Features Tell, Benefits Sell

I gave a lecture to an undergraduate class at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio. One of the topics I covered in my talk is the difference between features and benefits. The big point I made is the need to translate features into benefits whenever you communicate with somebody. This is the only way to reliably unleash the real value of a feature in advertising/promotion.

I have authored a couple blog posts on the subject already. The first post was an overview of the difference between features and benefits. The point I try to make in that post is features explain what something is while benefits explain why that is important to the person you are speaking with. I actually authored that post after I gave the same lecture last year.

The second post shared 10 questions to use in evaluating advertising. I tried to illustrate the use of the questions by evaluating some actual advertisements.

In preparation for the Shawnee State University class this year, and because the Strengthening Brand America website was recommended reading for the students in that class, I decided to reprise the second post and review some additional advertisements currently being placed in journals. My apologies in advance to the advertisers for using their advertisement as a learning tool; and my gratitude for their understanding.

Also, special thanks to Site Selection Magazine (a journal I read faithfully) which is the source I used for these example Ads.

In case you didn’t read the second post, here are the 10 questions again to refresh your memory –

 10 Questions

  1. Is the ad focused on communicating your promise?
  2. Does the ad make you want to learn more?
  3. Do you feel rewarded for taking the time to read the ad?
  4. Is the ad distinctive so you’ll stop to read it?
  5. Does the main idea in the ad focus on the promise?
  6. Is the main idea in the ad relevant to your target audience?
  7. Does the ad make you think and feel something?
  8. Is there drama in the ad that brings the benefit of the promise to life?
  9. Does the ad visualize the benefit of the promise?
  10. Does the ad include authentic reasons to believe the promise?

Each of the ads below is reviewed against these 10 questions. Obviously, the assessment is just my opinion. I would really like to have you share your perspective by leaving a comment. That will help make this post even more useful to the Shawnee State University students as a contribution to their learning experience.

  1. Yes, the promise is balance without compromise.
  2. Yes, the business tax reduction is an interest grabber.
  3. A weak yes.
  4. The visual is distinctive, but not universally appealing.
  5. Yes, the headline sets up a situation where a choice is often needed.
  6. Yes the need to compromise (trade-offs) is common in site selection.
  7. Yes, the visual is about feeling and the copy makes you think.
  8. Not much drama at all.
  9. Not really, the visual only deals with half of the promise.
  10. Yes, there are features listed but not presented in the context of a trade-off you can avoid.


  1. Yes, it is focused on Indiana promising a balanced budget.
  2. I might want to know more about how Indiana’s corporate tax rate compares to states without a balanced budget.
  3. No since no comparison with other states business tax rate is provided.
  4. The visual is distinctive since it is a state on a hanger.
  5. Qualified yes since the “in the black” headline and black dress visual have to do with the promise of a balanced budget. But, it doesn’t support lower corporate tax rate.
  6. Qualified yes. A balanced budget implies less expectation that a company will need to bear the burden of social services.
  7. The pun of a little black dress can be polarizing.
  8. Not really since there is no discussion on the problem a non-balanced budget creates.
  9. Only in the use of the color black.
  10. Tries to connect a balanced budget with lower taxes. But, according to the E&Y COST study Indiana’s total business tax is higher that some neighboring states (e.g. Iowa and Kansas).


  1. Promise is opportunity but ad is unclear on what that is intended to mean.
  2. Yes, enough features listed to potentially raise interest.
  3. A weak yes.
  4. The bright colored vignettes of work and play is interesting.
  5. Not without the reader investing time to interpret.
  6. Opportunity is relevant if explained.
  7. Weak in this area, nothing is emotionally grabbing.
  8. There is no drama.
  9. The visual drama does not uniquely suggest opportunity. It can be interpreted to mean many things.
  10. Simply having land available does not necessarily translate into opportunity.


  1. Yes, the promise is access to “big thinkers” and the ad focuses on that.
  2. Yes, the concept of having access to innovative talent is interesting.
  3. Yes, the fact of having more scientists and engineers per square mile is interesting.
  4. Yes, the design elements are unique in the category.
  5. Yes, the ad is all about big thinkers.
  6. Yes, having access to an educated talent pool willing to take risks is important.
  7. Yes, the phrase “states aren’t innovators people are” is both emotionally and intellectually engaging.
  8. Yes, particularly against the backdrop of the current political climate.
  9. The visual of the Governor as a big thinker is potentially polarizing and runs the risk of readers reacting along political biases.
  10. Yes and translates the feature of having “highly skilled and educated labor” into a benefit of “access to more of the top-level talent you need”.


Evaluating advertising is certainly a subjective activity. But, the process of evaluating an advertisement against a set of standard criteria leads to a productive discussion between an Agency (or in-house creative team) and the client. I certainly expect your answers to the 10 questions asked for each of these ads will differ from mine. The key is to understand the reason for the different answers from members of your team when evaluating your own ads. This will lead to productive modifications that will result in a better communicating ad.

I am a big fan of buy-ology Truth and Lies About Why We Buy authored by Martin Lindstrom. The book describes the science behind how we make purchase decisions.

Here are some memorable quotes from the book that are relevant to creating great advertisements.

“…emotions are the way in which our brains encode things of value, and a brand that engages us emotionally – think Apple, Harley-Davidson, and L’Oreal, just for starters – will win every single time.”

“…the filtering system in our brains has grown thick and self-protective. We’re less and less able to recall what we saw on TV just this morning, forget about a couple nights ago.”

“Or are they what I like to call ‘wallpaper’ ads – instantly forgettable, the advertising equivalent of elevator Muzak?”

I love the last quote and am concerned that many of the ads being created today are in fact the equivalent of elevator Muzak. This includes product, corporate, and destination ads.

Do You Agree With How I Answered The Questions For These Ads?

Please take a moment and share your thoughts. Are my answers consistent with what yours would be? How would you translate some of the features presented in the ads to benefits? Do you have examples of great advertising that would score well on the 10 question assessment?

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