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How to sell in
words and pictures
Why do certain things work and others fail? Drayton Bird discusses the facts that you really
ought to know, which most people dont

n my last piece I pointed out that few times around the world. One reader
your marketing messages are just wrote saying: I am surprised, as I always
salesmanship through other means. thought too much text in an ad put people
I also showed two advertisements, one off reading it.
highly profitable and one that failed so And I replied: Almost everybody is
dismally a business was going broke. surprised by this, but they shouldnt be.
In case you missed the piece, here are You will have noticed that I compared
the two ads again, a bit smaller. The one marketing to personal selling. Thats
on the right was the winner. Most readers what advertising copy is. That is its sole
were surprised. But this is true of most function: selling things, services or ideas.
Which one made a profit? Can you guess?
people who see this case, which I have a No good salesperson ever says: Ill be

{ I have never seen longer copy fail to do better.

A complete argument is a stronger argument. }
body language The UK Journal of Medical Aesthetics and Anti-Ageing 25

Why did ad C do so well? How did the changes in D affect response?

as brief as possible. They all say: Ill keep Really long-e-mails may not work, but 2. There is better visual focus, with the
going till I get a saleor get thrown out. a website to which you direct people can bigger picture demonstrating the
They also all know that every benefit (and probably should) contain bags of product in action rather than the
omitted and every objection not dealt information, and so should a landing page. product itself.
with can lose you the sale. I have written Essentially, within the confines of 3. The headline is better placed. The
thousands of pieces of copyfive this whatever the medium or format, you must human eye is naturally drawn to one-
week aloneand lost count of how many say everything you can that will encourage third down the space
tests I have seen. response and overcome doubts in the 4. There is a face looking out at you. That
I have never seen longer copy fail to do prospects minds. always attracts attention.
better. Usually in immediate enquiries, 5. It is a testimonial. This inspires trust
and always in eventual sales. A complete Whats in it for me? vital when we are selling anything to do
argument is a stronger argument. But there are reasons other than the with health.
length of the copy why the ad that won
Hard to believe, but true did so. I should say here that I did not write those
This fact about longer copy applies to all The first is the headlines. These first two ads, but was asked to improve
media. If all you want is an enquiry, you are the most important part of any them. So here is what I did. There seems
dont need as much copy as a sale. You advertisementas it is the first thing little difference, but let me explain the
need only emphasise the good things and people see, and the vast majority are never changes.
worry less about the objections, as people read beyond the headline. Two small but important differences
have to commit themselves less when Its purpose is to attract attention and increased response by about 50%.
enquiring. get people reading the copy. What attracts 1. The headline adds the emotional
But context is everything. The more attention best? News of benefits: clear, word blissfuland people buy (as
money people have, the easier it is, as a precise, desirable benefits. you know) for emotional, not rational
rule, to sell to them. Again, the nature of What never works? Obscure or vague reasons.
what you offer and its cost are extremely headlines, or ones that give you no reason 2. Although you cannot see it, in the
important. to read on. previous copy there were three
Buying a new car is a bigger decision The losing headline tells you something testimonials, but the ad did not give
than buying a new iPod. The latter is done you agree with, but there is no promise their names. This one adds credibility
more on impulse and costs less. Aesthetic or reason to find out more. The winner by giving them.
surgery, on the other hand, is agonised actually offers two benefits. People want
over far more than buying a car, even to know whats in it for me? I was then asked to beat myself, and
though it is less expensive. Building trust Here are more advertisements that were produced ad D. I thought it would do
is critical. tested against each other. And when I better, but to my considerable surprise it
Then again, the medium matters. A full say tested, I mean that they ran on the doubled response first time out.
page ad is of a certain size. A 30-second same day in the same paper, appearing in This ad demonstrates two other
commercial lasts 30 seconds (actually, a alternate copies. important facts.
little less, but lets not get technical). A Again, one made a ton of money, and 1. Making a particular group feel privileged
poster has given dimensions. There is only the other flopped. always works.
so much you can fit in. But a direct mail You probably wont be surprised to 2. The word offer almost always boosts
pack can contain as much as you like. know which one wonB. Now let me response.
Again, a letter can be as long as you explain why in more detail.
likeand probably the most profitable 1. It makes a clearer promise, emphasising If you accept, as I hope you do, what
one I ever wrote contained eight pages. It that this is something new (never neglect testing reveals about results, here are some
was only beaten after a couple of years by to do this where possible, but reassure more facts. As a rule, one large picture
a 12-pager. that it is tested). Continued on p28

