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What's Wrong With This Picture? The Stauer Chronograph

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • A detailed critique of an ad gone wrong
  • Tips to follow and pitfalls to avoid in your ad copy

Stauer is a well-known direct marketer, selling everything from jewelry and watches to coins and collectibles. The tagline on its website reads: Smart luxuries–Surprising prices.

Its reproductions of fine art can sell for hundreds of dollars, and its rare collectibles can be priced above $1,000.

Most of us, though, are familiar with its glossy page ads, selling Stauer-branded watches and jewelry at a price point typically no higher than $50.

Which brings us to today's What's Wrong With This Picture ad critique: Stauer's Compendium Hybrid watch. And that right there is the ad's first goof: product branding.


If ever there were a product name that gave you no clue as to what the product is, it would be Compendium Hybrid. I can see General Motors (GM), or maybe BMW, tacking that moniker on a luxury hybrid SUV, but on a watch?

The moniker also violates the KISS principle. Compendium is neither a simple word nor an intuitively understood one. Compendium means a comprehensive but brief account of something otherwise extensive. But how does that apply to a watch? It doesn't... at least, not effectively.

More to the point, would you be comfortable telling anyone who inquired about the watch (if it were on your wrist), "Oh, this ol' thing, why it's my new Compendium Hybrid"?

How much easier and simpler would it be to say, "It's my new Stauer chronograph"?

Now, let's review the ad from top to bottom

The pricing information is located in the upper right-hand corner of the ad. I would submit, subject to testing of course, that the tried and true (and now extremely tired) approach of telling the consumer that an item is offered at a deep, deep discount compared to its normal price, is a bit overdone and dated—especially if the item has never before been offered anywhere at any price. Such copy serves only to activate the reader's BS detector, if the reader has been around long enough to acquire one.

Also, using the generic, non-specific phrase "For a Limited Time Only," reinforces the notion that the marketer is pushing the envelope of the audience's credulity.

I think a more creative approach to urgency and "reason why" pricing would be more effective (read believable). For example, why not call it a limited edition? Why not tell consumers that only so many watches have been made, and that once they're gone, they're gone?

Granted, Stauer wouldn't want to stop selling the watch, especially if it proves to be a big seller. In that case, Stauer can make some feature of the watch (e.g., the color of the watch face) a never-to-be-offered-again option.

OK, moving along...

To the left of the watch graphic (no problem there, but I'm not a designer) is a brief feature list. Now, I'm not sure if it was overlooked during editing, but the feature "stopwatch function" sounds a bit awkward. The copywriter might have intended for the copy to read "stopwatch functionality." But even that is clunky.

And the real boner is "LCD complications." I don't buy many watches with an LCD display, but I've never seen one characterized as complicated. That's not exactly a strong or appealing selling point.

Now for the headline...

Cute is not clever, and clever is not smart marketing

Borrowing ineffectively from the hybrid zeitgeist is one thing, but stating that this watch doesn't need gas is really pushing the marketing IQ needle toward empty. Cute and clever headlines are what many branding agencies use to justify their inflated pricing. But if a headline doesn't do what it's designed to do—compel the reader to keep reading—it's a waste of someone's money.

After all, we know Stauer is selling a watch, and we know it doesn't run on gas... so what's the point? And throwing in the standard "Amazing" is just trite. I mean, is it really amazing that this watch doesn't need gas?

The subhead is fine, but why make the first sentence a question? It would be far more impactful if it were declarative (i.e., a period instead of a question mark).

Does the body copy have a pulse?

The first paragraph of the copy is, more or less, about Stauer and how brilliant it thinks its designers and engineers are. But, who cares? Similarly, copy that tells, but doesn't intimately involve the reader, especially in the lead paragraph, will not do what any paragraph of copy is designed to do: get the reader to read the next paragraph.

A takeaway point to remember is showing trumps telling. And talking about the reader trumps talking about the product and the marketer.

