“Subtle” and “Marketing” Don’t Mix by Rich

“Subtle” and “Marketing” Don’t Mix “Subtle” and “Marketing” Don’t Mix “Subtle” and “Marketing” Don’t Mix “Subtle” and “Marketing” Don’t Mix “Subtle” and “Marketing” Don’t Mix

One of the “Big Picture” things to understand about Marketing. “Subtlety” and “Marketing” don’t go together. These two words should never appear in the same sentence (joke).

Many people object to the sort of P.T.Barnum method of marketing. “Step right up kiddies! 25 cents and you’ll see a sight never before seen on Earth… The bearded lady will make your eyes bug out! You’ll tell your grandchildren about the amazing things you’ve seen.”

I think everyone – well ALMOST everyone – knows there is something wrong with that approach.

How about the opposite of that? Have you ever seen someone standing on a corner, waiting for people to come up and take copies of religious tracts from them?

Not effective.

There’s got to be some sort of middle ground. A way to effective marketing. I think this is a subject worth exploring.

So read on….


What are you trying to accomplish with marketing? You want to get more new business, cost-effectively. Correct me if I’m wrong.  But there are a few steps to this:

  1. Get noticed.
  2. Connect with the reader / viewer / listener to a point of ENGAGEMENT. Get them interested and confident enough to take action.
  3. Then get them to actually take action! Or you’ve just wasted everybody’s time.

But here’s the thing. There is a major problem common to these points.

The person you are trying to communicate with, is probably NOT paying attention.

He is VERY busy, even overwhelmed.

He has too much to do. Phones ringing, text messages, co-workers asking questions. Horns blaring. Someone’s out sick. Upset customer.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you were communicating into a void, empty but for a prospective buyer? There he eagerly waits for your pitch to arrive. Carefully, calmly, he will review, understand, and decide whether to act (buy your product or service).

If only.

Too bad that only exists in children’s stories and daydreams.


The distractive clutter has a technical name, “noise.”  Seems appropriate.

And the noise level is bad and getting worse. You may have noticed that. The average person reportedly is exposed to over 3000 advertising messages a day. Not to speak of everything else going on.

Marketing experts first saw this happening in the 60’s. They invented an entire method of marketing, “Positioning”, to try and deal with it. That’s a great subject and we’ll talk about it another day.

Here and now we are dealing with a more fundamental point.

How do you get heard over a lot of noise?



How do you “shout” in print, on a website or in a commercial?  You can’t raise your voice.

One answer is sheer repetition. I’ve been preaching this for a long time and for a lot of reasons. Now we have another one. Repeat yourself enough times and you start to get noticed despite the noise. Like a softly dripping faucet, eventually it gets their attention.

Another answer is to be different (but not too different). Stand out from the crowd (noise). If your website looks the same as every other website in your industry (see: Lawyer Websites), it won’t.

You have to do things that grab people’s eyeballs. Since naked women aren’t appropriate for most product or service advertising, you have to get clever. What are the visual images and the text headlines that will stop people in their tracks and look twice? And also make sense for what you are trying to sell.

This is where advertising agencies and copy writers earn their keep.

This is also where “forget subtle” really counts.

Put yourself in the shoes of your potential readers, listeners or viewers.  That visual image and that text headline have to cut through the fog. They have to “shout” visually and in writing.

If you thumb the pages of high-end magazines, the ads for expensive watches are stunning. The quality of the photography on these watches is simply outstanding. They look like pieces of jewelry, stop eyeballs and make people want that product.

Really good automobile ads are the same way. Man, can you just see yourself sitting behind the wheel of that car, foot pressed to the floor, passing other cars like they aren’t even moving.

A great example of eyeball grabbing text was Apple’s famous “Think Different” slogan and campaign, that ran from 1997-2002. The iconic TV commercial that begins “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”, featuring Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan and Martin Luther King Junior as its first 3 shots – was a phenomenally effective ad. People still re-post that video.

It also contains this great line: “About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.”

And isn’t that the first thing your advertising has to do?

You aren’t going to accomplish it by being quiet or boring. Figure out how to “shout” without being obnoxious. That’s the winning formula.

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