26 body language The UK Journal of Medical Aesthetics and Anti-Ageing


beats lots of small ones; photographs mostly in caps and lower case, in black again, this is because the eye has to work
are more credible than illustrations; and on white rather than reversed out. That harder. And once again, this magazine
cartoons attract most attention. makes this easy to read because: has it right.
Most of the things you see all the time The serifsor little feetat the base Big blocks of type are daunting. They
work, despite the fact that they may seem of letters line up to keep the eye moving promise great trudges through the desert.
rather hackneyed. For instance, you see horizontally along the line, rather than Moreover, when the eye first looks at
many before-and-after pictures in these straying below to the next line. So if you a layout, it tends to skip around like
pages. There is hardly anything new about wish to use sans-serif faces, have heavy a butterfly before settling at one place.
that. But they are there because they work. leading between lines. Thats why you should break up your
They are the best way to demonstrate copy with crossheads, subheads and
a problem and solution. Nearly all Your eye recognises shapes more easily occasional changes of width. It looks
advertising revolves around that. than letters. A word in capitals has less more interesting.
And this applies not just to editorial but shape than in caps and lower case. Reveal the essence of your message in
to advertisements. the headings. They should say enough for
Most advertisements do better if they look It is tiring to read a lot of reversed-out him or her to want to start on the body
like editorial. Nobody reads this magazine type. Reversing out a page of copy has copy. To encourage this, its often good
for the ads. They read it for the editorial. been known to halve response. (It is not to have an explanatory subhead after the
I know this because years ago I took an hard to read a lot of serif italic type, by headline leading into the copy. A drop
advertisement for Barnardos and tested the way.) capthat is, an oversized initial capital
two formats against each other. One was letteralso encourages readership.
an advertising layout, and the other set This does not mean you should never use
exactly like the editorial in the paper. The sans-serif faces, capitals or reversing out. Stupid ideas to ignore
editorial style won by between 25%123% Just use them sparingly. Many art directors see the headline as an
in a series of tests. Wheildon found that on an A4 page, element, not a word. And they like them
The more you make your ads blend in, sans-serif type reduced comprehension big. But people do not have arms eight feet
rather than stand out, the better you will from 67% to 12%. Imagine losing so long. Large headings are a waste of space
do, I promise. If you measured the results many of your readersand sales! and your money.
of your ads by keying them, you would They also like lots of white space. Ditto.
soon find this out. And if you dont, your The eye is lazy White space never sold anyone anything.
advertising is mere guesswork. Would you Just as reversed-out type is hard to read, Keep it within reason.
do that with surgery? type set over tints, textures or colours, so Illustrations or headlines placed halfway
that it does not stand out clearly, is even up the page, blocking off columns,
Whats in it for me? harder. discourage readers from carrying on. They
Most, if not all, layouts are created to Very small type is unwise: many people may be tempted simply to go straight to
suit the designer or clients taste. But (including me) cant read it very easily. the top of the next column, omitting the
people who have to get their stuff read Indeed, around one person in ten has section under the illustration.
or lose their jobsnewspaper or book imperfect eyesight. Since the difference A headline should be a headline, not a
publishersfollow formulae. between success and failure for an ad may baseline. If it is under the body copy you
They do so because they wish to be 10%, thats worth thinking about. And will not be surprised to hear that it stops
communicate, not confuse or amaze dont forget, older people, who are often people from reading the copy at all. The
which many advertisers waste a lot of richer, have worse eyesight. reason is that putting it there misleads
money on. The only useful research I have Dont change typefaces unnecessarily. the reader; and gravity forces the lazy eye
ever seen on this was commissioned by They are ugly and confusing: your eye down, not up.
the newspaper industry in Australia, and doesnt like constantly having to readjust. Similarly, things pointing out of the
conducted by Professor Colin Wheildon This magazine and all newspapers are layoutlike peoples feet, or the direction
of New South Wales University. set in narrow columns. In paperbacks, they look inlead readers eyes out of the
For many years he researched the effect the page is pretty narrow. The eye likes advertisement.
of type and layout on comprehension. to go down the centre of a column rather
Not what people liked, but what they than back and forth constantly. Try not Commenting on Drayton Bird, advertising guru
understood and found easy to read. Here to set to a measure wider than about 50 David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather,
are some things he learned. characters. Comprehension slumps if the said that Drayton knows more about direct
Typefaces should be easy to read. The edges of columns, either left or right, are marketing than anyone else in the world. Emails
text in this piece is roman serif type, unjustifiedthat is to say, ragged. Once to

{ I tested two advertising formats. One was an

advertising layout, the other was set like an
editorial. The editorial won by 25%-123%
body language The UK Journal of Medical Aesthetics and Anti-Ageing
} 28