Today’s post is about great moments in expensive, wasteful advertising.

I am looking through the November 6-12, 2006 issue of the Fort Worth Business Press for ads that actually give readers reasons to act. As you can imagine, these ads are hard to find.

American Express has a full page ad that does pretty well. It has three benefit statements that say:

“I get a cash rebate of up to 4% on American Express Travel.” I earn company-level award points on all our purchases.” And, “I save automatically with cash rebates from leading suppliers.”

Following these benefits is the headline which reads, “My company is mid-size, but I save big.”

And that’s all. The main feature of the ad is acres and acres of white space with a small blurb at the bottom a picture of the American Express ExtrAA Corporate Card and a Picture of a paper airplane made out of a $100 bill.

I give them credit for actually stating benefits. What a novel idea in big corporate advertising! But the white space? White space never sold anything. Never.

The next wasteful ad is for the law firm of Blaies & Hightower, L.L.P. The only positive thing I can say about this ad is that they only spent money on a half page.

Other than that, it shows three very serious-looking lawyers in expensive suits and six lines of copy that says nothing:
“When the stakes are high, you need more than legal knowledge. … You need the strongest commercial litigation and personal injury trial lawyers on your side. .. Attorneys who lead the courtroom with integrity and honor.”

The sad thing is, someone actually thought these were benefit statements.

Neither ad called for action on the part of a potential customer/client. They gave contact information and that’s all. But that is futile without giving the prospect a REASON to contact them.

Neither ad made a concrete offer. There were no promises of a benefit in exchange for an action from the prospect. The Blaies Camp; Hightower ad was exactly the same as every other law firm ad we’ve ever seen. For all I know, the same serious-looking lawyers appear on all of them. And you just have to love the line, “Attorneys who lead the courtroom with integrity and honor” as a masterpiece of copy that says nothing.

What both these ads need is an injection of direct response techniques. American Express can offer a free guide to corporate financial strategies that would show a corporate officer how to save money on all company expenditures, how to manage day-to-day cash flow and maximize the rebates they offer.

Blaies & Hightower could offer a report, a case study or a white paper on any one of the areas of law the practice. These could contain tips on how to avoid litigation, what new government regulations effect businesses or how to profit from recent trends in the law.

By offering free information products, neither firm would diminish the brand image they are striving for (and actually in my mind, they would stand out in a positive way). But not only that, these white papers, guides or booklets could generate leads and build a list of potential customers/clients for these firms.

The sad truth is both these ads were incredibly wasteful. White space sells nothing and copy that says nothing, sells nothing. Better luck next time guys.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown


I'll never understand why so many lawyers, in particular, are so reluctant to give any information away for free. There's so much that can be done with the basics -- the already publicly accessible stuff -- to put it in better context than most of the existing resources.

As you've pointed out, it's likely that the first firm to do this "wins" in terms of pulling in new clients. Prospective clients will be drawn to a firm that took the time to put information in context for "the masses", demonstrating that they understand that the law isn't immediately understandable to everyone. A firm that takes the time to put out something useful and well-crafted for free is, I think, a firm that is going to take the time to talk with a client, to understand their particular needs, to make sure they're operating on the same wavelength. It's a firm that a client won't mind spending $250+ an hour for.

The law presents so many opportunities to package information. Call them "101" brochures, "crash courses," "the least you need to know about N" -- the creative possibilities for making just the basic stuff accessible are endless. You could also guides on topics like "how to know when your copyright issue needs a lawyer's help" or some such.

I've found banking and investment firms to be consistently better about giving away some really useful information products as their way of generating more business. It's too bad that more organizations in other industries aren't catching on as fast.

11:27 AM

You are so right Whitney.

The funny thing about this is that I am a former lawyer. I started dabbling in copywriting in order to promote my practice. In the legal profession there are basically two ways used to market: 1) networking, which means joining organizations and having lunch with prospective clients, and 2)lame advertising.

But so few understand the value of giving away free information as a marketing tool. It is simply the most powerful way to market (while not diminishing one's professional image) that I know of.

Charles Brown

4:19 PM

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