A few years ago, a friend of mine lost their dog.  (It had actually been a birthday gift for his 8-year old daughter).

They’d only had him for a week or so and he wandered outside when someone left the door open.

They did all the usual things that you’d expect:  double-checked the house to make sure he really was missing; walked around the neighborhood; drove around with the windows down, calling his name.

Finally, my friend realized that he was probably going to have to do what most people do:  make a flyer and put them around the area in hopes that someone have found him and get in touch with him.

Let’s put this into perspective:  this is his daughter’s dog.
She was in grief.  She was worried sick she’s never going to see him again.
The whole family was worried.  This little dog was a member of the family.

My friend told me, “Tony, when I sat down to make this flyer, I felt like I was writing the most important ad of my life.  My daughter’s happiness — this little dog’s LIFE — might depend on how good this flyer is.  It was way more important than any ad I’ve ever written for my business.”

So, he opened a new document on his computer and started designing;

  • he wrote a simple, impactful headline
  • he included a picture of the dog
  • he made it clear this was a member of his family, not just an animal
  • he made a list of bullet points that including some personality, some life, some sense of how great this little dog was
  • he wrote a clear call-t0-action and made it super-simple for anyone to reach him if they had any information about his dog

As lost-pet flyers go, he said it was a good one.

It was simple.
It was eye-catching.
It was easy to read.
It had all the information anyone would need.
And it communicated the urgency and emotion of the situation.

And, it worked.  My friend said he was still putting up flyers on telephone polls when he got a call from a teenager who said he had his dog.

Now, here’s the reason I’m telling you this story…

If we — as business owners, marketers, advertisers, etc. — had to make our lost-pet poster the way we do all our other marketing…..what would it have been like?

At the risk of sounding cynical, I can tell you what most marketers would do:

  • they’d take 2 weeks to produce it
  • they’d use an overly-clever phrase like “Doggone it!” or “Back To The Wild” or some other nonsense instead of just saying, “Have You Seen This Dog?” or “Look At This Dog.  Have You Seen Him?”
  • they would include 25 useless details about the history of the dog breed, the kind of dog-food he eats and what color his favorite blanket is
  • they’d insist on doing something “fresh and exciting”.  (“What if we do a horizontal layout with the pulltabs on the right?”  “Yes, yes!  With glitter!”)
  • they’d debate about the A/B split-testing of whether to include an image of the dog or not

And they would spend 90% of their time and energy on things that have little to do with actually….getting….the….dog……back.

Trust me.  I’m not being too hard on anyone here.  This stuff happens every day.  We can all look at our own ads and admit that we’ve been guilty of doing these things.  And worse.

UI is important.
UX is important.
Design is important.
Appearance is important.

But it’s easy to forget that all of those things — ALL of them — only exist to serve and support the actual message.

If the message isn’t clear…if the words aren’t impactful….if the reader can’t immediately grasp what you’re saying to them and why they should care, then you haven’t done your job.

Your job — and mine  — is communication.

If we don’t have the message right, it doesn’t matter much which font we use.