”, featuring 2 Chainz and Adam Scott.
Here’s iSpot’s summary of the ad: “In the middle of his “Expensify Th!$” music video, 2 Chainz shows off his icy hot rod, running on a seafood tower and housed in a misty garage populated by golden dancers. However, this typical day in the life of a baller is interrupted by the rapper’s record label financier, Adam Scott, who requests paper receipts for everything on set that he wants reimbursed. 2 Chainz replies that he can just use Expensify to snap a photo of them instead. After all, he wasn’t born to do expenses.”
Watch the TV Commercial HERE
This Setup both captures your attention AND is teeing up the central value prop for the product. Any advertisement can use a shocking device (bleeped out swear word, explosion, skimpy outfit, whoopie cushion, etc) to grab the audience’s attention. But to grab their attention in a way that is actually tied to the product, is how you hold their attention and increase the impact of the message. After all, if the whole advertisement is designed to get the audience primed to take action, or at least to think of your product or service whenever the need arises, then it’s critical to have everything in the advertisement serve that end with clarity and potency.
Whether you are looking to build brand awareness or generate a high and immediate response over a short period, both strategies require–first and foremost–that you command audience attention. Retaining this attention as the ad proceeds is critical, and a skillset we will delve into later on.
At Oxford Road we firmly believe that if a brand intends on holding attention through its ads and making every penny spent on the ad go to good use–it must grab attention in the first place.