Now, the second paragraph of the copy is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. The copy starts out with an explanation of how new technology, in general, is priced. Then, it reminds the reader that the watch is priced at a deep discount, goes into the state of the economy, and mentions why the price is discounted. All of which might be good points to bring up, but not in one very long paragraph.

A paragraph should be devoted to one idea, and one idea only—fleshed out and explored from beginning to end. Throwing three or four relatively disparate thoughts into one paragraph is akin to giving the reader visual and mental whiplash.

OK, the third paragraph, as often is the case, is where the sales copy actually begins. The first few paragraphs are typically where the copywriter begins to warm up to his message, and therefore, they should be immediately deleted once written.

Best of all, in the third paragraph, the copywriter tells a story—which is always a great way to grab the reader's attention and interest.

The only problem is the subhead that starts the third paragraph doesn't deliver on the claim it makes. In other words, where's the revolution the reader is being welcomed to?

The fourth paragraph is OK. It draws a picture of how the watch works. Yet, it would be stronger if the copy also connected the watch's features to its advantages and benefits. The fourth paragraph starts with another somewhat-problematic subhead: "Guaranteed to change the way you look at time." That's not exactly an explicit guarantee you can take to the bank. After all, what does it mean exactly?

Again, I think the copywriter is just trying to be cute—attempting a play on words, as in, Yes, if you look at the face of the watch and all its displays, you'll be looking at time differently (maybe cross-eyed, I suppose). Bottom line, it's an empty statement that distracts the reader from the momentum the copy had been laboring to build.

Worse still, the paragraph starts off with a one-sentence nod to the economy (again), before heading into a pro forma guarantee. And it all ends with a feeble attempt at implied urgency: "Remember: progress and innovation wait for no one!"

OK, my final thought: Because the watch sells for just $49, I guess Stauer feels you're entitled only to $49 worth of sales copy. Too bad. I'm generally a fan of Stauer's ads.

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Barry A. Densa is a freelance marketing and sales copywriter at Writing With Personality. For more, visit his blog Marketing Wit & Wisdom.

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  • by Hannah Mattinson Wed Jan 11, 2012 via web

    This is hilarious!

    When I think back to where I've seen this style of advert before (if you can call it a style) I can only recall finding it at the back of puzzle magazines.

    I know that the average puzzle magazine buyer loves a good cryptic conundrum but these ads are totally ridiculous!

    I mean, I'm actually more deterred to buy it now I've seen the ad.

    Needless to say, my watch doesn't run on gas. I don't know anyones who does. So why have they advertised this in the title; it's not a USP that separates your watch from all other watches so don't try to claim your product is revolutionary in any way shape or form!

  • by Andrew Daglas Wed Jan 11, 2012 via web

    The super-high-tech mention of electro-luminescence is another nice touch. The lighting is generated by electricity. Amazing. I suppose it's best to point out that the watch isn't powered by bio-luminescence, lest the wearer worry about lightning bugs escaping from it.

  • by Laurie Wed Jan 11, 2012 via web

    I thought it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, i.e., as noted, of course everyone knows watches don't run on gas. Kind of funny, like those silly Amish fireplace/heater ads. I wonder how it performs (the ad, not the watch LOL).

  • by HarveyB Wed Jan 11, 2012 via web

    I see the Stauer ad's in Science News all the time. Since this is a magazine read by a certain type of audience, I wonder if there is something to the tounge-in-cheek point above? Honestly, I usually read the ad's because they are a diversion to the otherwise 'serious' content in the periodical. All that said, loved the breakdown and analysis, it was well worth the read!

  • by Vic Wed Jan 11, 2012 via web

    This is like picking on the slow kid at school. Their engagement automatically causes a high percentage to not even consider reading. Of course, its crap but people buy crap all the time. Otherwise crappy things wouldn't get sold and crappy businesses would go out of business. So, this piece is actually good marketing because it signals familiarity to people who would buy this crap.

