On Bad Websites by the People Who Should Know Best

badsite

 

Blitz Magazine, November 2006

I admit to an obsession with the Blitz mailing list. It has to be perfect and up-to-date. To achieve this, though, I have to spend endless hours surfing the Net. I’ve now visited thousands of web sites and the fact is that most are just plain awful. The surprise is that some of the worst offenders are ad agencies.

Let’s say that I’m a French manufacturer. I have decided to launch my product in Canada, and I need a Canadian agency. So I start surfing.

Site #1: The first thing I see is that this agency has the gall to greet me with the words ‘Patience Please’. This is followed by animation. Lots of it. I’m thinking:  When I want an animation company, I’ll look for one. Do I want to work with an agency that thinks nothing of wasting my time? Non.

Site #2:  No introduction. I’m right in. But, huh? Its homepage has light blue type on a yellow background. The next page has red type on a dark green background. I’d need a new prescription before I could read this stuff. Ciao.

Site #3:  Ease of access, easy to read, well organized. I read about the company’s service offerings and awards. Bon. Now I want to find out who’s running the show. After some searching, I find the name of the president. But that’s it. I can’t find the name of the creative director. The agency says it has a media department, a production department and PR expertise. But there’s no listing of names. It seems to me that this is a one-guy agency. If it is, non merci. If it isn’t, do I want to do business with someone who won’t reveal the names of his staff? Adieu.

Site #4: This is a full-service ad agency in Alberta. The site is easy to use and well-designed. I want to find out who the president is and click on ‘Who’s the Boss?’ I find this: “Our Lord Jesus is the Boss!” Mon Dieu!

Site #5: This agency’s site has a staff listing. And look! Employee pictures! But the agency couldn’t afford a professional photographer—the images are low-res and grainy. One employee didn’t bother to wash her hair that day; another is wearing a dirty shirt, another looks like he slept in his suit. One has submitted a baby picture. Sorry, but I’m looking for grown-ups who bathe regularly. Nettoyer.

Site #6: This one looks OK. I think I’ll contact this agency. Oh—in order to do that, I have to fill out a Needs Assessment Form. Fill out this.

Site #7: Oh this is nice. Looks professional. Tres bien. I will write to this agency, and send it some information on my company. But what’s this? No address! Do I want to do business with an agency that doesn’t tell people where it’s located? Non.

Site #8: This one looks good. But look at all this copy. Pages and pages of copy, all written by a PR person, who says everything and nothing and who wants to fully enlighten me on the elements of successful marketing. What’s with all this ‘outside the box’ and ‘synergy’ stuff? Au revoir.

Get the picture? If a company is in the business of supplying perfection for clients, and if said company would never dream of producing promotional material for itself that is anything less than perfect, why would it mess up what is, in this day and age, its most important marketing tool?

The same applies to other companies who should know better. The sites for many PR firms don’t include client lists. Photographers either don’t put any work on their sites, or they include every shot they’ve ever taken. Graphic designers often use so much visual gunk that you forget why you went to the site in the first place. And a lot of sites for web designers painfully illustrate that they are not, in fact, designers.

The problem, it seems to me, is that many people still haven’t wrapped their heads around what websites are for. Websites (e-comm sites excluded) are meant to put out, to a worldwide audience, the facts about a company and its activities. They are marketing tools and should, therefore, be clear, concise and easily accessible. And as I head back for another round of surfing, I’m wishing that people would quit with the bells and whistles, think about what their visitors actually want, and just get to the point already.


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On Advertorial

Blitz Magazine, July 1999

advertorial

I’m standing in line behind two women; mid-30s, middle-class. One reaches into her bag and retrieves a magazine article. She presents it to her friend and says: “Look at this article on cellulite-reducing cream. It says it works.” We all look at the paper. The word ‘Advertisement’ does not appear, but it is clearly advertorial. The friend replies: ‘It’s not an article. It’s advertising made to look like editorial. You can never believe that stuff.’

                Most people know the difference between editorial and advertorial. The ploy works with some consumers but most, when they see the telltale conflicting fonts and absence of by-lines etc., know that the piece was written by the firm’s marketing department or agency. A well-designed ad with some creative juice behind it is much more effective, for the simple reason that advertorial has no credibility. If people know you paid for it, they don’t believe it.

                I’m not talking about contract publishing, which is OK because readers know, when they see a show guide or catalogue, that the enclosed editorial is meant to be self-serving. But it disturbs me to see publications which purport to be journalistic in content print glowing pieces about companies which have paid for that editorial, without telling readers that it’s advertising.

                Another, similar, practice has lately been growing at an alarming rate. A publication says to a corporate president or marketing director: ‘You give us your client list and we’ll do a feature on you. We’ll approach all of your suppliers and sell advertising around your story. We’ll supply the writer, or you can write the article yourself. Either way, you’ll have editorial control.’

                I used to write for a company whose business was based on this practice. The parameters were simple: Say nothing negative or controversial. Speak only to the people on the pre-approved list. Send the article to the client. The client will remove anything objectionable.

                There are three reasons why this practice is disturbing. First, the subject sells his supplier list to the publication. Those suppliers are approached by the publication’s sales reps. While the suppliers may not be overtly pressured, they may feel that they’ll insult the client if they don’t advertise. Their marketing budgets are reduced by what it cost to advertise in a vehicle which may be inappropriate for them; they wind up resenting both the client and the publication.

                Secondly, publications involved in this practice lower themselves to a decidedly unattractive level. When a magazine or newspaper slaps its logo and journalistic reputation onto editorial which it has sold, it receives a short-term profit and a long-term loss of respect amongst both advertisers and readers.

                Finally, today’s savvy readers are not fooled by these artificial ‘articles’. The pieces are not read. The ads are not read. The featured subject loses credibility. The publication loses credibility. People do not read publications which they do not find credible. No readers, no revenue.

                There’s a lot of doom and gloom now about the publishing industry. It seems to me that if newspapers and magazines focused on providing readers with useful and accurate information, rather than on generating short-term monetary gain, everybody would be a lot happier.