Advertisement English. Part 3
If the Colgates have made a mint of money in soap and perfumes, we shall hear of it from other people than the Colgates. We would rather hear of it from other people. The question now is, Are the Colgates still selling a soap that I want? Perhaps the old house is out of date and resting on its laurels. By the bye, I will go and look at a Colgate ad in some magazine. . . . Ten minutes later. Ah! here is one, with a dainty picture and a few definite words about a new perfume. I seek in vain for any word about "our" greatness.
If the text of that advertisement had contained a long description or a list of all the articles made by Colgate, some of even that material would have to be called irrelevant. Irrelevant to what? Not intrinsically to the Colgates' goods, but to some of them in the light of the reader's limited attention. Superfluous words are irrelevant; superfluous topics are; superfluous arguments are. Once more we are vague and general. But the principle holds good that the advertiser must study each situation with regard to the question of the reader's probable supply of attention. That much being established, his problem is to get all the really significant details before the reader in the briefest possible space.
§ 110. To inform is not to disgust. Statements which lack refinement will excite attention, but so will a drunken man. Get a sandwich-man drunk and nobody will buy the things he is advertising. And as Professor Scott has shown in his books on advertising - which some professionals like and some disdain-there are many degrees of repugnance aroused by advertisements. Elsewhere (Chapters II and XI) we have pointed out the strong emotional associations of Anglo-Saxon words. Re-member that some of them are too strong. Theoretically you could go to rough men and sell them goods by the use of coarse words. Practically the end of that process would soon be reached. I saw the other day a gilded loaf of bread, advertised as Klondike bread. The writer meant that the bread was worth its weight in gold. But could he be sure that it would mean that to a miner? The miner might recall only the wretched camp-bread he had had to make, or he might feel that metallic loaf giving his teeth a shiver. But Klondike Bread is a dainty phrase as compared with some phrases that are supposed to sell goods.
§111. To inform does not mean to lie. There are lying advertisements that sell goods once but never again, and the men who get them up know the fact and provide against the evil day. To inform means to tell the truth. And if that is done, the goods must of course be honest and valuable. Telling the truth, again, means making interesting discriminations. Every merchant carries some goods that are better than others, and his advertising does not suffer if it points out the fact. Superla-tive praise has no more effect in advertising-English than it has in a novel. The heroine is not interesting if she is described as the most beautiful woman who ever lived. Only her lover thinks that.
Yet there is a place even for the lover in advertising. It is entirely possible for a man to believe that some one thing made or sold by him is the best of its sort in the world. If he goes into print and says so, pointing out the reasons as intelligently as he can, his enthusiasm will be contagious. He will ring true. All the world loves a lover, and all the world is tempted to buy from the man who really thinks his article the finest ever. That ring of sincerity I how hard it is to imitate! There are professionals, to be sure, who ought to have been actors, they imitate sincerity so dangerously well. But the English of an advertiser or a salesman who believes in his goods has a directness and a vigor which go a long way. "Selling-talk"! suppose I used that phrase in a slang sense, meaning to sell the purchaser. How angry every decent salesman who read it would be. The moral is that the most effective business English comes from the lips of the man who believes in his goods. Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh English. And in Hebrew the word heart included the intellect also.
These five points about the word inform must be all that we here attempt to make. Vague they are, and general. But if the young advertiser fixes a few general rules firmly in mind, he will have at least a point of view in the midst of the vast body of conflicting doctrines which confront him as he reads the literature of advertising. I hope that in the long run these rules of English will prove to be rules also of good business.
They must be reinforced by all that has previously been said in the book, especially Chapters XVII-XX. Chapter XII is as much to the point as any. Let your advertisements read like a man-to-man talk. Let them be as natural as good conversation. Good conversation neither takes liberties nor puts on airs. It is neither impertinent nor stilted. It is direct, not brutal; frank, not familiar; precise, not tedious. It goes straight to the point, and discusses the weather later. But in its approach it does not alienate the buyer by a take it or leave it tone. It arouses a legitimate curiosity because it goes straight to a legitimate interest. It is modest, but is responsible and earnest. It tells prices, but it puts quality first and price later.