This is just a selection to ponder. There are others! And when we say advertisers, we mean clients AND their ad agencies.
Assuming the guy that runs the place knows best
Actually, the business owner is often uniquely unqualified to see his or her company or product objectively.
Owners live, eat and breathe their baby.
But being too close to process, product and service development, and delivery, leads an owner to focus on what preoccupies the business internally – and often leads them to pose and answer questions no one out there in the real world is actually asking. The owner is on the inside looking out, trying to describe him/herself to a person on the outside looking in. But as someone once presciently said, it’s hard to read the label when you’re inside the bottle.
Sometimes it helps to bring in an objective outsider to give you some perspective. Better still, ask your customers. How do they see you? How does what they see vary from what you think?
The other major source of good information about a company is their suppliers. They see the company acting in an un-varnished non-PR way and their views can sometimes be revelatory.
Dear Mr or Ms Business Owner. Instantly beware the ad agency who says to you, “You know what, there’s no better spokesperson for your business than you, we’ve been inspired by talking to you, so we’re going to put you on TV”. It’s a con.
Unsubstantiated (and endlessly repeated) claims
What’s the point making unsubstantiated claims to have what the customer wants, such as “highest quality at the lowest price,” but then fail to offer any evidence?
An unsubstantiated claim is nothing more than a cliché which rapidly tires. So prove what you say as often as possible – if you can’t do it in an ad, then do it somewhere people will look, like a brochure or web page, and make sure you advertise that, too.
Also, people engage with advertisers over long periods. They “learn” about a brand through iteration, and they get bored if nothing ever changes. (Not as fast as we (the marketing team) get bored with them, but there is a definite “wear out” factor in advertising. It pays to judge it accurately, with tracking research, for example.)
So do your ads give the prospect new information? Do they provide a new perspective? If not, prepare to be progressively disappointed with the results.
Not understanding the different ways that media works
So-called ‘Non-intrusive’ media, such as newspapers, magazines and billboards (except for where the ads are very creative ones and jump out), and directories (whether printed or online), tend to reach only those buyers who are actively looking for the product.
They are poor at reaching prospects before their need arises, so they’re not much use for creating that very valuable pre-disposition toward your company.
At its most simple, you need to fertilise the ground before the plants start to come up.
The patient, consistent use of ‘Intrusive’ media, such as radio and TV, will win hearts and minds long before people are in the market for your product.
Trying to say too much
It is foolish to believe a single ad can ever tell the entire story about your product, or business.
Effective, persuasive, and memorable ads are those that are most like a rhinoceros: they make a single point, powerfully and un-missably.
It’s arguable that an advertiser with 17 different things to say should commit to a campaign of at least 17 different ads, repeating each ad enough to stick in the prospect’s mind. It requires more courage, and more discipline, (and maybe more budget), but that’s why you get paid the big bucks, for making those hard decisions, right?
The online world, incidentally, offers a fantastic opportunity to rotate and test key propositions, inexpensively, letting you withdraw those that seem to be of no interest to consumers (although it may be the way you’re saying it) and invest more heavily in those that are working.
Slavishly obeying the ‘rules’ of advertising
For some insane reason, advertisers want their ads to look and sound like ads. Or at least, what they think ads should look like. Why? One of the best ads we ever saw – for the Ball Partnership in the 1980s – had no headline, no logo, and erudite, long-form copy. It worked its proverbials off, because it was so interesting.
Assuming you can advertise ‘when the customer needs to see you’
Advertisers often try and target ads to particular days, saying “We need to reach the customer just before she goes shopping.” But why do these advertisers choose to compete for the customer’s attention on, say, each Thursday and Friday, hoping to motivate them for the weekend – when everyone else is also advertising for the same reason – when they could have a nice, quiet chat all alone with the customer on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday?
As we at Magnum Opus say to people all the time, “If everyone is zigging, it’s time for you to zag”. Or, “If everyone else is shouting, speak quietly. If everyone else is jumping up and down, stand still.”
So are we saying don’t advertise when others are?
No, you have to, or you risk being drowned out. We need to be realistic. But you need to advertise outside of peak interest periods as well.
Memory is formed from images, but not of the images we have seen with our eyes recently. Memory is formed from the images we have seen in our imagination. We take pictures, and weave them into a narrative that works for us, developing that narrative over time. So for your ads to be really effective, they must be part of an on-going narrative that is recalled spontaneously when the prospective customer has a need for what you’ve advertised.
So focus on making your ads genuinely memorable, rather than attempting to schedule your ads only at the precise moment of the customer’s need. Tell the customer WHY, and wait for WHEN.
“I only want my ads to talk to decision makers”
Beware the ad agency who tells you that you only need to get your message to the decision-makers and they know how to do that. In truth, decisions are seldom made in a vacuum. Over-targeting will mean your ads miss out on many important people.
