In short, advertising should generate sales!

There are plenty of reasons to advertise: to create brand awareness, build credibility and ensure a sustainable business. But in short, we advertise to increase sales.

No matter how high-minded our marketing objectives, it all boils down to making sure our target market believes that we offer the best possible answer to their needs, and that they remember our brand name so they can find us when they’re ready to buy.

But sometimes, you look at an ad and it’s hard to work what it’s all about. What’s the strategy? Who are they talking to, and what are they promising? What do they want me to “buy”?

Take the current campaign for the Department of Correctional Services. I’m not clear why a vital public service like this needs to advertise but I do know one thing – they aren’t looking for sales! A cynic might suggest that public funds are being spent to bolster the image of the government prior to the national election, but that’s another matter.

This three-part campaign makes three distinct promises:

  1. We let 30 000 criminals out of jail
  2. Not many people escape from our “secure” detention centres, but some do
  3. We’re not that good at fighting corruption

Of course, that’s not exactly how they put it, but it’s certainly the take-out. And the most important part of communication is not what you say; it’s what your target market hears.

The pay-off line is “Breaking the cycle of crime”, but the ads fail to back this up. Every brand promise needs a reason to believe, some proof to back up your advertising claims.

30 000 SA prisoners releasedBut how does releasing thirty thousand prisoners help break the cycle of crime?

And how does saving money contribute? Surely it makes more sense to trust our courts to enforce our laws in a fair and rational manner and use the budget to implement court-mandated sentences?


Secure prison facilitiesCorrectional Services simply should not draw attention to their shortcomings.  I’d really prefer not think about prisoners escaping from jail.

Would a car manufacturer claim that only a small percentage of their gearboxes give problems?

Or a pharmaceutical company claim that not very many of their headache tablets are short-packed?  And again, how does having a less than perfect record in “secure” facilities help break the cycle of crime?

A lot of people know that Michael Phelps came second in the 200m Butterfly at the 2012 Olympics – but that’s only because he was expected to win. And, of course, because we were so thrilled that Chad won.

3rd best

Mostly though, no-one cares who came second or third. Even if you’re not into 18th century poetry, you’ve probably heard the expression “damning with faint praise”.

If a restaurant boasts they serve the third-best steak in town, would you race to make a reservation?


Of course, you can only really evaluate an ad against the strategy. It doesn’t matter whether an ad appeals to me if I’m not the target market.

But if this campaign is targeting taxpayers, I doubt it will make them believe their tax money is being well spent. If it’s targeting law abiding citizens who are sick and tired of crime, I don’t believe it will make them feel safe, and if it’s targeting criminals, I’m not sure it would make them believe that crime doesn’t pay.

If you need help formulating your communication strategy, and to creat advertising messages that speak to your target market, give us a call, we’d love to talk to you.

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  1. Ginny on May 13, 2014 at 16:52

    Glad I wasn’t the only one pondering the objective of that campaign, and the resultant messaging. I’d be intrigued to see the original ad brief, and the agency’s proposed revert. Might be an interesting uniquely SA case study?!

  2. Louise Madsen (@louisem) on May 5, 2014 at 15:53

    Only third best in fighting corruption. This doesn’t say much. Correctional Services should be first at fighting crime and corruption, not third.

  3. Pat Pughe-Parry (@trishpp) on May 5, 2014 at 15:03

    OHoOOh Dear of dear. How could anyone get it so wrong. If it wasn’t so sad it would be hilarious.

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