As Heard on the Radio

Here’s a suggestion for all you folks thinking about doing some advertising. It’s certainly not something that’s restricted to radio adverts, but this is where I last encountered it.

I went to a thingummy one time with my friend Smarty Pants, who, as the name might suggest, is Pretty Smart. Anyway, this thingummy was a presentation-a-magooey from this fellow called Roy Williams. He’s the Wizard of words Ads. So The Wizard was talking about things that work in advertising and marketing, and things that Do Not. He talked about neurology; he talked about psycholinguistics. He talked a lot of stuff. And most of it was stuff that you already know, but probably just haven’t thought about.

I work in promotion and marketing, to a certain extent. I’ve done ads for print and radio and television. I’m a freaking STAR, people. A STAR. In fact, I’m so bloody famous, I need to hire a Sherpa to haul around my various accoutrements, and a bodyguard to make sure none of the bolsheviks accost me.

I digress.

Here is something that Never Works in advertising. Never. The Wizard mentioned it, and I didn’t really think much of it, because I couldn’t imagine anyone actually doing it. But you know what? You’re doing it. And it’s Bad. It’s Really Bad.

This is it, are you ready? Here it is:
I don’t care if God Himself works for you, or if Jesus and Muhammed are your sales team. It doesn’t matter if Cyndi Lauper is your receptionist, or if my boyfriend Johnny Depp works in accounting. Mahatma Ghandi could be your stock boy, but you know what? (Take note here, because this is the important thing) I DO NOT PURCHASE PEOPLE AT YOUR STORE.

I shop at your store because of your *merchandise*. I shop there because I need/want your crap. Good service is a bonus, but it’s not the reason I choose your shop over that other guy’s shop.

Granted, if I walk in the door of your shop, and someone hits me in the face with a pool cue, there’s a good chance I won’t shop there again.

But I don’t really care if the girl working the til would rather be shagging her lover *anywhere else but here*. I don’t particularly care if the waiter is a jerk. I mean, if he slapped his wang down on the table and said “here’s your sausuage!”…okay, if he did that, I’d leave a HUGE tip…but generally, I don’t give a waiter’s wang about service. If it’s terrible service in a restaurant, I don’t tip. If I have to wait twenty minutes at the til, I generally ask someone (politely) if they’re available to help me.

Now, if I was in the market for purchasing “reliable, friendly people”, I might shop at your place of business. But really, I am not. In the market. For purchasing people. We don’t …actually…do that…anymore…in Canada.

In fact, when I hear an advert about how the best thing about a company is its employees or its people, I make a mental note NEVER TO SHOP THERE. Know why? Because if you can’t think of something awesome to say about your products, why the hell would I want to buy them?

“Never mind the air seeder, let me introduce you to Pam!”

Listen. Advertising isn’t inexpensive. Don’t make it cheap. You pay people who know what they’re doing (you clearly do not) to promote and market your stuff. I guarantee you dollars to doughnuts if a Creative Writer were to toss something like “Shop at Bob’s Big Organs because they have Great People” past a market focus group, the market focus group would all twist up their eyebrows in Consternation and say: “well, so what? I have great people at home, too, but they can’t sell me a Wurlitzer.”

So. Again. I do not purchase people. I purchase commodities. Sometimes service is a commodity, and that should be part of your *everyday business*. If you have to advertise that your staff are the nicest, most capable people in the industry, I immediately think there’s something wrong with your products.

cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.


  1. Also, that mom and pop operation isn’t going to be going on about their staff because that’s not what’s important. They’re good because they know their products and care about them. The fact that the guy came to your house to fix something is awesome, and shows how much he cares about his PRODUCTS. He didn’t come to your house to fix it because he cares about his staff.

  2. Sure. Yeah. You expect good service. But is good service what you want to hear about in an advert? Do you choose to go to one furniture store over another because you heard in a PAID ADVERT that their staff is better?

    I had the same experience with a big furniture store, and I will never shop there again. A good thing, because most of their stuff is shite. In fact, for furniture, I’ve been hitting auctions and private makers, just like you.

    I don’t think you *do* buy people, M. I think what you do is base *future* decisions on *past* experience. Which is wise. But that’s not the point of advertising.

    When you’re advertising, you’re speaking to one of two people:
    1) The person who’s never purchased from you before, or
    2) The person who has (repeat clientele).

    You’re never going to get to 2) if you have shitty service, and if you have repeat clientele, it’s either because they don’t care about the shitty service, or because your product is THAT GOOD. There was some guy on some TeeVee show who abused his customers all the time, but he was so popular he got away with it.

    If the purpose of your ad is to get folks to buy your crap, you’re not going to do it by talking about the people who work for you.

    At my job, I have, if you’ll pardon the profanity, FUCKING AMAZING co-workers. Seriously. I couldn’t ask for better people. But when I buy an ad on the radio or make a print ad for the paper, I sure as hell don’t put in there: “Buy Saskatchewan books because cenobyte’s staff rocks!”

    I don’t buy a book because the bookstore staff is so helpful (which they are). I don’t shop at Chapters, not because their staff don’t know anything about books (that’s getting better), but because they don’t have a good working relationship with publishers or authors. Also, they have more scented candles than books these days, so…

    There are times I go to a shop just because I love the experience of being in the shop (hardware stores). I may or may not buy anything. It doesn’t matter if someone helps me right away; I’ll go ask if I really need help. If I really want to buy your stuff, it’s because it’s really good stuff. And if you really care about your stuff, you’re going to want to sell it to me (= Good Service).

    But I don’t buy things because you tell me on the radio that you have “bar none, without a shadow of a doubt, the best people in the industry”. Particularly since you don’t. I do. Heh.

