I was challenged to devise an ad for Schools.co.uk which included six randomly chosen words, twice.

As you can imagine the Toppled Bollard has been agog with excitement following my announcement yesterday that I was accepting the challenge to write an advertisement which not only made sense (that in itself being quite a challenge), but which also included six words produced by a random word generator – in the order presented.

Even more challenging, I had to use each word twice.

Five members of the Random Word Generator Association watched the generation to ensure there was no cheating and each signed the affidavit to the effect that no money (well, not much money) had passed hands.

The six words, you may recall from yesterday, were

Wreckage   robot    habit    hammerhead    several    flirtation.

Thus it was that the crowds gathered in the Charles Babbage lecture theatre awaiting my presentation at 7.30pm yesterday evening.  Tickets had been selling like tickets, largely because they were tickets, and reporters from several marketing magazines had turned up to watch the fun.

These ladies and gentlemen of the press were, of course, jettisoned from the room once they were identified, as Dr Billy “the dog” McGraw (senior psychologist at the University College of the North Circular Road) called the meeting to order and the six words were displayed.

I took to the floor.

“I write most of my advertisements in the morning,” I announced.  “My brain is sharper, the mind seems more alert and the sun is in the east.  Thus I settled down to work at 9.30am.”

There was silence in the room, as I picked up my script.  “The theme for my piece was set by Dr Billy” (he nodded profoundly, gazing around the room seeking out anyone who would challenge him on this or any other matter), and it was “Overcoming the declining willingness of teachers to buy stuff.”

There was more nodding.  It was a good topic. Then, as the nodding stopped I reminded the assembled elite of the marketing community of Northants and the Shire of Rut of my six given words as noted above and I read out my advertisement….

“Driving around the UK I am often taken by how much we throw away.  It is as if we create the new, and then jettison it in favour of the newer, leaving what is no longer wanted as a trail of wreckage – the previously “must have” but now unwanted and indeed unnecessary.

“Wreckage that ranges from unused TV aerials to the annual road map of Great Britain issued by the AA so that we can find our way home.  Gone, forgotten, replaced by Sky dishes, GPS and Google Maps. And of course, robots.

“For where once the robot was a geeky humanoid that jerked around, spoke in a funny voice and ultimately tried to kill its controller, now the robot is telling us where to put our hands while taking our blood pressure while gathering medical data about us which it can sell.

“Of course, we are all creatures of habit.  But although habit is the essence of all life as it has evolved on Earth – from the largest hammerhead bat of the species hammerhead monstrosus to the tiniest mollusc – our job as advertisers is always to break the habit.

“For habit linked to memory is what everyone lives by.  You may have thought on seeing the word “hammerhead” I was going to have to introduce a shark into my narrative, but no! I gave you a bat which lives in equatorial Africa.

“And I did this because I wanted to keep your attention.  I needed to draw you back to my increasingly preposterous narrative, not just once but several times.  If possible in several different ways.

“Thus I might befriend the reader in my opening paragraphs before suddenly changing course and with a metaphorical wink of an eye suggest a certain level of chumminess which has not heretofore been noticed in my writing.

“Rather than shouting at my reader “BUY THIS NOW OR YOU WILL REGRET IT” I might choose to suggest that while there is a difference between friendliness and flirtation, and that although flirtation generally has no part to play in selling to teachers, one really ought to be presenting oneself not as a dictator ordering the reader to buy, but a friend, one who is on good terms with the reader.  A reliable source of good information.”

I stopped, my email read, the six words delivered, twice each in order.  There was, of course, wild applause (the presence of Dr Billy always ensures that speakers at the Toppled Bollard are well received), and then I took questions.

The first was inevitable, and it was from one of those Leicesterians who despite the best of endeavours by the Rutlander County Guard has crept in.   “But will you use that advert?” he demanded. “Are you saying it is good?”

“No,” I said, patiently adopting the tone one might use with a teenager whose normal vocabulary does not go beyond a couple of grunts.

“I am saying something quite different.  My suggestion is that if you play with words – for example, by undertaking the activity I have outlined above, new ideas jump into your head.  If you simply sit and think about your product or service, your advert is more likely to read like everyone else’s advert, and thus sales will be a lot poorer.

“Have no fear!” I continued.  “Try things!! Don’t think that you know how your customers think, because quite probably not even they know how they actually think!!!

“And if you get stuck with an advertisement remember the motto, ‘Wreckage, robot, habit, hammerhead, several, flirtation’. Whether you use this approach or a different method, you must have a way to force yourself to stop and think differently.  Otherwise your advert will not shout out ‘READ ME’ above the surrounding din, but rather merely whisper in the background.

There was wild cheering as I stood down and Dr Billy took to the stage.  “Any questions?” he asked in a voice that suggested that the bar was open.  Not surprisingly there were none.

The random word generator used for this experiment can be found here.

Earlier marketing hints can be found at https://marketing.schools.co.uk while Stephen can be found at 01604 880 927 or via Stephen@schools.co.uk

The Toppled Bollard has recently vanished into a newly opened dimension and cannot currently be found at all but might be back next week

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