Advertising - The Superstructure
( Originally Published 1902 )
Words.-Words are powerful, although but the expression of ideas. The shortest words are best. The briefest sentences are best. The ad writer finds that a clean-cut, distinct impression is best conveyed by short words and short sentences.
Long words and long sentences are only permissible when the subject is so exhausted by brief expressions that for the sake of novelty elongated expressions are a relief. (This occurs more often than the neophyte appreciates. Any old dyed-in-the-wool advertising man, constantly writing upon a subject, will bear me out in this).
The old, tried and constantly used words are best. Yet for the sake of novelty the writer should occasionally use new words. The best writers are those with the widest vocabularies. Such writers are wide readers—not only of modem and old English but also of French, German, Italian and other foreign tongues.
Any one style-like anything else—becomes wearisome if given the reader in large doses.
If the writer has versatility—and the advertising writer worthy the name exercises it-he can speak effectively to his audience in several styles.
Emerson has often been held up as a master of pure, purposeful English. His clear, cold and crystal style serves as a guide to an army of ambitious young writers. Yet, Emerson often lapses (or takes flights) into a style bright with metaphors, sometimes slightly involved, at times highly imaginative and occasionally humorous. When writing his famous essays he doubtless appreciated the importance of diversified forms of expression, as no reader—no matter how sedate—keeps his mind on a dead level all the time. It has moods and tenses. The mentality would not be human—be a part of the human organism—were it not so.
Take any other great writer and you will be struck by two impressive facts, viz.: (1) That he possesses versatility; (2) That he is absolute master of each style.
Kipling wrote " Gunga Din." What could be more forceful—with uncut edges-than `` Gunga Din?" Contrast the robust "Gunga Din" with the exquisitely finished, haunting, swinging "Mandalay"
Dickens wrote Alfred Jingle's expressions. What could be more jerky and suggestive—with great gaps between the suggestions—than jingle's jingle? On the other hand, Dickens wrote most feelingly on the death of Little Nell, and if there is a more exquisitely finished sketch of its nature in existence, where is it? Why, the name of Dickens is synonymous with versatility—a versatility that touched every emotion of the most cultured and every feeling of the most illiterate!
As a supreme instance, take Tennyson. I call Tennyson a supreme instance, as a pure and lofty style sustained almost thoughout. Yet, if you wish to appreciate Tennyson's versatility read "The Brook," after a perusal of "In Memoriam."
It is self-evident that all famous writers are masters of more than one style—probably in obedience to the great natural law that the human mind demands variety.
A constant use of cold water begets, in the course of time, a desire for some other beverage. A constant use of some other beverage (perhaps more ardent) induces a thirst which only cold water can satisfy. Coffee is all right at times. Milk is all right at times. Beer is relished when the appetite is ready for it. These observations are made to illustrate the fact that, as the physical system demands a variety of beverages, so does the mental system demand a variety of ideas, expressed in varied styles.
Thus, should the advertising writer be versatile.
Ideas should be expressed with force yet with grace. Force is the first essential.
Business represents progress, viz.: force—advertising mirrors business, i. e., force — and as a logical consequence advertising should be forceful. An expression cannot make an impression unless it possesses force.
After force comes grace.
Force alone in an expression—no matter how closely it conforms to the laws of grammar-gives that expression a distasteful crudeness. It may be a rough diamond, but diamonds are all the more valuable after having been cut and polished. So is too much grace distasteful. To express it perhaps better, too much grace is nauseating. In a sentence, give force a slightly greater consideration than grace. Were I pinned down to a mathematical point, I would say, give force two-thirds of the sentence and grace one-third.
In other words, know your subject.
Grasp is a quality that every ad writer should have. If he knows his subject thoroughly, and is not afraid to express him-self (this confidence is a matter of time and getting acquainted with his own ability) he instantly instills confidence and 'impresses the reader with the force of his convictions. If he lacks ideas, or the ability to express ideas, or is minus both essentials, the world that reads his advertising considers it contemptuously—if at all. Grasp—another name for strength—in itself alone never fails to command a respectful hearing.
Let me institute a short comparison between the salesman and the ad. The good salesman and the good ad both show an appreciation of words and their effect. Neither says too little, neither slops over, both are pointed, interesting and business-like in their remarks.
Take the most successful salesman or business man of your acquaintance. Stop for a moment to analyze his style of dealing with men-his delivery—his "way of putting things." After subjecting him to a five minutes' analysis, you will conclude
That he is natural in his utterances.
That he is devoid of frills, foibles and fakerism, that he gives you the impression, in short order, of knowing what he is talking about, and that the great charm of naturalness and off handedness accompanies his remarks. He is specific, intelligent and satisfactory.
Now the language of your advertising should be so. It should be specific to the degree that it gives necessary information in a business-like style.
The good salesman is original because his fund of experience and observation gives his conversation a charm peculiarly its own. He can invest his tale of samples with the pulse-quickening details of their superiority, their low-pricedness, and their success with other houses, in an original manner, because these details are peculiar to the lines of goods he carries.
The good ad is original because it tells the tale of your values in a manner peculiar to itself. If you have a real, hearty interest in your goods and can write exactly as you feel regarding their merits, you'll find no difficulty in investing your ads with sufficient originality to be interesting.
Originality for originality's sake does not amount to so much in advertising as is generally supposed. It is secondary to clearness, brevity, and naturalness. The good advertising writer cannot help giving his matter a tinge of originality, because he gives his subject the touch of naturalness which alone makes it different from any other ad.
