Response: Good copy, wrong message?

I was reading a blog post reviewing an online ad and found myself thinking: "Is this the right way to advertise?" ( - he's taking 1 ad a day for the week, great idea)

I'm not going to disagree with my friend Aaron on copy: that's his business (literally, he's a writer). He's also knowledgeable in the real estate market, I am not. But I do wonder whether this is the right message. You have 3 lines of text to tell the user something (to get them to click). Here is the ad in question:

Messaging questions:

  • What is the goal of this advertisement?
    • Is your corporate logo helping?
  • Do all the words work to the same end?
  • Is the call to action clear & as compelling as possible?

To start, the goal of the advertisement should determine its content (as well as its placement, targeting, and subsequent landing page). The goal is not a "clickthrough." The goal may be awareness. The goal may be to get someone to list their home on the site. This I think hasn't been clearly defined (no trade-off decisions have been made) and so the ad is muddied and is unlikely to perform well.

I don't think the logo helps. I know this is anathema in today's business environment: "The logo must be present!" I think that makes sense in an ad when the logo adds something. If you have no brand to leverage, then you want to put your logo in ads where you are trying to build brand. Is that the goal of this ad? If the goal is awareness, include the logo. But I don't think awareness is the right sort of problem to try to solve with a Facebook ad. Maybe as part of the ad mix, but the Facebook ad isn't rich enough to allow for telling much of a brand story to build the awareness and explain the brand experience.

The full text of the ad is:

"Buy, sell or rent your property today. See new listings by owners and agents at"

The first sentence is describing, broadly, what the website does. The second sentence is what you can do - and a small call to action.

My problem with this is that you have very little time for reader attention and this ad is trying to do too much. Focus the message on a single goal, define a single audience and a single value proposition.

Instead of talking about buying, selling, and renting: pick one for this ad: maybe just buying. If your second sentence is "See new listings" this is likely a different person than the one who would "buy, sell, or rent." Sentence 1 is for the owner, sentence 2 is for the would-be owner. Pick 1 audience and target them.

There are a lot of things that you can do with an ad. I think a Facebook ad is likely best to aim at selling 1 feature.


I'm not suggesting that getting a message across in a constrained space is easy. I love Blaise Pascal's quote:

"I apologize that this letter is so long. I did not have the time to make it short."

It's hard to make something short and still get the message across. Want a place where good (& bad) examples abound? TV ads.

I enjoy TV ads in general. At their best they take 30 seconds and deliver a rich, engaging, and short story. At their best they make me like a product more. Take the great PC vs. Mac ads: they have 30 seconds and they take every possible feature of a Mac and pick one (sometimes a few). 30s = 1 feature. Like this Mac/PC ad:

( click here to watch the HD version on Apple's website)

30 seconds, and all they talk about is easy switching.

Note: I write this post from my PC after using a PC at work. I also like Vista.

The Facebook ad is even shorter than the 30 second TV spot - it might be 10 seconds of reading. All the more reason to tighten it up.

Instead of:

Free Real Estate Ads
Buy, sell, or rent your
property today. See new
listings by owners and
agents at

Something like:
(I'm just guessing at a possible feature to highlight)

Find a Home Now
Search the most recent
listings online. See homes
from owners and agents


If I were running such a Facebook ad, a few technological things I'd think about:

  • Have the advertisements auto-generated from recent listings: and highlight a recent listing
  • Split-test different ads (different images, slightly different wordings) to evaluate which work
  • Target different ads & different copy at different regions & different demographics


Thursday, August 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

tagged: advertisements, advertising, apple, facebook, mac, macvspc, marketing, realestate, selling, stories