I happened to be gazing at a step stool we have around the house - you know the kind that makes it easy for the kids to reach the sink. As with most consumer household goods, it has a warning label on it. And in the spirit of globalization, the warning is in English, French, and Spanish. In each language, the word "Warning" is displayed in bold just above a short paragraph that nobody over 40 could read unless they were within inches of the label.
In any event, I noticed something very telling about the French and Spanish words for "warning". In French it's "avertissement" and in Spanish it's "advertencia". Whoa! These words look and sound a lot like the English word "advertisement". How interesting is that?
It's as if we've been given a clue to be forewarned that ads are coming. See an ad? Watch out. "Be careful, there's an ad in front of you". "These are the ads, avoid them".
So I got to thinking, what words do the French and Spanish use when they mean "advertisement"? The French use either "annonce" or "publicité" while the Spanish use "anuncio". Hmm, sounds a lot like "enunciate", "announce", and "publicize". Makes sense. A lot more sense than the roots of our English word.
Authentic and effective advertising (there's that word again..."Danger, danger Will Robinson") are good at enunciating. Not just announcing, but articulating well. Which brings me to what I think is THE most effective form of advertising: teaching.
Now, I don't mean rote learning or studying for the SATs. What I mean is that the most effective ads - the ones that I will pay attention to are the ones that teach me something I'm interested in. Educate me on why the iPhone is better, and maybe I'll buy it (So far, failing grade). Give me some free information on your product or service (white paper, top 10 tips, etc.) that really helps me solve a personal or professional problem, and I'll pay attention and buy (Thank you Tim Ferriss for the free chapters...I bought the book. And kudos to Flip Video guys for letting test drive their product at SXSW...I bought one.)
Paul Graham on the YCombinator Blog points out that advertising is broken (see item #12) and that's what got me thinking. Advertising, particularly online, has done a good job living up to its semantic roots; we're tuning it out because we've been programmed to be warned.