Refine Your Marketing: What Do Your Ads Say About You?

Do your advertisements need a makeover? We asked consumers and a marketing expert to critique actual marketing materials from our readers.

May 1, 2007

It’s always healthy to get an outsider’s perspective, especially when it comes to something as critical as marketing materials. We asked readers to send in their ads for an honest critique, with the idea that feedback from consumers and a marketing expert would benefit them and other readers who are looking for a way to spruce up their public image.

Of the many marketing materials that readers submitted, we selected three representative pieces — a bus ad, a print ad, and a postcard. Then we presented the materials to marketing consultant John Graham, president of Graham Communications in Quincy, Mass., and author of several books on marketing strategy. Finally, we sought out savvy consumers for their opinions. Here's what they said.

Bus Ad: Got Travis?

Travis Kirby, a broker associate with Ruhl & Ruhl, REALTORS® in Dubuque, Iowa, needed a way to gain name recognition in his market. The idea for this ad came from one of his favorite college T-shirts, emblazoned with a funny variation of the "Got Milk?" slogan.

"I like that the ad is simple and just cheesy enough to remember," Kirby says about his marketing piece. A slightly different version of this ad runs in magazines, where "the high amount of black in the ad makes it stand out from competitors ads on the same page." So far the strategy has been working for Kirby, who says people recognize his face from the ad.

The expert’s opinion: “It’s interestingly powerful,” says Graham. “Doing a play on the ‘Got Milk?’ slogan works for him because milk has positive health qualities. It’s essentially saying: If you’ve got me, you’ve got extra benefits.” Graham likes how the ad draws attention to Kirby’s face rather than overemphasizing the name of the company. “Instead of being about the company, it’s about him. And when you look at him, he’s a healthy looking guy. Some people could have done the same ad and it wouldn’t have worked.” Graham’s advice for improvement: I would keep ‘Ruhl & Ruhl’ smaller and minimize the logo, then play up Travis more.”

The consumer’s opinion: Paul W., a 28-year-old communication specialist in Washington, D.C., who’s considering his first real estate purchase, says the best thing about this marketing piece is simplicity. “It’s direct and obvious without a lot of verbal clutter,” he says. “I like the black and white graphics — streamlined and elegant.” However, Paul isn’t a big fan of Kirby’s version of the “Got Milk?” slogan. “It’s catchy, but in an annoying way. It’s been done and redone too many times. I’d want my real estate agent to be more original than to rehash an old commercial jingle as part of his sales pitch.” Overall, Paul says the ad would probably stick in his mind, despite what he viewed as a lack of creativity. His suggestions for improvement: “I’d play more off the name of the company, Ruhl & Ruhl. That lends itself to creative possibilities.”

Print Ad: Rock Solid in Real Estate

Kris Biessener is one of four salespeople at Prudential Lakes Realty in Hackensack, Minn., “a second-home market with 127 lakes in a 10 mile radius,” she says. It would be too pricey to run her own ads in all of the local tourist publications, so Biessener pooled funds with her associates. “We went into this together so we could afford to run the ad in more places.” The ad was inexpensive to create; they snapped the photo with a digital camera, and paid $50 for the design.

To stand out from other local agents, many of whom use some variation of the tagline “lakeshore specialists,” Biessener and her colleagues picked a motto unrelated to the vacation-home market: “Rock Solid in Real Estate.” Most people in her small town already know everyone's last name, so Biessener didn’t feel it was important to include surnames in the marketing piece. “We get comments from locals who love the fact that [our ad] is different,” Biessener says. “We hope to send the message that we are fun, creative professionals."

The expert’s opinion: Graham appreciates Biessener's effort to differentiate her ad from others in the marketplace. But he says there’s plenty of room for improvement, starting with the photograph. “I don’t like the idea of real estate agents sitting down,” he says. “I want to see action. I want to see that my agent is going to work hard for me.” The ad also could benefit by telling or showing prospective clients why they should do business with Biessener and her colleagues: Do they work as a team? Do they have a niche specialty? None of that is disclosed, Graham says. “There has to be the message that says: We understand what you’re looking for and we’re willing to take the time to meet your needs.” He suggests changing the motto, “Rock solid in real estate,” to something that better describes the benefits awaiting prospective clients. One idea: "When you work with us, you work with a team."

The consumer’s opinion: Stefanie B., a 32-year-old home owner who works as an advertising copywriter in Royal Oak, Mich., says this ad’s homey feel conveys that Biessener and her colleagues are “approachable, nice people.” However, she agrees with Graham when she says: “The rock makes them look stagnate — not like the go-getters you would want to help find you a home.” To make the ad more compelling, Stefanie suggests a more natural pose, perhaps in front of an attractive home, and professional photography for a more polished look. “This plays as a low-budget, amateur ad. It’s nice that they're trying to look approachable and fun, but they still need better photography.” Stefanie’s other observations: The company’s name should be more visible, and “adding a sentence about their years of experience would help." In addition: "Showing their last names would add credibility” for tourists who aren't familiar with the area.

Postcard: Condo Mystery

Jim Hock, who previously worked as a crime scene investigator, uses his unique former career to build business as a condo specialist in the Charleston, S.C., area. Hock, who holds the ABR®, e-PRO, and SRES designations, created this postcard with the help of a consultant at Hobbs/Herder Advertising in Newport Beach, Calif. In the postcard, Hock tells prospects how he has solved mysteries and saved lives, but is now using his investigative smarts to sell condos.

Hock’s sends this postcard as part of consistent mailings to his farm area, which includes about 1,000 owners of high-end condos and town homes near Charleston. To ensure a consistent marketing message, Hock also has a matching brochure and letterhead.

The expert’s opinion: The idea of relating investigation skills to real estate makes good sense, Graham says. Both jobs require attention to detail and great listening abilities, for starters. Hock makes some headway at explaining this in his postcard, but the overwhelming “macho” look and feel may end up scaring away some prospects, Graham says. “The design is dark and foreboding, filled with danger,” he says. “I don’t think the macho theme is going to appeal to most people — particularly women — who are looking for luxury real estate.” Graham suggests a lighter color scheme a “less aggressive” personal photo. He’d also like to see a better description of Hock’s assets and experience in the real estate arena, with less emphasis on the CSI background.

The consumer’s opinion: Vicki P., 49, who owns a home in Knoxville, Tenn., and is considering another real estate purchase, says she was thrown off by the fingerprints and the dark colors on the front of the card. “I didn’t get it until after reading the small print on the back of the card.” Even after reading the small print, Vicki asks: “What does being a former crime scene investigator have to do with being a really good real estate agent?” Nonetheless, she says that she’ll likely remember this postcard because it’s the most unusual real estate marketing piece she’s ever seen. Her suggestions for improvement: Focus more on real estate, especially on the front of the card, and include a more direct explanation of how CSI skills transfer to high-end condos. For her, this wasn't obvious at first glance.

Kelly Quigley

Kelly Quigley is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.