Do what people expect you to do, say what they expect you to say, and you will quickly lose their attention.

Nothing new… nothing surprising… nothing different. This is the essence of boredom. And it’s exactly what most advertisers put in their ads.

And then there is a second group of advertisers who insert a series of “Once-in-a-lifetime! Don’t miss this event! One-week-only!” exclamation points in their ads in an attempt to make them exciting.

But a third group – the adjective-addicted – are the most painful ad writers of all. They take the longest to say the least. Adjectives, adverbs and exclamation points are crutches used by writers unable to craft a sentence that can stand alone.

So far, I’ve told you 3 things not to do:
1. Don’t be predictable.
2. Don’t yell.
3. Don’t use too many words.

To gain and hold attention, you must introduce an enigma, write a riddle, make a mystery, pose a puzzle.

John Wheeler was a theoretical physicist who understood the hungry mind of mankind.

If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day.

Isaac Asimov made a similar observation.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’

We ignore the predictable but notice the anomaly. Gaps, disturbances and incongruities elevate our attention.

But when an advertiser pays for an ad, they incorrectly assume the public will be paying attention.And in the fog of that happy delusion, they think all they need to do is say, “Isn’t my product great!”

And now you know why most ads deliver poor results.

I’ve been hired by someone in a boring business category to get the attention of the locals in Las Vegas.

That’s right. Las Vegas.

The first thing I’m going to do is put up billboards that make no sense. These billboards will show no product and contain no telephone number or website. There will be only a smiling face and six inexplicable letters of the alphabet. People will think, “That’s absolutely the worst advertising I’ve ever seen.”

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?

The key will be the radio ads. Fully one-third of the population of Las Vegas will hear them. And then the billboards will make perfect sense.

The one third I reach will be happy to solve the mystery for the two-thirds that didn’t hear the radio ads. (Trust me, my one-third knows the other two-thirds.)

These are the Two Big Dangers:

1: The answer to the riddle of the 6 letters has to be such an interesting story that people will be happy to share it. This final piece of the puzzle must make a satisfying “click” as it snaps into place so that it triggers a tiny orgasm of delight. This is not an easy thing to do.

2: Critical mass: the radio ads have to reach a large enough group of people often enough that the message will be shared with the rest of the city. If we fall short in this, all is lost and I am an idiot.

Private Note to Writers: Ads that say, “Isn’t this product great!” are the safest ones to write. Advertisers always love them and when they don’t work, all you have to say is, “We’ve been reaching the wrong people” or “We’ve been using the wrong media” or “We’ve got to do something about those negative online reviews.” Advertisers never blame the ad when it says, “Isn’t my product great!” So that’s the kind of ad you must write if you want to play it safe.

But if you want to run with the big dogs, if you want to have an adventure, if you’re tired of looking down at your shoes and blame-shifting, I’ll see you in Las Vegas.

Roy H. Williams