Don’t spill all your candy in the lobby, is a phrase I use quite often. Some time ago, a LinkedIn group for marketers posed this question; “What is your best marketing advice?” I replied with “Don’t spill all your candy in the lobby.” I did so because, in my view this is a fundamental mistake many make when marketing a product or service. They spill all their candy, not only in the lobby, but some spill it in the street on the way to the theater. And quite frankly it drives me crazy to witness this. It makes me even crazier to be dragged into this bad behavior by a colleague or client. But it happens, and when it does happen, I go into my spiel about spilling your candy.

If committing this bad behavior is a fundamental marketing mistake, then adhering to this philosophy is sort of like a “Marketing 101” no brainer. It is at least for me, and I’ve managed to convert many along the way over the years. Let me explain what I mean about all this candy spilling business. I used to primarily design newspaper ads quite a few years ago. One day, I was complaining about the excessive amount of copy I had to deal. I hated the lack of white space afforded me in that tiny two-column inch ad. Imagine that, a designer complaining about copy. A media buyer named Don was listening to my rant. I was saying that so much information was being divulged in the ad, it left nothing to the imagination. This to me was a colossal mistake.

Let the reader use their imagination

By leaving nothing to the imagination, or more specifically, providing all the information about the product, the potential buyer had absolutely no reason to call the number in the ad. He or she could make the decision to buy or not from the ad alone. This left the sales professional out of the equation. Why would you want an ad to close your deal when your sales department is eminently more qualified? In my view, this was a big mistake. That was the job of the ad, wasn’t it? I mean the ad’s job was to provide just enough information to evoke the call to action in the ad. In those days, the web was not an option so we had operators standing by to take your call. Well, sales professionals anyway.

That’s when Don said, “Don’t spill all your candy in the lobby.” I knew exactly what Don was saying the second those words were uttered from his lips. Don was a smart guy and he and I shared a lot of the same beliefs when it came to marketing. Don knew exactly why providing every possible fact and figure about your product or service in your ad, direct mail-piece, email blast, Facebook post – you name it, is not in your best interest. Each component has a job. In those days it was that ad’s job to make the phones ring. Today, it’s likely to make you visit a website or send that email. Perhaps it’s to share content or comment, but rest assured there’s a specific call to action that must be carried out and that should be the only focus.

Let the ad do its job by taking these steps

Just as the ad, or any content for that matter, has an overall job, each element of said content has a job as well. The hero shot needs to get your attention. The headline should make you want to read the copy, and the copy should make you want to take action. Everything has its own mini job leading to the big job of taking action and causing a conversion of some kind. You must treat each element methodically and systematically. It should all lead up the ultimate purpose of any marketing piece, without trying to cram as much information into each piece. Think of the steps involved and stop trying to make your ad be everything to everyone.

I use an advertisement as the example here but this pertains to any form of communications, be it an ad or a website. This is the David Ogilvy philosophy, which I’ve adhered to for over 30 years. There are times when being as thorough as possible is the right thing to do, like writing a manual or the documentation section of a website. But when you’re marketing your product or service, especially an ad or an email marketing campaign, or even a Facebook post, please – Don’t spill all your candy in the lobby!


About the author:
Nick France has been designing everything from ads to websites for over thirty-five years and it’s obviously engrained in his DNA at this point. When he’s not designing or writing he’s usually found loving on his family or strapped to a guitar, singing his heart out. 

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