  • by Rich Fri Jan 13, 2012 via web

    Granted the scathing critque is well earned, buy "complication" is a term for describing fine watch feature and would be recognized as such by watch buyer, but I'm not sure they used it correctly here, or if it's appropriate for adding and LCD screen.

  • by JCR Fri Jan 13, 2012 via web

    Yet another ad critique by the great Barry D. I thought we went over this last time when he trashed the sperm shoe ad. The point is, and Vic hit on it, the only critique worthy of a direct marketing piece is....DID IT WORK!

  • by Barry Densa Fri Jan 13, 2012 via web

    In offering these critiques, the question is not did it work. Ads and marketing campaigns can work for a variety of reasons, some intentional, some unintentional, i.e., by accident, by mistake, by pure dumb luck.

    The exercise here is to discern what might cause a particular ad to work or not work, based on proven and widely recognized best practices.

    In short, the critique is offered to those readers who are interested in learning how to craft a winning promotion, more often than not.

    Anyone who chooses to argue that the goofs highlighted in the ad should be ignored, or that chaos theory is a cost effective model and approach to marketing -- and that no ad should, therefore, be analyzed -- is missing the point.

    And the point is: what can we learn from this ad, so that we may apply it to our own promotions, with the reasonable and probable expectation that it will succeed?

    The answer is hopefully revealed, to some degree in my critique.

    And so, thanks for reading it.


  • by JCR Fri Feb 3, 2012 via web

    You can't learn anything about this ad, and what you term as goofs until you know the end result. If a "goof" creates a 25% response rate and a 15% conversion rate...we'll our learn how to create that goof everytime.

    So..the missed point can't analyze this ad until you know how it performed towards it's intented goal. That would be like a critique of the play calling of the coach before knowing if he won the game or not.

  • by JCR Fri Feb 3, 2012 via web

    Fast typing and typos will detract from my argument ;)

  • by Barry Densa Fri Feb 3, 2012 via web

    JCR, you are fixated on the ROI of this ad, or any ad that anyone may choose to critique. Again, the point of the exercise is to discern what and why any element in an ad will detract or enhance it's conversion -- based on widely available, research and tests.

    There is a wide body of work available, most for purchase, and plenty for free, for any marketer to avail themselves of that will show how to craft a winning ad, more often than not.

    What you are implying though is that copywriting can't be taught. And examples of good or bad copywriting doesn't even exist, that in fact there are no rules, no best practices.

    Indeed, you are saying that if someone mailed a sales letter that offered the salutation "Dear Jerk," with Jerk being inserted at the last minute by some prankster, which wasn't caught by the proof reader... and yet the sales letter did phenomenally well nonetheless... then by your logic everyone should address customers in sales letters as jerks -- because in that one sales letter to that specific target market it worked.

    By the way astute marketers will often analyse both successful and failed promotions -- and do so through a lens of best practices.

    If there are no best practices, there is no way craft a promotion with any reasonable expectation of success.

    Marketing is therefore reduced to throwing mud on the wall, and hoping some of it will stick -- an expensive proposition to say the least, and one that will put a company out of business in no time flat.

    Regarding your game analogy, all I can say is: GO GIANTS!!!!

  • by MarionM. Sun Jun 3, 2012 via web

    Interesting this very same add appeared in the June 2012 issue of The American Legion Magazine on page 22. Only difference being the watch was being offered for $ 29.95 to the first 2500 responders to call the listed 800 number and mention the promotional code. I went to their website to attempt to order the watch but it was going for $ 49.95 plus shipping and handling and I decided maybe I really don't want that particular watch all.
    Appears to be a case of bait-and-switch.

  • by Tom Wilbur Fri Jun 22, 2012 via web

    The information in the ad/description fails to say how the watch is powered. Battery? Motion activated? What? I purchased the watch at the $29.95 price and am quite satisfied with it. Would like to know more about it.
    Tom Wilbur

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