Joe Librizzi

Marketing Strategy
Business Technology
Data & Analytics

Sharpie’s Calls-To-Action are Missing In Action

UPDATE: late Friday night, I was contacted by Sharpie via Twitter. They agreed with my criticisms and promised some fixes soon. I’m very anxious to see what they do to improve their users’ journey through the Start Something campaign.

@j_librizzi you’re right, joe. u should see some fixes soon. amazing how we can get so many things right & miss on others. tx for noticing.
— Sharpie (@Sharpie) March 3, 2012

Original Post:
A colleague of mine has recently been preaching the value of using well planned Calls-To-Action on their websites.  Implementing effective CTAs doesn’t need to be difficult, and the concept is not new.  Yet it’s amazing how many businesses frustrate their visitors by minimizing, hiding or otherwise making it difficult to find a path through their website.  Case in point:‘s Start Something campaign

I just watched a Sharpie video that won a 2012 TED “Ads Worth Spreading” Award (it really is inspiring, watch it). It was compelling enough for me to click over to the Sharpie website, excited about what I’d find.  And what was waiting to meet my giddy, childlike anticipation? The web usability equivalent of coal in a stocking.  Let’s analyze:

Figure 1: Homepage

Figure 1

The Start Something campaign has been Sharpie’s primary advertising campaign for the better part of the year, costing about $12 million. In other words, this website isn’t something that was just thrown together.  Yet there is a glaring missed opportunity on the very first page.

Smack dab in the middle of the page, right where the gigantic (not-so-)white space above the main navigation leads your eye is a big box asking “What Are You Starting?”, fulfilling the visitor’s expectations of that $12 million multimedia campaign. After being lead to this page by a spectacularly executed print/television/online marketing promotion, you follow through on its promise to create using a Sharpie.  You click on that big banner, and… you go nowhere. You click again, and again but finally realize that despite all logic, that huge banner is not a link. Instead, you have to join the community via the image below.  I bet you’re thinking “But I already have Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Foursquare and now Pinterest.  I don’t want to join another community, I just want to share a doodle.” Amen, sister!  But let’s play along and pretend we have way more patience than the average web user.

Figure 2: Start Something Homepage (note: this view is scrolled down below the original page fold)

Figure 2

So you’re here on the Start Something Challenge homepage and you’re ready to, umm… start something.  Of course you instinctively click on the massive, obvious “What are you gonna start?” banner.  But no, it’s not a link.  Then you notice that creative photo montage happening in the image below, so you click with all your creative juices raring to get going.  But again, no link. That funky looking doodle screaming “Challenge!” looks clickable, yet delivers the same disappointment.  On to the right column and Eureka! A banner that says “Accept This Challenge?” Yes, yes, a thousand times Yes!  But again no.  Finally, a “Submit Yours” button that actually brings you to the log-in page.

Did Sharpie effectively lead me through their site? Did they provide easy access to their engaging content?  Did they fulfill the promise made in their earlier promotions?  I was literally stymied five times in my desire to share something, to fulfill the $12 million bet Sharpie made, so I’m answering all of those with a big fat NO!

Getting CTAs Right
Here’s some free advice for Sharpie, and for anyone else that wants to create a frictionless, profitable surfing experience for their website visitors:

  • Stop relying on main horizontal or main left-column navigation. Single source navigation leads to flat site architectures, which is boring and bad for SEO.
  • Take the time to plan out what your user journey should be.  When a visitor is on page X, should they move on to page Y or page Z?
  • With the user journey mapped out, ask yourself how your design or linking strategy makes it as easy as possible to make the move in the instant they decide to make it.  Do they need to search out a link or is it immediately available to them right where their eye and cursor is?
  • Test!  Test everything about the CTA.  Test the copy, test the design, test the placement. And then take the time to find the meaningful insights in the results.
Happy calling to action!
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