Words fail me. I don’t know what to say. So I’m just going to blurt it out.
“Avoid diabetic amputations without surgery.”
That is what the copy says.
On a billboard.
A giant billboard along an interstate highway.
How did that headline get past everyone involved in a multi-thousand dollar media purchase?
“Avoid life-changing disfigurement without cutting off your leg!”
“Avoid doing without doing!”
It’s so bad, it’s almost like a Zen koan.
If a tree surgeon is amputating in the woods and no patient is there to be cut, does the limb make a sound?
And what is the sound of one hand slapping the advertiser?
Here’s the problem: there IS something important in the thinking behind the headline.
But you wouldn’t know it from the inept wording.
If you’re going to lose a foot or a leg to diabetes, you might already know there are surgical alternatives to amputation.
There’s also a NON-surgical alternative to amputation.
But to say, “Avoid doing by not doing” is a construct destined to fail because it spins the head around.
How about, “No amputation AND no surgery!”
That’s not great, but it’s better.
“The non-surgical alternative to diabetic amputation.” That’s more clear, though not catchy.
“Can a simple injection save you from diabetic amputation?”
For the moment, that’s the headline I’m choosing.
If I think more about it, maybe I can make it better.
Backstory: I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a couple of months.
I saw that billboard somewhere in Virginia about 10 weeks ago.
It’s been nagging at me ever since.
I tried googling the headline to no avail.
Then, I thought about what the headline was really trying to say.
If I’m avoiding without doing, what is it that I’m NOT doing?
I finally searched for “surgical alternatives to amputation.”
Lo and behold: there are surgical alternatives to diabetic amputation.
They’re also often ineffective and problematic.
Which is why some guy with a biomedical engineering background came up with an injection treatment as an alternative.
That alternative treatment works better than surgery.
It also helps avoid amputation.
(Yes, I "researched" in all of three minutes. Peer reviewed by me!)
Is that injection procedure what we’re selling here? I dunno.
But it makes sense.
Because it represents the right form of avoiding without doing.
Is it possible the prospect will understand the original headline on the billboard?
Is it more likely the prospect will be as confused as I was?
When you’re driving past a billboard at 70 miles an hour and are told to avoid something without doing something else, you don’t have time to process that message and figure it out.
It’s a complicated and unclear construction.
A billboard needs words good and simple.
Heck, not just billboards. Most written thoughts can benefit from good and simple.
Gymnastics are not conducive to clarity.
Clear up what you’re saying and you’ll sell more.
Maybe an easier way to think of this is: your writing is entering into a conversation the prospect is already having.
Speak to that prospect in words that sound like his or her conversation.
All it takes is the time required to make it shorter, make it sweeter, and make it sing.
Words good. And simple.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in Park City
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.