Then, in your choice of words, remember the good salesman or the good business man.
Give the imagination rein.
A vivid imagination instantly sees several ways of stating a truth, yet keeping truth undefiled in its virgin purity. Such an imagination, assisted by a wide vocabulary, can astonish readers by the many different methods of expressing the same idea. To illustrate:
"These suits are perfect fitting, extremely stylish and decidedly low priced." The truth or sense of which is not in the least impaired by the following
" These suits fit perfectly, are very fashionable and decidedly economical."
Or, "These suits are stylish, will fit to perfection and are pleasantly priced.''
Or, "These suits so stylish and perfect fitting are priced extremely moderate."
Or, "These stylish and perfect fitting suits are indeed lowly priced."
Or, " These easy priced suits are stylish and will fit to perfection."
Or, "These stylish suits will fit perfectly and are great values."
Or, " These fashionable suits are gems of perfection, fit and economy." Etc., etc.
Prices.—Promises are good, but performances knock promises sky high, and the next best to the performance in advertising is the attempt to prove the performance by a hard, cold, naked price. This price alone stands in its eloquence as a sort of type demonstration that no amount of argument can get around.
The power of words has been treated of in a previous paper, the typographical arrangement will receive due consideration, and now that very important feature of ad building, price, will be attempted.
In general advertising prices are very important. Experienced general advertisers will bear me out in this. The great aim of advertising is to sell goods, to do so, advertising must answer all questions liable to come in the mind of the reader, and you may be sure that PRICE is always a big question. Do not forget this!
In retail advertising I consider prices absolutely necessary. They are specific and vital. Every reader of a retail ad, whether man, woman, or child, wants at the first blush to learn the price of the goods in which he or she may be interested.
Interest them by the brightness and sense of your introduction and talk concerning your goods; then, when you think you have their interest aroused to the proper pitch, let them have your price or several prices. Do not forget to give the prices. What touches the pocket-book touches the most delicate nerve, and a possible buyer's first consideration is how much that delicate nerve is to be touched in the transaction.
Apply this to yourself. When you see a necktie, an over coat, a suit of clothes that strikes your fancy, your first question is, "How much?" It is the first thought that follows in the wake of desire. When this thought is met to your satisfaction you invest immediately to your own and the dealer's benefit-perhaps.
The most progressive retailers everywhere understand the eloquence of printed prices. They stare at the shopper from all sides of the store; from the windows, show-cases, and the ads. They save the necessity of questions; they help to make shop-ping easy.
A man walking down Broadway is attracted by a clothier's window. Several garments are there, tastefully displayed. This man needs a Spring overcoat. He sees one that strikes his fancy. The cut, material, and everything about the overcoat strikes him about right. There are no price cards in the window, and although he wonders what this overcoat's price might be, yet his interest in the coat is not violent enough to induce him to enter that store and inquire. He is like the average man who knows he can see the duplicate of that coat farther along in his saunter, in some other window, with the price displayed. He does, and he thinks the price about right. He enters, and the dealer who advertised prices won a customer, while the other, who was dignified, lost a trade.
Money talks. It makes the loudest noise in the commercial world. It is the most eloquent of all arguments and inducements. For this reason prices should be given with every retail ad that aims to sell goods.
An ad that simply says " John Smith's stock is the largest and best selected in town, and his prices are way down," says nothing. It is meaningless. Almost every retailer tries to give that impression in his ads, but no impression is made unless something specific is said—unless items and prices are given.
There is such an error as running in too many prices in an ad. Too many prices not only tend to beget confusion, but also overcrowd the ad. One or two good items and prices rightly put are worth a dozen indifferently given.
When you speak of a line of neckwear, a suit, an overcoat, or what not, give a clear, detailed description of the article and a suggestion as to its use; then give your price. Give the price every time. Most masculine minds are logical; they like to get all the main facts about goods they are likely to buy, and price is frequently the most important consideration.
The woman of the family who, by the way, does most of the family shopping, and nearly always influences her husband and brother when she does not do the direct buying for them, is always occupied with the ways and means question, and a retail ad addressed to her is pointless without prices. She considers prices closely. She makes mental memoranda as to how far her dollars can stretch before she starts on a shopping expedition. The advertised prices help her in this.
Take the ads of the best advertisers in New York and elsewhere, and you will always notice they give great consideration to prices.
I have noticed in my advertising experience with various concerns, that buyers of departments, the real powers in a store, are always anxious to run in a whole lot of figures. They know that figures are the greatest factors in swinging trade, and they usually want these figures set in the largest sort of type, under the mistaken impression that the larger the type the more attractive is the price.
Ordinary display type for figures brings in as much trade as the tremendously large type. Why? Because the ordinary reader notes the average size type-the type this article is printed in, for instance, as it can be easily read, and when read is read, and that is all that type is for, anyway. Large type makes me think of Coney Island barkers or Bowery pullers-in. They try by main noise and gesticulation to influence people. Advertising should be sensible and convincing; large type alone doesn't make it so, and large type alone for figures doesn't add any alarming force to their value. When in conversation with another man you do not care to have him shout at you as though you were deaf. You much prefer to have him speak in an easy, cultivated tone.
And that is how advertising should be given—in an easy, cultivated tone. The arguments, items, and prices will make the better and more lasting impression when delivered thus.
Give clever, pointed headlines, good, strong arguments, clear and satisfactory details in items—never forget your best prices; have the whole properly typographed in the right sort of mediums, and then you can rest easy that your advertising is about right.