When an audience’s reaction to an ad is “Huh?” instead of “Wow!” it’s a painful waste of marketing resources. Here are three examples of advertising campaigns that fail the “Huh?” test, and three tips to avoid making mistakes like this in your smart marketing strategy.

  • Value-Huh? I saw an Allstate billboard sign that says “Value’Lujah: New Lower Rates. What was Allstate thinking when they came up with this headline? Imagine how much more effective the message would have been if the copy had read, “Hallelujah! New Lower Rates.” Everyone knows what hallelujah means, but “value’lujah?” I doubt it.
  • Good banking is what? Cleveland-area bank Charter One’s new marketing tagline is a real head-scratcher: “Good banking is good citizenship.” What? As a consumer, I have many beliefs about what good banking is, but “good citizenship” isn’t one of them. This message may be linked to their TV ad where the founding fathers discuss modern banking, but even if you had seen the founding fathers spot, would this tagline make sense to you?
  • Monsters behind the wheel? This creative concept has something to do with a female college student (I’m assuming) who’s a monster and drives a Honda Civic HF with her girlfriends. What does this have to do with a car? And how does this convey any meaningful takeaway message that differentiates the product? What you remember after seeing this ad is a goofy-looking girl monster driving some type of white car.

Here are three tips to be sure your marketing campaign passes the “Huh?” test:

  1. Keep it simple. When I was learning to write advertising copy, my boss edited and re-edited my copy to strip the message down to its essence. Your odds of delivering an effective marketing message increase exponentially if you keep the message and the concept simple.
  2. Clever can backfire. If your marketing agency presents a new creative campaign, ask yourself and others how quickly you grasped the message. If most people don’t immediately understand the concept and message, insist on a new approach.
  3. Don’t expect repetition to clarify the message. Some marketers have a theory that repeated viewings will result in high awareness and understanding. Audiences don’t want to work at “getting it” – they just want to get it.

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Jean M. Gianfagna is a marketing strategy expert and the founder and president of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing which provides marketing strategy and creative services to leading business-to-business and consumer marketers. Read her blog for more marketing tips at http://www.gianfagnamarketing.com/blog.