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Advertising is No Place for Manners

Johnny Molson


Yes or no questions invite the customer to say “no.”

Are you the kind of person who begins your ads with a question? Are you looking for a new way to engage people so they pay attention? Are you aware that you are giving people a reason to exit your ad before they even begin to consider your product?

Opening with a question, especially a yes/no question, gives the consumer a chance to say “no” before you even have an opportunity to make your case. It’s advertising’s way of politely tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, “hello, are you shopping for a car today?”

Of course, I’m shopping for a car. I’m in the damn dealership, aren’t I?

The thought behind the “interrogation” method of headline writing is rooted in the hope we can qualify the recipient of the ad. By saying “attention all mothers of babies who wet themselves,” we can be sure our message gets to the intended market segment. Instead, it limits the reach of the ad.

If I hear “are you the mother of a baby who wets himself?” I have no choice but to say “nope,” and move on. My brain will filter you out and I may miss something important (after all, you just asked me to do that). If I learn about your product over time, I might share your information with a mother of a baby, thus doubling your reach. But, I’m not going to do that if you indirectly tell me to “go away.” “This ad isn’t for you.”

Be declarative. “You need a new car” is substantially stronger than “is your old car old and boring and you don’t want it anymore?”

Because we are inherently polite, we are hesitant to make a bold statement. We tip-toe up and say, “Pardon me… don’t wanna bug ya… just wonderin’… are you maybe, possibly, perhaps looking for a place to have lunch someday?” When we should be saying, “You are so hungry, you can’t see straight. Your only hope is our one pound Angus burger.”

As an ad writer from the Midwestern United States, arguably the politest place on the planet (outside of Canada), I wrestle with this constantly. I write this today for you, and for me. A reminder that advertising is no place for manners. Be bold.

Johnny Molson



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