By Jace Vernon


RED has spent millions in advertising dollars and thousand on tracking the results.

      Here, with all the dogmatism of brevity, are 38 of the things we have learned.


1. The most important decision. We have learned that the effect of your advertising on your sales depends more on this decision than on any other: How should you position your product?

Should you position SCHWEPPES as a soft drink– or as a mixer?

The results of your campaign depend less on how we write your advertising than on how your product is positioned. It follows that positioning should be decided before the advertising is created.

Research can help. Look before you leap.

2. Large promise. The second most important decision is this: what should you promise the customer? A promise is not a claim, or a theme, or a slogan. It is a benefit for the consumer.

It pays to promise a benefit that is unique and competitive. And the product must deliver the benefit you promise.

Most advertising promises nothing. It is doomed to fail in the marketplace.

“Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement” – said Samuel Johnson.

3. Brand image. Every Advertisement should contribute to the complex symbol which is the brand image. Ninety-five percent of all advertising is created ad hoc. Most products lack any consistent image from one year to another.

The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand gets the largest share of the market.

4. Big ideas. Unless your advertising is built on a BIG IDEA it will pass like a ship in the night.

It takes a BIG IDEA to jolt the consumer out of his indifference — to make him notice your advertising, remember it and take action.

BIG IDEAS are usually simple ideas. Said Charles Kettering, the great General Motors inventor: “This problem, when solved, will be simple.”

BIG SIMPLE IDEAS are not easy to come by. They require genius –and midnight oil. A truly big one can be continued for twenty years – like our EYEpatch for Hathaway shirts.

5. A first class ticket. It pays to give most products an image of quality –a first-class ticket.

RED Digital has been conspicuously successful in doing this — for all type of business and services. 

If your advertising looks ugly, consumers will conclude that your product is shoddy, and they will be less likely to buy it. 

6. Don’t be a bore. Nobody was ever bored into buying a product. Yet most advertising is impersonal, detached, cold — and dull. 

It pays to involve the customer.

Talk to her like a human being. Charme her. Make her hungry. Get her to participate. 

7. Innovate. Start trends — instead of following them. Advertising which follows a fashionable fad, or it imitative, is seldom successful.

It pays to innovate, to blaze new trails.

But innovation is risky unless you pretest your innovation with consumers. Look before you leap.

8. Be suspicious of awards. The pursuit of creative awards seduces creative people from the pursuit of sales. 

We have been unable to establish any correlation whatsoever between awards and sales.

At RED we no give an annual award for the campaign which contributes the most to sales.

Successful advertising sells the product without drawing attention to itself. It rivets the consumer’s attention to the product.
Make the product the hero of your advertising.

9. Psychological segmentation. Any good agency knows how to position products for demographic segments of the market –for men, for young children, for farmers in the South, etc.
But RED has learned that it often pays to position products for psychological segments of the market.

Our Mercedes-Benz advertising is positioned to fit nonconformists who scoff at “status symbols” and reject flimflam appeals to snobbery.

10. Don’t bury news. It is easier to interest the consumer in a product when it is new than at any other point in its life. Many copywriters have a fatal instinct for burying news. This is why most advertising for new products fils to exploit the opportunity that genuine news provides.

It pays to launch your new product with a loud BOOM-BOOM

11. Go the whole hog. Most advertising campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of marketing objectives. They embrace the divergent views of too many executives. By attempting too many things, they achieve nothing.

It pays to boil down your strategy to one simple promise – and go the whole hog in delivering that promise.

What Works Best in television.


12. Testimonials: Avoid irrelevant celebrities. Testimonial commercials are almost always successful — if you make them credible.

Either celebrities or real people can be effective. But void irrelevant celebrities whose fame has no natural connection with your product or your customers. Irrelevant celebrities teal attention from your product. 

13. Problem-solution (don’t cheat!) You set up a problem that the consumer recognizes.

Then you show how your product can solve that problem.

And you prove the solution.

This technique has always been above average in sales results, and it still is. But don’t use it unless you can do so without cheating; the consumer isn’t a moron, she is your wife. 

14. Visual demonstrations. If they are hones, visual demonstrations are generally effective in the marketplace.

It pays to visualize your promise. It saves time. It drives the promise home. It is memorable.

15. Slice of life. These playlets are corny, and most copywriters detest them. But they have sold a lot of merchandise, and are still selling. 

16. Avoid logorrhea. Make your pictures tell the story. What you show is more important than what you say. 

Many commercials drown the viewer in a torrent of words. We call the logorrhea (rhymes with diarrhea).

