Magical Canadian Non-Ads


Contrary to popular belief, people don’t hate advertising. They hate predictable advertising. If you want to engage the listener, you have to deliver something surprising. Anchor this in your mind, Ad Writer: Surprise is the foundation of delight. No surprise, no delight.

The media filters we 21st-century humans carry in our heads have been forced to get faster. Assaulted by nonstop machine-gun fire, the mind has no time for quiet reflection or contemplation.

Here’s a second thing to anchor in your mind, Ad Writer: You cannot take people where you want them to go until you first meet them where they are. And “shellshocked by advertising” is where your customers are.

The sensory overload of the Internet has shoved our helpless listeners into a corner where they feel they’re being slapped across the face continually by advertisers demanding their attention.

Did you see the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey, Jr.? David Denby, a writer for The New Yorker, said something in a review that opened a door in my mind.

“Downey … has found a way of remaining hip in the most frivolous and commercial projects — a quick wiggle of the eyes, a half smile, a beat or two of silence, and he conveys that he realizes it’s all nonsense. His attitude is: Yes, I know, but why not come along for the ride?”

That review echoed in my mind, and I finally launched an experiment. A longtime client of mine has been airing radio ads across Canada 52 weeks a year for more than 20 years. Into this stream of highly successful radio ads, I inserted a couple of “non-ads.”

The resulting traffic spikes were spectacular. These are the ads I wrote.

SARAH: Spence offers the largest selection of engagement rings in Canada.
SEAN: Nearly two THOUSAND different styles.
SARAH: That alone should be enough to convince you to visit.
SEAN: But wait! There’s more.
SARAH: Spence also has prettier diamonds.
SEAN: You’ll agree the INSTANT you see them.
SARAH: And no one can beat Spence prices.
SEAN: No one. [There’s a pregnant, 4-second pause before Sarah speaks again]
SARAH: [As though she’s not sure what to say next.] That’s pretty much it, really.
SEAN: Yep. That’s about it.
SARAH: I’ve got nothing else. What’ve you got, Sean?
SEAN: We told them about the selection:
SARAH: Spence has engagement rings no one else offers.
SEAN: We told them about the diamonds:
SARAH: Prettiest diamonds EVER.
SEAN: We told them about the prices:
SARAH: If our prices were any lower, we’d be paying YOU.
SEAN: The only people who don’t BUY from Spence
SARAH: are the ones who don’t COME to Spence.
SEAN: Come to Spence.
©2014 Roy H. Williams Marketing (Just to be clear, my goal
is to give you a new perspective, an idea, an understanding. I am not giving you this ad copy to use – RHW)

SARAH: Sean, the ad department is insisting we talk about the advantages of buying from Spence.
SEAN: [Loud, exasperated, reluctant sigh…] Okaaaay….
SARAH: Spence has prototypes on display of virtually every engagement ring in the world.
SEAN: [Firmly and confidently] That’s right.
SARAH: We’re a vertically integrated company, so you’re buying direct from the manufacturer.
SEAN: Sarah, do you really think most people know what “vertically integrated” means?
SARAH: I just read what’s on the paper, Sean.
SEAN: [Another loud, exasperated sigh….]
SARAH: Spence was recently named as one of the 50 Best Managed Companies in Canada.
SEAN: [Speaking to the audience] Thank you for your vote.
SARAH: I don’t think they got to vote.
SEAN: Hey! What happened to just reading what’s on the paper?
SARAH: You know the ad department is going to yell at us again, right?
SEAN: Just tell them I made some vertically integrated decisions while we were at the radio station.
SARAH: They’re not going to know what that means.
SEAN: That’s the point, Sarah.
SARAH: Why don’t we just say, “Spence is a really, really, really great place to buy your engagement ring.”
SEAN: Throw in one more “really,” and I think you’ve got it.
©2014 Roy H. Williams Marketing

Try it. Approach your most courageous client with an ad that reflects the listeners’ attitude toward advertising.

Your listeners will love the ad immediately — and nothing changes an advertiser’s mind like success.

For an advertiser courageous enough to run them, these ads can have real impact — and success.


  1. Yes, indeedy!
    Roy demonstrates how leaving the listener out of it and depending on the phenomena of “vicarious association” is a very powerful strategy.
    Too bad local ads don’t take advantage of the strategy.
    1. Most have never heard of it. 2. Some refuse to believe it as viable. 3. Others have no interest in learning more. 4. Even as excellent a piece of information as Roy’s article is, almost all of it will be dismissed and/or forgotten – in minutes.
    None of these are the behaviors of professionals.


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