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January 30, 2012
What's Wrong With This Picture? The Stauer Chronograph
 
Stauer is a well-known direct marketer selling everything from jewelry and watches to coins and collectibles. The tagline on their website reads: Smart luxuries — Amazing prices. Their reproductions of fine art can sell for hundreds of dollars, and their rare collectibles can be priced above $1,000. Most of us, though, are familiar with their glossy page ads, selling Stauer branded watches and jewelry at a price point typically no higher than $75.
 
Which brings us to today’s What’s Wrong With This Picture ad critique: Stauer’s Compendium Hybrid watch. And that right there is the ad’s first goof: product branding.


 
If there ever was a product name that gives you no clue as to what the product is, it’s Compendium Hybrid. I can see GM or maybe BMW tacking that moniker on a luxury hybrid SUV, but on a watch? The moniker also violates the KISS principle.
 
Compendium is neither a simple word nor an intuitively understood one. Indeed, compendium means a comprehensive but brief account of something otherwise extensive — so how does that apply to a watch? It doesn’t, at least not effectively. More to the point, would you be comfortable telling anyone who inquired about the watch (if it was on your wrist), “Oh, this ol’ thing, why it’s my new Compendium Hybrid.” How much easier and simpler to say, "It’s my new Stauer chronograph.
 
Now let’s review the ad from top to bottom…
 
In the upper right-hand corner is the pricing info.
 
I would submit, subject to testing of course, that the tried, true, and now extremely tired approach of telling the consumer that an item is offered at a deep, deep discount to what it might normally be priced at is a bit overdone and dated — especially if the item has never before been offered anywhere at any price.
 
Such copy only serves to activate the reader’s BS detector if the reader has been around long enough to acquire one. Also, using a generic, non-specific phrase like “For a Limited Time Only” reinforces the notion that the marketer is pushing the envelope of credulity.
 
I think a more creative approach to urgency and “reason why” pricing would be more effective (read: believable). For example, why not call it a limited edition, with only so many made, and then once they’re gone, they’re gone. Granted, Stauer won’t want to stop selling the watch, especially if it proves to be a big seller, in which case they can make some feature of the watch — say the color of the watch face — a never-to-be-offered again option.
 
Okay, moving along…
 
To the left of the watch graphic (no problem there, but I’m not a designer) is a brief feature list.
 
Now, I’m not sure if it was overlooked during the editing, but stating “stopwatch function” as a feature sounds a bit awkward. The copywriter might have intended: stopwatch functionality. But even that is clunky. So how about: It’s also a stopwatch! But the real boner is: “LCD complications.” I don’t buy many watches with an LCD display, but I’ve never seen one characterized as complicated. To my mind that’s not exactly a strong or appealing selling point.
 
As for electro-luminescence backlight…try saying that three times fast.
 
Now for the headline…
 
Cute is Not Clever and Clever is Not Smart Marketing
 
Borrowing ineffectively from the hybrid zeitgeist is one thing, but stating that this watch doesn’t need gas is really pushing the marketing IQ needle towards empty. Cute and clever headlines are what many branding agencies use to justify their inflated pricing. But if a headline doesn’t do what it’s designed to do — compel the reader to keep reading — it’s a waste of money.
 
After all, we know Stauer is selling a watch, and we know it doesn’t run on gas, so what’s the point? And throwing in the standard “Amazing,” is just trite. I mean is it really amazing that this watch doesn’t need gas? The subhead is fine, but why make the first sentence into a question? It would be far more impactful if it was declarative, i.e., a period instead of a question mark.
 
On to the body copy…does it have a pulse?
 
The first paragraph is, more or less, about Stauer and how brilliant they think their designers and engineers are. But who cares? Copy that “tells,” that doesn’t intimately involve the reader, especially in the lead paragraph, will not get the reader to do what any paragraph of copy is designed to do — get the reader to read the next paragraph.
 
Takeaway point to remember: showing trumps telling. And talking about the reader trumps talking about the product and the marketer.
 
Now, the second paragraph is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. It starts out by talking about how new technology in general is priced, then reminds the reader that the watch is priced at a deep discount, then talks about the state of the economy, and then mentions why the price is discounted. All of which might be good points to bring up — but not all in one very loooong paragraph.
 
A paragraph should be devoted to one idea, and one idea only — fleshed out and explored from beginning to end. Throwing three or four relatively disparate thoughts into one paragraph is akin to giving the reader visual and mental whiplash.
 
The third paragraph, as often is the case, is where the sales copy actually begins (typically the first few paragraphs are where the copywriter begins to warm up to his message, and therefore should be immediately deleted once written). So here, the copywriter tells a story, which is always a great way to grab the reader’s attention and interest. The only problem? The subhead that starts the third paragraph doesn’t deliver on the claim it makes. In other words, where’s the revolution the reader is being welcomed to?
 
The fourth paragraph is okay. It draws a picture of how the watch works. Yet, it would be stronger still if the copy also connected the watch’s features to its advantages and benefits. But it starts with another somewhat problematic subhead: “Guaranteed to change the way you look at time.”
 
That’s not exactly an explicit guarantee you can take to the bank. After all, what does it mean exactly? Again, I think the copywriter is just trying to be cute — attempting a play on words, as in, yes, if you look at the face of the watch and all its displays, you’ll be looking at time differently (maybe cross-eyed, I suppose).
 
Bottom line: It’s an empty statement that distracts from the momentum the copy had been laboring to build. Worse still, the paragraph starts off with a one-sentence nod to the economy (again) before heading into a pro-forma guarantee. And it all ends with a feeble attempt at implied urgency: “Remember: progress and innovation wait for no one!”
 
Final thought or verdict: Because the watch sells for just $49, I guess Stauer feels you’re only entitled to $49 worth of sales copy.
 
Too bad. I’m generally a fan of Stauer’s ads.

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Barry A. Densa is a freelance marketing and sales copywriter at Writing With Personality. To read more of his articles and irreverent musings, and download a FREE copy of his NEW eBook, containing 21 of his most outrageous rants, visit his blog: Marketing Wit & Wisdom!
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