Expert view: Give a human touch to adspeak

Ask yourself this simple question: if you put a price tag on your direct mail, would anyone buy it? Would the public pay 50p for it? Or even £1?

I've used this question at many of the creative workshops and seminars I give, and the answer is always the same.

No one would buy your direct mail, press ads, TV ads or posters. But they will buy branded T-shirts, books, mugs and even pencils. Why is this?

It's all about the approach. If you briefed your agency to convey your message through something that people would actually pay for, the solutions would be creative and funny - and would probably not take the form of a traditional advertisement.

The next question I ask is: "How many people own something from the Edward Monkton collection - a card, a book or a novelty item?" The vast majority seem to have something. For those who aren't familiar with Monkton, he's the same chap who created the Purple Ronnie cartoon. Monkton's work is witty, thought-provoking and sometimes bizarre.

How can you rationalise prose such as "My marmalade's called Nigel, my toast is called Elaine, I bet my butter wishes it had a proper name"? You can't. But it engages millions, and far more effectively than most ads do.

A friend of mine is a writer and writes a lot of serious stuff. However, his best seller is a humorous look at stress that sells for a fiver. One of the best selling business books of all time is not a serious tome, but a light-hearted, childlike book called Who Moved My Cheese? It turns on its head any notion that business books need to be serious to be taken seriously. It is, in fact, a very human book.

When you listen to people talk about entertainment, news, gossip or things they love, they do so with a human voice. Look through any social networking site and read the way people communicate - it's anything but adspeak. Their conversations are emotional, fun, warm and passionate.

So why is so much ad copy so straight? Who wrote the rule that says in order to get a response you must be dull, boring and serious? If you want proof that that's untrue, just think of Red Nose Day.

An expert in word-of-mouth advertising told me that people believe what their friends say 91 per cent of the time, but believe what adverts tell them only 17 per cent of the time. My advice is this: if you want a response, you first need a reaction. To engage the masses, you need to think and speak like them.

- Chris Arnold is executive creative director of marketing agency Blac.

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