Which half of your advertising is wasted? The definitive answer.

Wide horizontal double tearRetail pioneer John Wanamaker was famously quoted “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”  It’s the dilemma of marketers whether they’re in retail or manufacturing, whether they’re spending tens of million dollars a year on marketing or just ten thousand.

As catchy as the quote may be, it’s not really that difficult to parse the answer.  After all, there are only two fundamental components to advertising: what you have to say and where (or to whom) you say it.  The half most advertisers spend the bulk of their money on is the “where,” which really means the media.  So when the advertising results in a resounding thud, all that expensive media gets the blame.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear a new client tell us “I’ve run in radio and it doesn’t work” or “We don’t use billboards, that’s a waste of money.”

Gentle readers, here’s the simple truth: if the message is not compelling, you can quadruple your advertising spend and still get dismal results.

Let’s put it in human terms.  The guy who’s popular at a big party will be popular at a small party. The guy who’s a bore at black tie gala will put people to sleep standing at a car wash.  So, in short, it’s primarily all in the messaging.  What you choose to do at this juncture is what will affect everything that follows.  So here are some ways to think about making both halves of your advertising dollars work for you:

  • Start with a powerful strategically-based marketing message.  This is the very foundation of your entire marketing effort.  If this is faulty, nothing will stand on it.  Make sure you have a point of view that is completely unique to your firm alone, that your competitors aren’t also saying.  Be sure it’s a compelling message that would motivate someone who is already leaning toward the competition. Merely showing your group photo or facilities, using a pun for its own sake or relying on clichés are non-starters as far as marketing messages go.
  • How you say it is nearly as important as what you say. Invest in exceptional creative execution.  Your compelling message still needs to stop people in their tracks before it can do its job. I’ve long said that “Creative” exists as the most effective delivery vehicle for the message. Use the very best talent you can afford both in wordsmithing as well as in design.  Here’s the nexus where you’ll either be wasting your ad budget or making it soar. Many advertisers will spend next to nil for the ad’s creation (getting what they paid for), only to blow tens of thousands of dollars on the media to get a lot of people to ignore their ignorable ad.
  • Have patience.  Even great ads don’t work instantly.  Your audience isn’t waiting for your ad to appear.  But great advertising is highly erosive, wearing down the indifference so that when the right moment comes – or your salesman calls – the audience is ready to buy.  Nearly everybody remembers the brilliant Apple campaign, “Hello, I’m a Mac. I’m a PC.”  But the ads still had to run some length of time before people not only remembered the spots but acted on them as well.
  • Make certain that the entirety of your marketing is in step.  If your ads are cutting-edge but your website is still an antique, or if you’re not fulfilling the ads’ promise on all other fronts, you can’t expect optimum results.  Advertising is synergistic.  And cumulative.

So, in essence, getting your money’s worth starts at the very beginning, not at the end.  Putting the bulk of your focus on messaging, rather than media, will be much more rewarding.  Oh, and while we’re at it, D-I-Y is pervasive – but hardly ever persuasive! Try this on for size: open up 5 trade or consumer magazines and tag or cutout 10 ads that stop you in your tracks… ones that convey a strong value proposition, ones that you wish your firm had done! My completely biased but nevertheless absolutely accurate guess is that all 90% of those ads you clipped out were created by a marketing or advertising agency.

Also, don’t substitute hard-core strategic homework for a clever headline. And don’t think that the media selection is wrong when the creative you’re placing in it is what’s sending your audience running in the wrong direction.  (I’ve seen humble bus benches create insanely great response when used creatively.)

There.  Now you know which half of your advertising needs more of your love.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.


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