Ad-libs: Widgets and ad choices

Ad-libs: Widgets and ad choices

By John Foust
Raleigh, NC

Let’s say you’re considering the purchase of a new widget. Your current widget is working okay, but you know that there have been some new innovations lately and you’d like to see what’s available. So you go to a meeting which features widget manufacturers.

You notice a couple of things when you walk into the room: (1) A lot of people are vying for your attention and (2) They seem to fall into four general categories. Let’s take a look at what you encounter in that crowded room:

1. The guy with the loud, plaid sport coat, white shoes and a big cigar. His approach is big, bold and obnoxious, just like his outfit. It’s his strategy to make you look at him before you notice anyone else. Yesiree, Bub. He’ll shout and jump up and down on his display table until you give him your attention. And if you happen to glance at someone else while he’s talking, he’ll slap you on the back and claim that his widget is the best in the history of widgetry. The banner over his booth reads, “For all your widget needs.” His favorite words are “unbelievable” and “fantastic.” He has exclamation marks on his tie.

2. The lady making balloon animals. Instead of talking about widgets, she’s tries to dazzle you with glamour and artistry. “Now that I have your attention, let me make another balloon animal. How about a rhinoceros? That will really impress you. Our widgets? Oh, they are top-notch. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s focus on my creativity. Stand here in front of my booth for a while, and I’ll make a pelican on roller skates.”

3. The guy making deep philosophical statements. He must be talking about widgets, because he’s in the widget room – but you’re not completely sure. His favorite sayings seem to be “We make life good,” “Making goodness for 50 years,” and “Goodness is really good.” He doesn’t have a booth. He just wanders around saying seemingly profound – but empty – words.

4. The lady with lots of information. Her banner has a clearly defined benefit statement. Her company literature describes the ways her widget can solve specific problems for prospective customers. And she shows a genuine interest in each customer who stops to talk. She’s the opposite of the other three people. She’s not trying to out-shout the competition, she’s not trying to grab anyone’s attention with razzle dazzle, and she’s not making vague product statements. She communicates concise, relevant information about her line of widgets.

Which widget person would you rather talk to? The shouter, the dazzler, the vague sloganeer or the person who understands what you need from a widget?

Each of these four people represents a particular style of advertising. There are ads that shout to get your attention, ads that are artsy and off topic, ads with meaningless words – and ads which focus on the interests of specific target audiences. Which style has credibility? Which style works? The answer is obvious.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

(c) Copyright 2014 by John Foust. All rights reserved.