  3. Really? Not that I would advertize about my outstanding staff which I would clearly have if I had a staff which I do NOT, but when I go somewhere for lunch or to purchase “shit” I demand good service. I will not go back to an establishment that has crappy service. After all, I can buy most products just about anywhere. As far as excellent food…well nothing tastes as good as respect feels. There will always be another restaurant.

    Case in point. I went to a “big box furniture store” with a lot of money burning a hole in my pocket. No one even spoke to me. I refuse to shop there or at any of the rest of the chain for the rest of my life. I went to a smaller furniture store with less selection, found what I liked just as much. My salesman treated me like gold and when I had problems with one of the products he actually came to my house to fix the situation. What did I do when I was in the market for other furnishings? That’s right. I went right back to that small mom & pop operation.

    So I guess I DO buy people. I expect good products and decent prices but I am willing to pay that much more for excellent customer service.

    How that works for advertising though, I don’t know. I’m not crazy about self promotion in the more personal sense.

  4. See, Coyote, again, that’s an example of basing future decisions on past experience. That’s not the point of advertising, really.

    You’re trying to convince people (by and large) who aren’t familiar with your crap, to buy your crap. The job of the advertiser is to get folks in the door, really. The rest is up to you. See – the ad…that’s my job. The sale…okay, that’s my job too, but in another type of business, the sale would be your job, if you are the business owner and I am the writer.

  5. That’s pretty much what I was going to say. You may mentioned friendly service, such as ‘Come look at the best selection of *crap* in our environment of helpful, knowledgable, and friendly staff,’ but the point is the CRAP.

    However. Since you brought up the waiting at the till and crappy waiter thing: Bad service means I will not go back. I will also tell everyone I know about the crappy service and suggest alternatives. You advertise your product yes, but your service is what will make or break the actual operation of the business.

    Example: When I first worked for Casino Regina, Holland Casino’s was the management team and they treated their front line staff like gold. They heavily trained us in Customer Service, and treated us to all the bonuses they could dig up. And we’re talking about a business where their product is entertainment. And if you go do some research Holland Casinos is the biggest and most successful Casino operation business in the world. One of the biggest businesses in the world period.

    Example 2: One of the people I work with constantly costs us business. She’s abrassive, loud, bitchy most of the time, rude, and inable to actually treat most people with even a modicum of civility. Funnier even is when she does attempt to be ‘nice’ it comes across as so incredibly fake and contrived that it will actually put people off. You come to my business for cheap hardware and metal, and we’re one of the only places in the city that will sell small bits of iron for use, yet I’ve had people tell me they weren’t coming back because of her.

    Service matters. Don’t advertise it, but understand it is the essence of business. Even if you don’t work with the public you’re serving someone, and you have to be able to do it well to continue doing good business.

  6. So I guess what I’m saying, M, is that there’s a difference between demanding good service and advertising it.

  7. A) I believe they prefer to be called Scots.

    B) I’m not saying service isn’t important. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stack your staff with the bestest, most competent, awesome people in the world. What I’m *saying* is that the job of an advertiser is to help you find a way to tell folks why YOUR crap (similar to the other guy’s crap, priced similarly) is in actual fact BETTER than the other guy’s crap. Or, better yet, the job of the guy writing the ads is to make you sit up and listen to the ad. Better still, a good ad will make you laugh.

    The last time I bought glasses (and I have fairly expensive tastes), I made a point to go to a store whose adverts make me giggle every time I hear them. And on top of that, I think about half a dozen people got glasses at the same place because I recommended them. Granted, I like to support local business, but anytime a thirty-second ad can make me nearly have to pull over in traffic, I’d like to spend some money there.

  8. As a long-time low-level writer peon hack in the wonderful world of ad writing, I feel the need to be a sort of apologist.
    Ceno is correct – you don’t really “buy people”. Good service and such shouldn’t be considered (IMHO) as good advertising. It should be considered good *business*. Which in a *way* is advertising / marketing…but I won’t get into that in the interest of simplicity. :-)

    Ad writers all over the world cringe and prepare to commit sapuku whenever they hear cliches like “our people make the difference” (What? Other stores employ robots?)
    BUT. But but but but.
    In such a massive marketplace like ours, there is a huge need to differentiate your business from someone else’s. What do you do to “stand out” if you sell basically the same crap as your competitor, at roughly the same price? If you don’t want to *make* differences and dig deep to find them and you just want to “get your name out there”, you dwell on service / people.
    This is also done in an effort to personalize the business in a consumer’s mind. Companies big and small strive to have *relationships* with consumers. “Come see Pam and have a chat about all your Wurlitzer needs.” (blankety blank “needs”. Personally that cliche drives me insane!)

    Most of the time this is done too simply, and (IMHO)makes messages LAME and ineffective. It’s like that kid who always assured you that they were cool. If they have to *tell* you, they’re probably not. The only exception I can think of is if you’re running a great business in a marketplace that is infamous and widely known for terrible service / people.
    At the end of the day, you can give clients Billy Shakespeare. But “them that has the gold makes the rules”. If they are convinced that their people make the difference? A writer will grin and bear it. And have a belt of Scotch after leaving the office. Sometimes before leaving.
    Just don’t shoot the messengers, OK? Some Scotch might drip on the floor. :-)

  9. All very good, Ceno. But I would suggest that when advertising local retailers, the idea is not necessarily to say why client’s crap is better than other crap. The idea is often “why you should buy crap from *client*”.
    If you’re a big T.O marketing agency who gets a contract for a specific *product*, then I would agree with you wholeheartedly. People don’t make the difference at TIDE, it’s the cleaning power. But at the TIDE store, we have the staff who know everything there is to know about TIDE and can help you select the right detergent for your specific needs. (ugh)

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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