This is a story about missing ad copy.

Ad copy that, by its absence, blew a crucial opportunity to drive ticket sales for a rare and expensive public event… a rock show.

The story takes place in Seattle, early summer 2016…

That morning, as I was crossing the street, a bus drove by.

On the side of it was a poster with these words:


Huh? What?

It was surprising… curious… perplexing.

I didn’t know what to think!

But… I didn’t think about it for very long.

Ad copy without details?

AIDA is an acronym for a model that helps copywriters communicate with their target audience. It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.

The creative minds behind the ad copy on the bus ad, certainly got my attention. Good on them.

Interest? Not at all.

How could I give it to them? I was crossing a busy intersection… pushing two squirming kids in a stroller… in pursuit of coffee.

In other words, I was multitasking, like so many people do during their waking hours. That “rapid toggling” between tasks carries a switching cost.

Meaning, my brain’s processing ability was diminished.

The ad copy creators were probably hoping to intrigue me enough so that I would pull out my phone and look up the hashtag. Had I done that, I would’ve learned that Guns N’ Roses were reuniting for a concert tour. With a little scrolling, I’d see they were playing Seattle.

I could then… and only then… buy a ticket.

They were asking me to make a LOT of connections.

Most people don’t have that kind of bandwidth… not today, in our one-click world.

Remember when Will Rogers said you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression?

The same logic applies to bus ads.

Always, Always, Always… include the important details. Emphasize them with the right fonts and layout so they stand out.

Why? First, so that the viewer can take action. That’s especially important if he or she is unlikely to see the ad again.

Second, so that the viewer doesn’t become “blind” to the ad. Without specific details like dates and times, twice daily commuters can easily overlook a bus ad.

Had the creatives behind the GNR ad put the Who, What, Where, and When in the ad copy, both problems would’ve been solved.

Branding for deep-funnel purposes

Guns N Roses became massively popular in 1988.

Their songs were on the radio nonstop. They were tabloid darlings because they behaved like well… rock stars (fights, arrests, affairs). They sold albums, concert tickets, and T-shirts by the truckload.

Then, in 1993, it came to a sudden halt. No explanation given.

Band members left GNR to form other bands.

Music fads changed and evolved.

The original fans, like me, got older. We found other hobbies to spend money on. GNR songs migrated from pop to classic rock stations.

Which begs the question…

If the creative team behind the bus ad couldn’t get me – their target demographic — to show mild interest, how why did they think anyone else would?

Had I not already been a serious fan who recognized the abbreviation, I would’ve guessed the ad was graffiti art — nothing more.

After all, the City of Seattle is always spending money on similar cultural “enrichment” projects. The usual location for such art is city property — like its bus lines.

Regardless, without knowing what “GnFnR” meant, the opportunity to sell a concert ticket would’ve passed — like fumes in the wind.

Here’s what the ad copy writer should’ve done: provide context.

Starting with the what, where, and when. Something like…


Aug 12, 2016 7:30pm

Century Link Field

In terms of a sales funnel, the mysterious, sparse imagery of the bus ad should have been reserved for those fans who demonstrated knowledge of the band’s reunion.

Examples of that would be opting into their newsletter, clicking a display ad, or a webpage visit.

After 25 years of silence, it was a stretch to assume former fans were staying up-to-date on the band’s activity. For all the ad copy writers knew, a former fan was a fan no longer!

Now, the revamped ad does lack the stark, mysterious quality of the original. But it does a much better job of selling the concert. If I were a concert promoter, that’s the only thing I’d be interested in.

Which brings up this point…

Err on the side of urgency

Urgency in ad copy comes in two forms.

The first is a standard call to action:

“On Sale Now!” “One Night Only!” “Get Your Tickets Today!”

The second includes a bribe:

“Win a chance to meet the band!” “Free download with ticket!”

Remember, a static bus ad cannot be split-tested. What goes up, stays up!

If you’ve only got ONE chance to sell 50 to 60,000 tickets priced at $59 — $279, doesn’t it make sense to be explicit in your instructions?

What’s crazy is the ad itself wasn’t cheap to produce. It probably cost a mint.

Why do I say that? Because the company behind the tour (Live Nation) had to bid for the promotional rights. That means, they invested millions of dollars upfront in the hopes of making a fat return on the back end.

And when millions of dollars are made available for an ad campaign, something weird happens. Costs rise proportionately!

The point I’m making is that lavish spending does not ensure strong ad copy.

Doesn’t matter what the product is — concert tickets, space heaters, or accounting software.

Your copywriter must be able to relay crucial information in the simplest, most digestible way possible.

Otherwise? You’ll be left with losses.

In this case, empty seats.

Ask Guns N’ Roses. They sold only 40,000, or 2/3 of the available tickets for that Seattle show.

All because of a foolish mistake: choosing image over direct response copy.

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