Of course, all advertisements seek to do one thing, that is, to grab readers' attention and stop to read what's the ad is all about.
And to make someone to stop and take notice of your advertisement out of all the other distractions, the headline is very important.
Just like any article on newspapers, magazines, flyers and brochures, the headline is the first thing a reader sees before he decides whether to dig deeper.
There are many ways to grab a person's attention.
You can have a powerful headline that talks about something of interest to your target customers. Powerful headlines are those that reveals a secret, provides a solution, a new invention or something controversial. Likewise, you can also use photos to grab attention. Photos of toned and sculpted body for gym ads, before and after photos for dental services, photo of beach for resort, etc.
And with increased competitions, business owners seeks to create a big impact or makes the idea goes viral to get the most exposure. That's why you got half-naked man ad at Abercrombie and Fitch's facade when it's still under renovation, a bunch of youngsters wearing pyjamas walking in the Central Business District (CBD) area during lunch hour and ad by a body waxing company that people find offensive to a lady.
Although I'm all about outrageous marketing, but its a fine line between outrageous, controversial and offensive.
Let's take a look at the above ad.
It started off by using the word "Breaking News." This is sure to grab a person's attention. Next is "CHILD TRAPPED UNDER 4 TONNES TRUCK!"
Below the headline is a photo of a child lying trapped under a truck and the question, "Parents, imagine if he was your child, what would you do to save him?" and the answer "Everything it takes."
The bottom half of the ad is a photo of the founder, Sherina Koh standing with her thumb up and the actual reason for the ad, that is to enroll for a exam preparation workshop.
The advertisement came out on POP Club, a magazine by a local bookstore chain Popular Bookstore. The tuition company, Education Alive, was ordered by the advertising authority to stop placing this ad as it was “objectionable” and “not deemed as decent” under Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP). The premise is that all advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful.”
The founder would be meeting the authority to understand its point of view and “what’s not working” with the advertisement.
According to Ms Koh, the advertisement was designed by a freelance designer in India whom she found online. Its intent was to convey to parents that their child’s future is a matter of life and death and they can change their child’s destiny if they wanted to, instead of creating fear in them.
What's wrong with this ad?
1. Wrong headline
Using the word "BREAKING NEWS" no doubt catches a reader's attention.
It's used most frequently in news reporting informing people of the latest news. It is also used when you have discovered something new or there's a new invention.
The headline seems to adopt a newspaper reporting style headline. However, is the news of the child trapped under the truck new news? Is it recent? Did the readers already read it somewhere?
As for the exclamation mark, according to Webster dictionary, exclamation can mean
1. a mark ! used especially after an interjection (a spoken word, phrase, or sound that expresses sudden or strong feeling) or exclamation to indicate forceful utterance (a manner of speaking) or strong feeling
2 a distinctive indication of major significance, interest, or contrast <the game put an exclamation point on the season> —called also exclamation mark
However, I couldn't make out what does the exclamation mark mean here.
In fact, in academic prose, an exclamation point is used rarely, if at all, and in newspaper writing the exclamation point is virtually nonexistent. (Click here)
2. Asking stupid questions?
"Parents, imagine if he was your child, what would you do to save him?"
Parents, imagine if you has a child, would you ever want to imagine or entertain the thought of your child getting involved in an accident?
That is the last thing all parents will want happen to their kids. By asking this stupid and insensitive question, you are already putting readers off.
In fact, the question is sooooo irrelevant that it shouldn't be asked at all. And that applies to the answer too. The question itself is the answer.
3. Disconnecting the readers
When you are planning an advertisement, you want to connect with your readers. You want them to feel that this ad is talking about me and to me.
With the newspaper reporting headline, readers are in a state of disconnection. They are reading another piece of news that probably has no impact on them or will not affect them adversely. If the news has an impact on them, it wouldn't be a matter of life and death as you would have been informed much earlier through other sources.
In this case, it's even remotely possible. Simple reason - The child cannot by yours. Otherwise, you will be in the hospital instead of reading this ad since it's supposed to happen now (Breaking news).
The next moment, they are asked to imagine themselves in a situation they will never imagine and never want to be in. Now, the question wants to get the readers involved.
Of course, no parents would ever want to imagine the situation happening to them, which further disconnect them. If I am a parent, I would feel disgusted with it.
4. Wrong analogy
What has a child in a life and death situation got to do with education?
If it's meant for parents to believe in their children and allow them to dare to dream as what she said, how is the incident of a child trapped under a truck relevant to this? Shouldn't a photo of a child's graduation or proof of result slip works better?
Although education is important, it doesn't even come close to be compared with health, let alone this kind of situation. Education is not a matter of life and death. Period!
Having no students in the education center is a matter of life and death for its founder's business.
The founder probably has wanted to use the analogy that parents will do everything it takes to help their child pass the exams, but ended up using a life and death situation as comparison.
5. Insensitivity to the max
First, by asking stupid question mentioned above.
Second, is the founder gloating over the accident with her smiling and striking a thumb up pose?
6. Not considering readers' reaction
While you may have wanted to mean something or have the best intention, you also have to be careful about how will readers react to your ad.
If your ad stands for something, you will sometimes offend certain groups of people. It's perfectly fine as you cannot satisfy everyone. You have to know if your ad can stand up against scrutiny. Can you still proudly and confidently defend yourself from the objection voices?
The ad is definitely poorly executed and its lack of sensitivity is evident.
We all know that fear is a strong motivating factor that causes people to take action. It is also the reason why many people stay status quo.
A lot of people would think that the headline, the photo and the question are the things that instill fear in readers. And the founder perhaps think that her readers think this way.
However, that is not the case.
The accident incident does not instill fear. A reader will feel sorry, sad, shock, pity and helpless seeing someone else child under a truck. A reader will feel fed up, irritated, distasteful, disgusted when asked to imagine their child in the accident.
So did she use fear in her ad?
"To All Concerned Parents whose Child is Taking 'O'/'A' Levels this Year"
Who do you think are concerned parents? Those who worry about their child passing exams? Or those who have confidence in their child's ability? The fear factor is used here.
That brings me to the next point.
8. Not seeing things from your customers' viewpoint
Many parents have negative feedback about the kind of message the ad is trying to put across.
The founder claimed she was surprised by the controversy it caused and will review to see if "its essence has been lost" on its audience. She went on to say "If there are parents who developed any sense of fear after reading the ad, we wish for them to transform this fear into positive action that will bring them smiles in the future.”
So is she still promoting her tuition center? More likely the smile will be on her face rather than the parents faces.
9. Choosing the wrong professional
The founder said the ad was designed by a freelance designer from India she found online.
How did she find the designer? How much did she pay? Did she ask for the designer's past works? Was the designer in charge of creating the ad, the headline and copy or just asked to design the layout? Was the founder involved in the process? Has the designer taken any course or did any self study on copywriting? Is fee the main consideration when engaging the designer? Did the designer seek to find out more information about the business and the industry before designing the ad? How many ad did the designer designed? How well the designer know about the local culture and habits?
If the founder has paid higher than market rate, then she deserved something better than this.
If the founder paid based on the lowest or average market rate, then this is a very expensive lesson for a very inexpensive price.
As the saying goes, "When you pay peanut, you get monkey."
Well, we all know that peanuts are expensive in Singapore after Mrs Goh Chok Tong's remark many years back.
For my clients, I have a mandatory Client's Profile Form that they must fill up before I ever meet up with them. Many of them complain it's too long and irrelevant. Some refused to do it saying its a waste of time. But how can I provide the best advice and solution to you if I do not have indepth understanding of your business?