great advertising

Would you know great advertising if you saw it?  How would you recognize it?

What criteria do you use to assess the effectiveness of a TV commercial, a print ad or a direct mail piece?

What in your mind should great advertising accomplish?


We all have our favorite TV commercials.

Usually they are the most entertaining commercials. More often than not, they are the ads that get all the attention, that win all the awards.  With some exceptions of course.

But are they the most effective?  Do they contribute to the sales process?

If you want to know whether a commercial actually sells something or is just entertaining, consider this not-so-scientific test:

Listen to my kids

Spend an evening with me in my kitchen and listen to the sounds of my kids as they watch television in the next room.

If you hear laughter or phrases like “wow, did you see that?” or “that’s cool” or “unbelievable” or “what a great commercial!” – then I guarantee you they are watching commercials designed to entertain.

But if you hear phrases like “we need that” or “I want that” or “we could use that” (or in the case of a treadmill or hair transplant ad, “Dad, you need this”) – then they are watching commercials designed to sell.

Entertain vs. sell
Ads that entertain usually put the ad first.  Ads that sell put the product first.  You can do both, but it’s not common. Too often, the entertainment steals the attention away from the product.

Now many marketing directors and advertising agencies will tell you that if you can get your audience’s attention with clever, funny, entertaining advertising, you are producing advertising that will increase sales.

I don’t agree. People may notice and enjoy your ad. They may even remember it. But were they persuaded to buy or even want your product. Probably not. In many cases, people don’t even know what product or company was being advertised.

I agree that getting your audience’s attention is important, but that’s just the beginning of the job. The rest of the commercial needs to focus on why or how your product can benefit the target audience. And why or how your product is better than than the competition.

And clever, funny, entertaining advertising doesn’t cut it.

Here’s the real test  When people see your advertising, you don’t want them to say “Great ad.” You want them to say “Great product.”

So next time you’re trying to decide if your advertising sells or merely entertains, listen to your kids.


Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit: Bob McCarthy is a freelance copywriter and consultant specializing in direct marketing and lead generation. His website is He can be reached at 508-473-8643 or by email at

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."