Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

Before-and-After Advertising

It's all about benefits. You, too, can haul more stuff if you own the second van. And you, too, can restore the luster in a pair of old shoes.

If you have an advertiser who needs a fresh idea, consider a before-and-after approach. A typical before-and-after ad features two photographs. The one on the left shows the old situation, and the one on the right shows the new — and noticeably improved — situation.

Although this type of advertising has been around for a long time, don't make the mistake of thinking that it has outlived its usefulness. Properly executed, it can provide readers with dramatic reasons to do business with an advertiser.

Before-and-after advertising relies heavily on three factors that boost effectiveness: (1) relevant photography, (2) simplified communication and (3) clearly stated benefits. Let's take a close look:

1. Relevant photography. I refer to relevance here, because a lot of advertising photography is lazy and inappropriate. I remember a print ad that depicted a before-picture of a frowning person and an after-picture of the same person with a smile. If the ad had been promoting dentistry or toothpaste, the copy might have been massaged to made sense. But the ad was promoting a van — as in "You're sad now, but you'll be happy when you buy one of these snazzy new vans." It's hard to find a lazier idea.

Wouldn't it have been better if they had taken a dominant feature of the van — a larger-than-average storage area, for example — and made that the focal point of the ad? The before-photo could have featured a luggage compartment filled to the brim, with leftover items on the ground beside the van. And the after-photo could have shown the new van with everything fitting nicely inside.

2. Simplified communication: In talking to an advertiser about before-and-after concepts, you'll find that it is easier to keep the conversation focused — because there is a clearly defined track to follow. Whatever the ad's selling point, it has to be translated into a simple illustration. If he or she tosses out an idea that wanders into puffery, simply ask, "How can we photograph that?"

The result is likely to be an ad that communicates with precision. Consider the shoe repair shop owner who wants to run an ad with the headline, "Top quality service." You can say, "I know you do outstanding work for your customers. Now, how can we illustrate that quality with a before-and-after photograph?" You might end up with two photographs of the same shoe — before and after being resoled and restored. Definitely a better idea.

3. Clearly stated benefits: Obviously, the second photograph in a before-and-after ad represents an improvement — in most cases, a dramatic improvement. The rest of the ad should explain how consumers could enjoy the good things that are shown in the after-photograph.

It's all about benefits. You, too, can haul more stuff if you own the second van. And you, too, can restore the luster in a pair of old shoes.

People don't buy features; they buy benefits. They don't buy generalities; they buy specifics.