Everybody has a ‘realm of association’ of approximately 250 important co-workers, friends and family … people you play golf with … parents of children who play cricket or football with your kids … you go to church with these people … you live next door to them and chat over the fence … you work with them … or they’re your blood relatives.
“But it’s all about budget”, we hear you cry. “We can’t talk to everyone; we don’t have unlimited funds!”
That’s true, of course. But if a targeted ad misses a decision-maker, but you’ve still reached 25 of their best and most trusted friends and family, that’s probably OK too, because the strongest possible recommendation for a company, product or service is always – and always will be – word of mouth.
That’s why whatever it is you say, you need to something memorable, persuasive, and evidence-based.
Many advertisers and media professionals grossly overestimate the importance of audience quality. In reality, saying the wrong thing in the wrong way has killed far more good products and services – and even whole companies – than reaching the wrong people. Because it’s amazing how many people become “the right people” when you’re saying the right thing.
The true secret of advertising success is to say the right thing as creatively and relevantly as you can. (You need both.) Word-of-mouth advertising is the result of having impressed someone, anyone, somewhere, deeply.
And in an era of social media, word of mouth has become more important than ever.
The danger of ‘limited time’ advertising
The brain is a really interesting organ, containing both short-term and long-term memory. Now without getting into the science too deeply, short-term memory is essentially electrical. The brain “fires off” a reaction to stimulus. Long-term memory is chemical. It’s laid down differently.
You want to be the people the customer thinks of first – and feels the best about – when their moment of need arises. So branding must be accomplished in long-term memory.
So you just advertise all the time, right, and create long-term memories? Wrong. The brain, you see, is very smart. For example, it knows better than to transfer information into long-term memory when that information is flashing a “soon-to-expire” message in neon letters.
That good old “limited time only offer” might work – and we do them, for that reason – but we need to be aware that when an advertiser seeks to “whip people into action” with the urgency of a limited-time offer, their message will never make it into long-term memory.
At best, the message will stay in short-term memory only until the expiration date has passed and then it will be forever erased from the brain.
So yes, limited-time offers, when they work, cause people to take action immediately.
The downside is that limited-time offers don’t work better and better as time goes by. In truth, they can work worse and worse.
Because when an advertiser makes a limited-time offer, the only thing that really goes into long-term memory is, “This advertiser makes limited-time offers.”
This classic effect is seen in food retailing, when supermarkets are continually marketing “specials”. Now that’s all well and good, except some customers walk into the shop, buy the specials, and many of them walk straight out again. I
n essence, the “limited time” advertiser is training the customer to ask, “When does this go on sale?” You also see this effect clearly in other retailing and the car industry.
Consequently, you cannot only use a series of limited-time offers as the foundation for your long-term brand strength.
It’s arguable that a special event should be judged only by its role in clearly defining your market position and substantiating your claims – to great value, for example.
If just 1 percent of the people who hear your ad for a special event/offer take it up, you will be in desperate need of a traffic cop to handle all the enquiry. And that’s wonderful! But your real investment will be in the 99 percent who did not come! What did your ad say to them? Do you need to say something different to them?
Great production without great copy
The art of great copy is sadly in decline. Yet people vote with their feet by loving TV shows with crackling good copy, like “West Wing” or “Newsroom”, don’t they?
And great copy gets remembered, too. “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” “Go ahead, make my day.” “You can’t handle the truth!” Or even further back, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
And it’s not just “serious” shows – “Veep” is pretty much the most successful comedy doing the rounds, and it’s based not only on great performances but also compelling dialogue.
Too many ads today are creative without being persuasive. Slick, clever, funny, creative and different are poor substitutes for credible, emotionally relevant, memorable and persuasive. It’s worth taking the time to achieve both. It might be harder work, but it will pay dividends in sales and brand loyalty.
Demand that your ad agency deliver you ads, in any medium, that flow easily, that contain real information, that lead people through from start to finish, and that are coherent.
Confusing Response with Results
The goal of advertising is to create a clear awareness of your company and its unique strength, and the excellence of your products and services. Unfortunately, most advertisers evaluate their ads by the comments they hear from the people around them. The slickest, cleverest, funniest, most creative and most distinctive ads are, of course, the ones most likely to generate these comments.
See the problem? When we confuse social response with results, we create attention-getting ads that say absolutely nothing. You should measure the results of your advertising success by growth in sales volume, or measurable, trackable improvements in your brand perceptions, not by comments from friends.
Or as we say at Magnum Opus Partners, three things matter in advertising.
Results. Results. Results.
We’d like to thank Craig Arthur of Wizard Of Ads in Queensland for the issues raised here, which we have expanded on. He’s a marketing consultant in Townsville, Queensland, and obviously a smart cookie. And that’s another mistake that advertisers make – assuming you can’t co-operate with competitors. But that’s a whole other blog …