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Flush ‘vague’ from your ad pipeline

Robert Schumacher
Vail, CO, Colorado

Vague does not work in plumbing ads or any other advertising. Since he has been so much in the news of late, let’s use “Joe the Plumber” to build an example and show the difference between a vague selling point that rarely gets noticed or acted upon and a tangible message that gets our attention and is likely to spur action.

Joe decides that his main selling point is quick service. After all, no one wants to wait around all day for a plumber (or any tradesperson) to show up. Like most small business owners, Joe needs his advertising to generate immediate business. He puts together an ad that reads something like this:

“Call Joe the Plumber for Speedy Service!



– Trenchless sewer lines.

– Water heaters.



– Hydro jetting.

– Sewer Inspections by video.

– Drain cleaning.



– Preventative maintenance.

– Free estimates.

222-0000 ” 24 hours ” 7 days a week.”

Joe dresses up the ad with a clever graphic that portrays a plumber on the run with a monkey wrench in his right hand. Is Joe’s ad typical? You bet it is. Is Joe’s ad effective? No, because it is vague! There is no concrete reason for you to believe that Joe will live up to your expectation of “speedy.”

Joe’s ad does not have to be larger. It does not have to be in color. It probably should not run more than once. In short, Joe’s ad is pretty much a waste of money, because vague is never effective. Vague equals “fuzzy,” which means Joe’s ad reads, sounds and looks pretty much like every other plumbing ad.

The words fail to differentiate Joe’s services from the dozens of other companies touting the exact same thing. “Speedy” probably means something different to Joe than it does to his customers.

What happens when we attach a dollar amount to “speedy?” Not an amount that will break the bank but one large enough to put some teeth into the message of speedy service. How about $50? That’s a nice, round number that makes clear that Joe takes “speedy” seriously and certainly large enough to get the attention of someone needing Joe’s services.

Our new headline reads “On time or I will pay you $50!” Customers want Joe to show up when he says he will show up (or before). If Joe says 5 p.m. it better be by 5 p.m. or sooner. If not, you pocket $50! That wording puts some teeth into “on time.” We have now made it clear what Joe means.

If you compare the words in the first ad with those in the revision, you have a good example of the difference between a broad selling point and a concrete message. The first implies speed, but leaves the real definition up to the reader or listener. The revision spells it out and makes it crystal clear. Small changes can make a huge difference in perception.

Making the words in your advertising mean something to your audience isn’t brain surgery but it also is not easy to do. You need to think about the message you are trying to convey. You need to become your prospect. You need to role play in your mind.

Share your message with a friend or family member and ask them to tell you what they think it means. If they cannot, or if their interpretation does not match up with yours, chances are your words are too vague to be effective.

Go back to the drawing board and put some meat on the bone.

Bob Schumacher is a Grand Junction-based author and consultant who presents real world insight, tactics and strategies for small business owners and managers in plain English. His website ” wwwRedMeatMarketing.com ” features complimentary business marketing articles plus a free book on creating ads that sell. E-mail Bob at marketingemporium@bresnan.net.


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