Back in 1980 I set eyes on the oldest ad I have ever come across in the ruins of Ephesus, in Turkey.
Carved in stone and up to 2,000 years old I guess it is the equivalent of a modern poster.
You could reasonably claim it is a helpful social media message as it gave directions to the local brothel. You might even see it as the ancestor of the kind and helpful emails I get every day from ladies who are just round the corner from my flat, horny as hell and dying for the touch of my manly hand
Those of you with strong views on such matters should stop reading now, but how encouraging to see the ancients advertising something more fun than Coca Cola, McDonalds or Tampax.
Either way, it was wonderfully simple and effective compared to almost all the posters I see today
You may wonder why I often discuss posters.
The reason is simple: it is very hard to devise a good poster. They are a tough challenge - just as banner ads on the internet or classified ads are. So studying them pays
You have to convey a strong, relevant benefit, be simple, dramatic, to the point, include the name of what you are selling and be very brief, as the average poster is only seen for seconds.
Virtually all the posters I see fail on all counts.
They fail to convey a strong benefit and are neither simple, nor dramatic, nor to the point, nor brief - perhaps because those who throw them together have never considered how fast they have to work. In many you can't see the name of the advertiser very quickly.
"We want to look after you well into the future" is the line on a poster near Bristol Temple Meads station.
It is just about possible that a motorist whizzing past might take in all those words, but highly unlikely that they would read the long sentence afterwards which explains why the advertiser thinks they can look after you - which is something to do with an obscure survey they keep topping.
The passing motorist might also be surprised to know that the advertiser - if they ever saw the name - is a power company.
Do you see your power company as looking after you? I think a nurse, or a husband or wife or at a pinch the lady in the Ephesus hospitality suite would be a much more likely candidate.
As it happens there is a lady in the poster wearing what looks like a motor racing helmet. I have no idea what she has to do with gas or electricity. Maybe she is Lewis Hamilton's cousin, lost on her way to one of those confusing Santander bank posters. Her only role is to mystify.
There are only five things to remember about a poster.
- Is it striking and hard for someone whizzing past to ignore?
- Is it relevant, with no confusing pictures?
- Does it offer a clear, credible benefit in a split second - that no competitor is offering?
- Does it display the name of the advertiser in a way you can't miss?
- Does it have less than seven words in total?
Apart from that if you apply those criteria to every message - not just posters - that you run, you won't go far wrong.