The Screwtape Emails VII

The Screwtape Emails VII

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There are right and wrong ways to go about marketing, and the pitfalls are many. A lot can be learned by seeing how not to manage your marketing. This original blog series weaves together an entertaining story that will help you navigate 21st-Century marketing with a view from “the dark side,” as “Screwtape” teaches his apprentice “Wormwood” via email how to sabotage your marketing. Enjoy…

To: Wormwood
From: Screwtape
Subject: Ads that SUCK

My dear Wormwood,

Ah, yes—we’ve now come to one of my favorite missives: How to make ads that suck! In our ongoing battle to prevent the Patient from prospering, we can prevail upon him to produce the sort of advertising that will make him invisible. Most side-slappingly hilarious of all? We can make him think his atrocious ads are something special (and when they produce the expected meager results, we will convince him that advertising doesn’t work.)

So, my minion of mayhem, here is a primer on how to make ads that suck:

  • Make sure you stay “safe.” The steadiest road to “suckitude” is to never pass the competition by deviating from the well-worn rut. It feels safe to have your ads look and feel like everyone else’s. I mean, shouldn’t a real estate ad look like a real estate ad? The truth we must never let the Patient discover is that safe ads are the most dangerous kind to his ROI. Safe ads are invisible and do not distinguish one from the competition. At some point, a car insurance company made the move into the fast lane with ads featuring humorous characters, and the result was that Geico became a household name. The other insurance companies are still trying to catch up, but will forever be followers now that Geico has blazed a new trail. Old Spice put the pedal to the metal with a series of ridiculously hyperbolic ads that effectively tripled their sales in short order, and moved them from a musty, old-guy’s product to the most happening name in their market.
  • You’re paying for the ad space, so pack in as much as possible. Print ads that look like a mini brochure, video and radio ads that present a yard sale of features. Have the Patient pack it in like a big city bus ride to Sucksville. Nothing makes people flip the page, scroll up the thumb, hit the mute more than information overload. In reality, the brilliance is most often in brevity, and the greatest impact comes from simplicity. One core message conveyed through humor, shocking fact, tear-jerking seriousness or other emotionally-impacting techniques will get attention—and the purpose of ads is to grab attention, not to inform!
  • Try it for a little while, then pull it if it’s not performing. Don’t allow the Patient to define what “performance” means. Convince him that if people aren’t lined up at the door after running an ad for a week, then it must not be working. Get him thinking that the only thing that matters is short-term revenue resulting directly from the ad. If he should have the confidence to be patient as a brilliant ad campaign unfolds, then we risk him getting long-term results most companies only dream of. Most radically successful ad campaigns must be run and repeated long enough to catch fire and capture the imagination. They must have time to break through filters (which often takes repetition) and then generate buzz by early adopters. People cannot help but become fans of great ads, and once they start talking about their favorites, the flood gates open.
  • Talk about yourself. Too many small businesses owners want to see themselves on the camera—a fact we love! Talking about yourself and/or all the wonderful services you offer is like, as Roy H. Williams puts it, like making people watch home movies of your most recent vacation. In today’s sophisticated digital-media environment, nobody cares about you; they want to see themselves in your ads. It’s a cold, hard truth we can portray to the Patient as selfish and narcissistic on the part of his audience, and blind him to the fact that, by putting himself first, he’s playing the self-centered card perfectly. We know it’s only after you put your audience first that they will turn their attention to you…but let’s not let that get out, shall we?

There are many other ways to make ads that suck, but this is enough for now. You’re a mere apprentice and I know your capacity for such things is limited. Besides, I’m waiting to see how you handle convincing the Patient to walk into these four traps first.

Your affectionate uncle,


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