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August 13, 2007

Jack Ganssle-August 13, 2007

Woodworking friends have long told me "You have got to watch Norm Abram's show!"

Not being much for TV it took a long time for me to take this advice. Last weekend I tuned into his New Yankee Workshop program on the DIY channel, which is the only channel that brings his show to Baltimore County.

Yuk. The show itself looked pretty interesting. But it was presented in two to three minute segments, each blocked off by twice as much advertising. The half hour program aired maybe ten minutes of Norm time and twice that of ads.

We're inundated with advertising. Billboards mar scenic highways. Every web site seems saturated with 'em, sometimes to the point of making the site so slow and cumbersome it's hardly worth the time to dig through the fluff.

Magazines thrive on ads. So many of the technical rags we get are free. They're completely supported by advertisers. Engineers' eyes may glaze over when reading pages of pitches, but we do need the information presented by these advertisers. That's one of the ways we keep up with products and services that are essential for us to make our products.

An awful lot of the technical ads are simply, well, awful. Digikey's typical full-page ad tells me nothing useful. And, in my opinion, their web site is worse. Mouser does a much better job. Yet I find Digikey a great place to buy all sorts of useful parts.

But some ads are great. Some I look forward to reading. For instance, recently Analog Devices has been running their "Rarely Asked Questions" page. It's a stupid name (why would I be interested in rare events?) but the text is an always interesting, always enlightening exploration of a strange behavior of some analog component.

Then there are the ads with schematics. National Semiconductor pushes their low dropout regulators with a simple schematic that reeks "easy to use!" Linear Technology and Maxim do the same, and Linear often has a two page cardboard insert that is a detailed and useful app note about a particular product.

I'm really drawn to National's inserts, 8 page supplements that go into technical detail about a variety of subjects. Practically a magazine in a magazine, these, though pushing their products, are useful designer guides. Analog Devices and others have taken the same tact. Expensive? You betcha. But I, for one, read them.

TI does a wonderful job of running product or application-specific ads. The latest issue of EDN has a full-pager for their ZigBee products, and another for bus drivers. Short, pithy headlines grab one's attention if it's a product of interest. In Embedded Systems Design TI runs a page pushing their MSP430, a very cool part that they've brilliantly positioned and marketed.

Tektronix has been running ads with very sexy pictures of their scopes. Yeah, we engineers might get turned on by strange things, but I'd sure like to fondle some of those controls. BitScope, too, pushes their low-cost scope solutions using nice pictures of their products with super screen shots.

So what do I like in ads? It seems the analog advertisers get more of my mind-share than most other pitches! Schematics are cool. Big blocks like 500 pin logic elements make for boring schematics, which is perhaps partly why the analog schematics are so much more compelling. But it also seems few of the digital companies have mastered the art of the providing app notes in insert form that make for such interesting reading.

Pictures of hardware tools, like scopes, always get eye-time. Like a centerfold, a picture is worth a thousand words.

What sort of ads do you like?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.


Well, personally, technical reviews or white papers with related technical line of products, discussing the pluses n minuses of the same class of products from the different competing companies, is not just appealing, but it attaracts the right kind of people. people who are looking for those products. Though it might sound petty or tactical at first , the technical reviews are the best way to get mind-shares from the consumer egg-heads. The engineer's mind, is attuned to read documents, assimilate and take decisions on the information generated.

It is this part of his brain which is maximally used and is ripe to upload marketing information, albiet in the medium that it understands and absorbs.

- Sachin Panemangalore


You really should have caught Norm on the original PBS airing of the series - much, much better than on DIY.

I read the trade mags as much for the ads as for the articles, to keep up. I, too, like the "here's what you could do if only you had our product" style of ads.

-Ritch Grafton


I don't like advertisements. I more or less completely agree with Robert Heinlein: What advertisers basically do is lie. If products were significantly different, then people would buy the better product. Large advertising budgets only exist when products are very similar.

This may seem like an oversimplification, but I don't think so. I've seen so many bad advertisments.

"Our oil is like liquid ball bearings." What does this mean? That their oil is a lubricant? Well, duh.

Or "Our patented spring: the more you push on it, the more it pushes back." That's a spring all right.

Advertising exists to put the best face on an otherwise undesirable set of characteristics of the product. At best they are grossly misleading, at worst, they are bold faced lies.

Like Jack says, the ads in trade magazines are not THAT bad, but they are preternaturally boring. And, of course, they are not completely free of this nonsense. If you doubt this, look through the ads in a magazine aimed at people who procure products for the government. Boeing and Northrop both produce good aircraft. But which is better? Do you really trust a company man to tell you the truth?

This is not a facetious argument: Executives are REQUIRED BY LAW to maximize profits for their stockholders. So they have every reason in the world to lie to you, or order someone else to.

- Michael Badillo

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