John Singleton, “Barriers to effective communication,”
Advertising & Newspaper News, November 28, 1969, p. 4.
Two months ago we commissioned a major analysis of print and broadcast advertising.
We chose advertisements and campaigns whose results were already known to us and sought to find some further guides to the opportunities for, and barriers to, effective communication.
The study was carried out on a totally interpretive basis by Dr Peter Kenny and it is interesting to note that after the half-way mark our interviewers were able to estimate likely effectiveness levels of campaigns they were discussing by reference to our tabled guidelines.
The most important thing to understand is that communication is a “feeling” thing: “I love you”. “I’m pregnant”. “How about taking the garbage out for a change”. “Oh shut up and leave me alone”. “Mum’s dead”.
Advertising is still just a poor man’s substitute for person-to-person persuasion.
And in the person-to-person context there is very little rational behaviour.
That’s why boys meet girls and that’s what makes the world go round.
And these are the things that stop communications going round:
1. Aesthetics: This business is full of people who substitute technique for an idea. And the consumer smells it a mile off.
We found case after case where the very choice of setting and typography and wording acted as a total barrier to sales. And in the food area we found hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on food advertising which is totally unacceptable to the consumer. But very aesthetic. It will probably win an award.
2. Rational argument: This is a more natural but equally large mistake. This is the advertiser who read Rosser Reeves and missed the point.
He seeks a manufacturer’s point of difference in his product. In most cases a very real and very honest difference. Unfortunately in almost every case this difference is also totally unimportant to the consumer.
She buys what she wants.
And if your product doesn’t have it she won’t buy it, even if it is the only one with 4.2 per cent paper-clip fat.
3. Designese: This is probably an extension of the aesthetics barrier but more pronounced.
This is the attitude that communication is an opportunity for artistic expression.
“We communicate the superior quality of our product by the superior quality of our design and display”.
And the housewife dusts the plastic flowers and turns on “Peyton Place”.
4. Logic: This is most prevalent in consumer-durable advertising. The theory that the consumer will devour all and every fact about any product over about $20 “once she moves into the market”.
Unfortunately this is not so and unprofitably the fact is that most detailed reading of durable advertising takes place after the purchase. This is a trifle late.
5. Syntax: English happens to be a living language. It changes every day. And the language the people are speaking better be the language your advertising is speaking or the consumer will treat you like a pedantic bore. Whatever pedantic means.
Once these barriers are isolated and overcome, then there is opportunity for effective communication.
But grab the paper or magazine nearest you. Or watch the TV tonight and you will see the point.
Eight out of 10 advertisements are suffering from one of the five great communication diseases: aesthetics, rational argument, designese, logic or syntax.
The only good thing is that each disease is curable. But to be cured you have to first admit your ads are sick.
How long since they have had a check-up?
An example of effective communication is the double-page spready published this month for Newsday (reproduced here).
It admitted the first issues were lousy.
It admitted that sales weren’t what they expected.
It said that it had got its finger out and was doing something about fixing itself up.
And it asked for a second chance.
I can’t see anyone not giving it just that.
John Singleton, “Opportunities for effective communication,”
Advertising & Newspaper News, December 19, 1969, p. 4.
A couple of weeks ago in this column [reproduced above] we briefly discussed those factors which act as barriers to effective communication. These factors resulted from a study commissioned by us through Dr Peter Kenny and briefly these barriers were aesthetics, rationalization, designese, logic and syntax.
As usual we have had active conversations and correspondence with people who have suggested we should be more positive.
Naturally being positive is simply not doing things we listed.
But there are a few more aids to effective communication that we have found valuable and you may find interesting. Particularly in the light of the common denominations of your own successful and non-successful (or less successful) efforts.
1. Push. But not too hard. Salesmen come in many sizes, including 60-seconders and full-pages. Many of them today are expensively dressed (not necessarily correctly dressed). Most are entertaining. Most are very pleasant company. And most haven’t got a chance in hell of getting a sale because they don’t ask for the order. It’s easy to get a girl to go to the pictures. It’s a lot harder to get her to marry you. Or whatever.
(Note: In the light of this recommendation it should be noted that pushing is one thing. Preaching or legislating is another. They produce opposition instead of sales.)
2. Get the listener or reader to do something. I hate to harp but the good mail order man would never ever run the ads that get on air and in the press today. They don’t involve the reader. They don’t invite enquiry. They don’t ask for the order. Instead they concentrate on “building up the image”. Which is pretty hard to measure. Which is maybe just as well.
3. Can your mum understand it? Probably the ideal place to start is right back at the beginning. Most advertising today isn’t just missing a point here and there. In most cases people can’t understand it at all. Not one word of it. If you’ve got a mum in a thousand you might be able to check your ad with her. But it is a whole lot safer to have 100 mums. And even five is better than none.
(If your agency or client is against research — may God help you — go out and get some reactions to your ad yourself. It is as dangerous as hell doing it this way. But any opinion has to be better than the client’s or the agency’s.)
4. Run your ad at the ideal time: A lot of good ads run at bad times. It might as well have been a bad ad.
Recently we had a little to do with a fishing book launch for Paul Hamlyn. It could have been sold to men as a great fishing guide at any time of the year. And it may have sold reasonably well. But it was sold to women at Xmas to give to men. And it sold more copies in a shorter time than any other book has ever looked like selling in this country or any country in the world, including the U.S.A. Timing. Without it, forget it.
5. Complete the cycle. And that is a part to work out on your own because it is the most important of the lot.
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATIONS AT USP-BENSON
We lost a very good copywriter last week.
His name is Wayne Garland.
He had been with our agency as a communications director from the day we opened our doors.
He left us for a very big opportunity with a very big agency.
And within five years he will be one of the major advertising figures in this country.
It is not a bad achievement for a guy at 22.
Maybe it’s because his mum can understand every word he writes.
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