We have created some great commercials without words. 

17. On-camera voice. Commercials using on-camera voice do significantly better than commercials using voice-over

18. Musical backgrounds. Most commercials use musical backgrounds. However, on the average, musical backgrounds reduce recall of your commercial. Very few-creative people accept this. 




But we never heard of an agency using musical background under a new business presentation.

19. Stand-ups. The stand-up pitch can be effective if it is delivered with straightforward honesty.

20. Burr of singularity. The average consumer now sees 100,000 commercials a year; poor dear.

Most often slide off her memory like water off a duck’s back.

Give your commercials a flourish of singularity, a burr that will stick in the consumer’s mind. One such burr is the MNEMONIC DEVICE, or relevant symbol –like the crowns in our commercials for imperial Margarine.

21. Animation & Cartoons. Less than five percent of television commercials use cartoons or animation. They are less persuasive than live commercials.

The consumer cannot identify herself with the character in the cartoon. And caroons do not invite belief.

However, Carson/Robers, our partners in Los Angeles, tells us that animation can be helpful when you are talking to children.

They should know — They have addressed more than six hundred commercials to children.

22. Salvage commercials. Many commercials which test poorly can be salvaged.

The faults revealed by the test can be corrected. We have doubled the effectiveness of a commercial simply by re-editing it. 

23. Factual vs. emotional. Factual commercials tend to be more effective than emotional commercials.

However, RED has made some emotional commercials which have been successful in the marketplace. Among these are our campaigns for FORD, AMAZON, and ORACLE.

24. Grabbers. We have found that commercials with an exciting opening hold their audience at a higher level than commercials which beign quietly. 

What Works Best in print.


25. Headlines. On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body. 

It follows that, if you don’t sell the product in your headline, you have wasted 80 percent of your money. That is why most RED headlines include the brand name and the promise. 

26. Benefit in headlines. Headlines that promise a benefit sell more than those that don’t.

27. New in headlines. Time after time, we have found that it pays to inject genuine news into headlines.

The consumer is always on the lookout for new products, or new improvements in an old product, or new ways to use an old product. 

28. Simple headlines. Your headline telegraph what you want to say — in simple language. Readers do not stop to decipher the meaning of obscure headlines.

29. How many words in a headline? In headlines tests conducted with the cooperation of a big department store, it was found that headlines of ten words or longer sold more goods than short headlines.

In terms of recall, headlines between eight and ten words are most effective.

In mail-order advertising, headlines between six and twelve words get the most coupon returns.

On the average, long headlines sell more merchandise than short ones — headlines like our


“At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

30. Localize headlines. In local advertising, it pays to include the name of the city in your headline.

31. Select your prospects. When you advertise a product which is consumed only by a special group, it pays to “flag” that group in your headline — MOTHERS, BED-WETTERS, GOING TO EUROPE?

32. Yes, people read long copy. Readership falls off rapidly up to fifty words but drops very little between fifty and five hundred words. (this page contains close to 2000 words and you are reading it.)

RED has used long copy with notable success — for Mercedes-Benz, Cessna Citation, Merrill Lynch, and Shell gasoline. 

“The more you tell, the more you sell.”

33. Story appeal in picture. RED has gotten notable results with photographs which suggest a story. The reader glances at the photograph and asks himself, “What goes on here?” then he reads the copy to find out. 

Harold Rudolph called this magic element “story appeal.” The more of it you inject into your photograph, the more people look at your advertisement.

It is easier said than done. 

34. Before & after. Before and After advertisements are somewhat above average in attention value. 

Any form of “visualized contrast” seems to work well.

35. Photographs vs. artwork. RED has found that photographs work better than drawings almost invariably.

They attract more readers, generate more appetite appeal, are more believable, are better remembered, pull more coupons, and sell more merchandise. 

36. Use captions to sell. On average, twice as many people read the captions under photographs as read the body copy. 

It follows that you should never use a photograph without putting a caption under it; and each caption should be a miniature advertisement for ht eproduct — complete with brand name and promise. 

37. Editorial layouts. RED has had more success with editorial layouts than with “addy” layouts. 

Editorial layouts get higher readership than conventional advertisements.

38. Repeat your winner. Scores of great advertisements have been discarded before they have begun to pay off.

Readership can actually increase with repetitions – up to five repetitions. 

Is this all we know?

These findings apply to most categories of products. But not to all.

RED has developed a separate and specialized body of knowledge on what makes for success in advertising food products, tourist destinations, proprietary medicines, children’s products – and other classifications.

But this special information is revealed only to the clients of RED