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Advertising game has a dozen rules

The adman Donald Gunn developed a theory in 1978 that all successful advertisements fall into one of 12 categories, which he called "master formats." Seth Stevenson last year saw Gunn give a lecture on his theory and he wrote in last week that it was a revelation: "The curtain had been pulled back on all those sly sales tactics at the heart of persuasive advertising." Stevenson presents a video slide show depicting 12 recent ads that each, by his analysis, fit into one of Gunn's categories. One ad in the slide show, one of Cingular's series of spots depicting the terrible misunderstandings that occur when cell phone calls are dropped, fits into the "show the need or problem" format. "First," Stevenson writes, "you make it clear that something's not up to snuff in the consumer's life. Then, you introduce the remedy, which is, of course, the product you're selling." Story ads can be highly effective or pure junk, Stevenson writes. The "benefit causes" story category may be a little easier to manage. The example given is a spot for Lynx body spray. Women are shown addressing the camera, which, we quickly learn, is meant to represent a young male viewer. "I collect comic books, too!" one woman says. Another asks provocatively, "Do you mind if my friend joins us?" At the end, the young male viewer has come to understand that if he simply sprays Lynx on himself, he can be as obnoxious or creepy as he likes, and he will still get, and keep, the fabulous babe.

What's the best deal? Depends on the day

Wednesday morning is the best time to buy an airline ticket. That's generally when the week's price competition among airlines reaches its peak. Car shopping? Hit the lots on Monday. That's because dealers make most of their sales on the weekend, and on Mondays, the foot traffic is so low that, to desperate sales staff, Saturday still seems that it will never come. Those and other tips are at

Be careful what you e-boast about

Last week, the San Francisco Web server center 365 Main was hit by a power disruption, taking down several popular Web sites, including Craigslist and LiveJournal. Earlier that day, 365 Main issued a news release boasting that it "has provided online retailer RedEnvelope with two years of 100 percent uptime." ( RedEnvelope's site went down, too, but the company told customers it was "working today to upgrade our system," and directed them to a toll-free number. According to 365 Main's earlier statement, A the state-of-the-art backup electrical system keeps the data center continuously running. Later, 365 Main posted a notice on its site acknowledging that the backup systems turned out to be not so reliable after all.

Dan Mitchell, New York Times