You've Lost That Selling Spirit


Pitchmen weren't concerned about building brands, an integral part of television advertising today, even for those of us doing television direct-response work. But it's possible to build a brand and sell at the same time. Too often, though, advertisers and their agencies act as if they're mutually exclusive activities. They rarely incorporate tried-and-true selling tactics into their spots -- testimonials, call-to-action devices, demonstrations, guarantees -- as if these techniques might somehow taint their brand building.

Too many spots focus on being provocative, funny or emotional, but fail to make a sale. Viewers scratch their heads, laugh or cry, but they don't buy.

To recapture the selling spirit, I suggest these tactics:

1. Create longer commercials. Some products and services are too complex to be sold effectively in 30 seconds, and a longer length allows for better demonstrations or more compelling offers.

2. Use a two-step process. The commercial should be the first step to drive customers to call a number, visit a store or go to a Web site. For many products and services -- especially high-ticket ones-it's much easier to sell viewers on taking a no-commitment step than actually buying. Once they make the effort to take this step, however, they qualify themselves and greatly increase the odds they'll buy if the second step is handled effectively.

3. Include an act-now reason. Try this experiment: Watch 10 commercials and see how many of them give you a good reason to buy now rather than later. Not many. Act-now reasons can be anything from limited-date offers to special pricing. One caveat: These reasons need to be presented with more conviction and sophistication than a car dealer's ad.

4. Tell agencies to create spots that sell. Agencies are perfectly capable of creating commercials that produce results, but they won't do so unless advertisers give them that direction.

Let me assure you that I'm not suggesting that all commercials should resemble late-night pitches for personal injury lawyers. That would simply make a bad situation worse. What I am suggesting is that television advertising is in danger of forgetting its true purpose, and that when commercials stop making the cash register ring, advertisers will look toward other media to achieve that goal.

Ron Bliwas is CEO and president, Ogilvy & Mather's A. Eicoff & Co.