In a recent browse through Harvard Business Review, I was struck by this ad, designed to entice you to set up business in New York State.
Clearly, selling New York ain’t that hard. Even if it is the slightly less glamorous New York State. And the picture is a bit bleak and odd, with its wintry trees and the weird state shape.
But the copy does the heavy lifting, making you forget this. An arresting, gutsy headline, an equally gung-ho intro, a bunch of real facts presented in a fast-flowing sentence, and finally an outstanding payoff: “No matter who you are, or what you dream of becoming, remember this: no one ever came here to take a back seat, play second fiddle, or make it small”.
You had me at the headline, New York State – but the body copy had me booking the flight.
Now take a look at this ad, for Ontario, which was a few pages on in the same issue of HBR. Being a Brit, I’m naturally rooting for Canada, even with the tar sands and Rob Ford being mayor of Toronto. But do I want to relocate there after this?
It’s not just the sucky graphic that’s the problem, although I hate that the headline suggests it’s somehow my next big idea. It’s the fact that the copy collapses straight into corporate mush: “It’s a dynamic market where partnerships between business, government and academia are resulting in unprecedented breakthroughs and discoveries.” Has no one introduced these guys to the Fog Index? Warned them of the destructive power of adjectives? (If it’s presented to me as dynamic, unprecedented or even worse, both, then I sure as hell don’t trust it).
Then it goes on to commit cardinal sin #2 of B2B copywriting, the sentence beginning: “You need to…” Ads aren’t supposed to tell me what I need to do. That’s what bosses/spouses/clients are for. They’re supposed to make me want to do it. What’s missing from Ontario’s ad – but abundant in NY’s – is emotion.
So c’mon, grab me, Ontario. How about this:
“It’s where they invented the pacemaker. Discovered stem cells. Created the first 3D software. No surprise, really: Ontario has the lowest R&D costs in the G7 and a ready supply of top graduate talent. Will your business dream up the next big idea? Come join us. YourNextbigIdea.ca”
Now I’m thinking about booking that connecting flight to Canada.
These two ads are a perfect illustration of how persuasive communication works when it appeals to the individual, using emotion – and how it fails when brands forget this. And in the process, they show the power of good copy to make the big difference.