What’s Wrong With This Ad?

Every weekend I receive PARADE as an insert in my Philadelphia Inquirer. Being a direct marketing junkie, I scan it for the bright, busy full-page coupon ads from:

  • Bradford Exchange: Disney and Elvis plates and figurines, coins and Thomas Kinkade artistic kitsch
  • Lenox: Sculptures and Christmas ornaments
  • MBI/Easton Press: Sports collectibles, die-cast model cars and leather bound books

These ads are colorful with powerful offers, great graphics and immediately involving copy. They are masterpieces of their genre.

It was with astonishment that I came across a black-and-white full-page ad in PARADE looking for all the world like a personal note from a member of the Johnson family that makes well-known household products—Windex, Ziploc, Drano, Saran wrap, Fantastik and Pledge furniture wax to name a few. The body copy is set in a courier font that looks like it was generated on an ancient office Remington. At the bottom is a faded snapshot—presumably of the author—that could be the product of Kodak Brownie Box Camera from the 1930s.

You can read the entire text of the ad in the section titled “IN THE NEWS” to the right. And if you click on the illustration in the mediaplayer, you’ll see what the ad looks like.

Running a retro black-and-white ad amid PARADE‘s brash color is what they call in show business “casting against type.”

The question: Is this a smart way for an advertiser to spend his money?

In Terms of Public Relations: A Masterpiece
First off, this strange little vintage black-and-white effort is a stopper. “The copywriter’s aim in life,” wrote copywriter Vic Schwab, “should be to try to make it harder for people to pass up his advertisement than to read it.” The reader’s immediate reaction is: “What in the world is this?” and to start reading it.

This is personalization at its most brilliant. For as freelancer Richard Armstrong has pointed out:

The most important word in direct mail copy (aside from “free” of course) is not “you”—as many of the textbooks would have it—but “I.” What makes a letter seem “personal” is not seeing your own name printed dozens of times across the page, or even being battered to death with a neverending attack of “you’s.” It is, rather, the sense that one gets of being in the presence of the writer … that a real person sat down and wrote you a real letter.

“In the marketplace, as in theater,” wrote the legendary copywriter Bill Jayme, “there is indeed a factor at work called ‘the willing suspension of disbelief.'”

It is almost believable that Fisk Johnson sat down at his grandfather’s battered Remington and typed a message from his heart, telling me how much five generations of the Johnson family have cared about doing what’s right for me and my family in terms of supplying us with household products.

The reader feels real good doing business with these folks.

Cost of the Ad
I checked the current PARADE rate card and discovered that a black-and-white page in Zone 5 (Del., Md., Pa., D.C., Va., W.Va.) with circulation of about 4 million would cost $137,600. Incidentally, PARADE will not accept an ad for less than 4 million of its circulation.

If Johnson decided to blanket the country—run the ad to the entire 32.2 million circulation—the cost would be $780,900.

For a company with $8.1 billion in annual revenues, the cost of an ad in PARADE is relative peanuts.

But I for one hate to see inefficiency.

Further, this past weekend the same effort appeared as a full-page advertisement in The Philadelphia Inquirer, which leads me to believe it very likely ran elsewhere. The ante has been upped dramatically.


Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.


Publish date: May 11, 2010 https://dev.adweek.com/performance-marketing/how-fisk-johnson-blew-137-600-parade-ad-possibly-got-zip/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT
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