How Do You Know if Advertising Works?

PACE blog_John-Caples
Legendary ad man John Caples

“There is no better test of an advertisement than whether or not it actually sells the product! In fact, it is the only true way of determining if your advertisement works.” — John Caples, Advertising Hall of Fame

Truer words have rarely been spoken in marketing circles.

John Caples was a legendary ad man (Mad Man) who is probably best known for writing one of the most famous advertising headlines ever when he was a young copywriter in 1926:

”They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano but When I Started to Play!”

The copy that followed was long. Several hundred words long, designed to solicit students for a correspondence course at the U.S. School of Music. And the ad was an instant and classic success, inspiring many imitations over the years.

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The ad that changed an industry

Caples went on to become an expert in direct-response advertising. According to his obituary in the New York Times:

Mr. Caples was credited with pioneering many aspects of advertising, including copy testing and extensive research. He debunked humorous advertising copy, saying that ‘only half the people in this country have a sense of humor, and clever ads seldom sell anything.’ He also advised copywriters to ‘use words you would expect to find in a fifth-grade reader’’ because ‘the average American is approximately 13 years old mentally.’

Mr. Caples was elected to the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame in 1977 and passed away in 1990. But his pioneering thoughts and practices about advertising live on.

At PACE, we adhere to some of Caples’ big ideas about advertising – including the quote above. What’s the point of advertising if not to sell product? To move people to action? In fact, it’s a philosophy we’ve adopted in one of our own agency taglines:

At PACE, we move people.

Another time, in a more cutesy way of conveying this and to reflect our agency specialization in working with real estate clients, we said:

 PACE brings faces to spaces and places.

In other words, the ads and marketing campaigns we create at PACE are strategically developed to get results. To move people. To bring faces. To generate real traffic. Real results.

We’ve been doing this for over 65 years now: providing successful, results-oriented marketing solutions for our clients. The tools have changed over the years, but we remain adept at moving people through targeted marketing strategies, compelling creative, and meticulously executed campaigns across a mix of marketing channels. Simply put, we moving consumers to take action. Getting them from their place to your place. Actively engaging with your business. And buying. Some call this “direct response.” We prefer to call it action-oriented marketing. And it’s at the heart of every campaign we develop.

We’d like to think that Mr. Caples would be proud.

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Just Say “No” to Business Babble

From Randy Kershner, PACE Senior Copywriter

A lot has been written and said about business jargon… but as long as it’s alive and growing, it’s worth taking the time as writers and communications professionals to consider any and all alternatives to this kind of “corporate speak.”

I really liked this piece from Corey Eridon onHubSpot on what she calls “business babble” – the perfect way to describe
it, really. These words and phrases make the user sound like he or she is “hip” in the corporate world when, really, they sound more like babbling idiots. Eridon gives 20 great examples of business babble: overused, over-imaginative phrases and words, along with simple, better alternatives for each one.


I’ve been in corporate jobs or settings where nearly every one of these phrases has been used regularly (except “boil the ocean” – that one was new to me). The worst offender, in my estimation? “Open the kimono.” It’s meant to be another way of saying that someone is being revealing, or willing to share. It sounds more the act of a creepy guy on a park bench.

I hereby pledge to do my part to eradicate these silly expressions from my communication efforts. Or, in other words, I’m going to stop using these ridiculous phrases.

Do Taglines Still Matter?

From Randy Kershner, PACE Senior Copywriter

There’s been a lot of chatter in the advertising world about Burger King’s new-but-not-necessarily improved tagline: “Be Your Way.” We don’t see how this new slogan is any better than the restaurant’s classic old slogan (“Have it Your Way” – which hasn’t been used much in the past decade but, remarkably, remains as memorable and identifiable today as ever). The old tagline gave a pretty solid selling proposition: at Burger King, you can customize your sandwich. Sure, it may be fast food, but BK will still make it to order for you, just the way you would like to have it. Plain, simple, boom. Easy to get.

But “Be Your Way?” Really?

A company spokesperson attempted to explain the decision, saying, “We’re trying to elevate ‘Have it Your Way’ to a state that’s much more emotional and centered around self-expression.”

PACE Advertising - Do Taglines Matter - Your Tagline Here

“Be Your Way” is awkward language, for starters, and a bad attempt at pop psychology beyond that. From a fast-food restaurant chain. Burger King, please just give us our Whoppers the way we want them and let’s not try to make it a statement of personal individuality or self-expressionism. It’s a sandwich, for crying out loud. Can we just have it our way and be on with it?

But we digress. In the wake of all the buzz around the new BK tagline, we came across this interesting piece on’s Beyond Madison Avenue blog, which asks the question: “Do Brands Need Tag Lines?”

Author Brian Keller posits the idea that maybe the tagline doesn’t matter anymore – that taglines “probably stopped working… over a decade ago” and that no one but agency folk really care about them anymore.

The very idea that the tagline is obsolete goes against the grain of all we’ve learned and how we’ve worked with clients for 65 years. Of course, just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t mean something shouldn’t be examined. Creating taglines is one of the first steps in our process of branding and positioning clients – and it still resonates strongly with our clients as more than just a vain exercise. Granted, there are a lot of bad taglines out there. And when you read the Beyond Madison Avenue article and see their mix-and-match list of corporations and taglines, it makes you stop and consider how so many well-known slogans could be interchangeable. For example:

“I’m Lovin’ It.” Couldn’t this line work for Macy’s as well McDonalds?


“Just Do It.” Everyone knows it’s for Nike, but couldn’t those same words apply equally well for, say, Home Depot?

This is good food for thought… and it presents a creative challenge to agencies. Taglines do still matter, when they are crafted in a way that makes them truly exclusive to and identifying of a particular, unique client. As standalone words on a page, any tagline might seem interchangeable. But when used as part of a strategic branding initiative, combined with an effective advertising and marketing campaign, the right words can still come together to serve as a powerful, identifiable, and memorable hook that remains attached to a brand and defining of a company in the mind of the consumer.

We’re note ready to give up on them yet.