How Advertising Works

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November 7, 2016 by Paul Dughi

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  1. The first time a man looks at an advertisement, he does not see it.
  2. The second time, he does not notice it.
  3. The third time, he is conscious of its existence.
  4. The fourth time, he faintly remembers having seen it before.
  5. The fifth time, he reads it.
  6. The sixth time, he turns up his nose at it.
  7. The seventh time, he reads it through and says “Oh brother.”
  8. The eighth time, he says, “Here’s that confounded thing again!”
  9. The ninth time, he wonders if it amounts to anything.
  10. The tenth time, he asks his neighbor if he has tried it.
  11. The eleventh time, he wonders how the advertiser makes it pay.
  12. The twelfth time, he thinks it must be a good thing.
  13. The thirteenth time, he thinks perhaps it might be worth something.
  14. The fourteenth time, he remembers wanting such a thing a long time.
  15. The fifteenth time, he is tantalized because he cannot afford it.
  16. The sixteenth time, he thinks he will buy it someday.
  17. The seventeenth time, he makes a memo to buy it.
  18. The eighteenth time, he swears at his poverty.
  19. The nineteenth time, he counts his money carefully.
  20. The twentieth time he sees the ad, he buys what it is offering.

London businessman Thomas Smith wrote this back in 1885.  That was back before people listened to radio, watched television, or had the internet.  If it took 20 times back then, how many times does it take now?

Repetition builds awareness.

 Repetition builds interest.

 Repetition builds desire.

 Repetition makes it okay to buy.

It takes commitment to a single targeted message  driven home relentlessly over a long period of time.

You’ve Got to be Realistic

A client approached us to help him launch a new campaign.  He said he’d been disappointed with his advertising before and wanted to make sure he did what it took to make it right.

Most advertising representatives would have asked how much money he had to spend.  We asked what his goals were.  He sat there for a minute and then said “More Sales.” Good answer.  Too many people get stuck in the “I-want-a-great-deal” trap and get more interested in negotiating the rates on commercials than focusing on the outcome.

If you spend $50,000 in advertising and it generates $500,000 in sales, you’d probably say it was a good deal.  If you spent $5,000 on advertising and it didn’t work, you’d say it was a bad deal.

It’s not about the amount of money you spend; it’s about accomplishing your goals.  And, that starts with being realistic.

In this case, our client wanted to spend $8,000 over a six-month period.  His goal was, obviously to increase sales, but he wanted to do it by “dominating TV in our market.”  We could certainly make a dent and do some great things, but he wasn’t going to “dominate” the TV station with that amount.  It just wasn’t  a realistic goal.  We told him he might be able to dominate one station in the market for a one-weekend sale with that amount.  But, that would mean putting everything into that one 3-day promotion.

Our TV station spends more than that every day in equivalent air time to promote our ourselves.  And, we believe it takes years at this pace to sell a brand, generate awareness, get people to sample our products, and become customers!  Especially if we’re trying to change long-held beliefs or habits.

Define your goal first, then look for the most efficient use of your dollars to accomplish that goal. For this client, though, the goal wasn’t really to dominate TV, but to increase sales.  We can work with that.

Too Many Places.  Too Little Time.

It was good advice when your mother told you and it’s good advice today:  Don’t spread yourself too thin.

“Concentration is the key to economic success.” – Economist Peter Drucker

One of the biggest mistakes that local advertisers make is spreading out their advertising dollars in too many places. They spend a little on television, but split it up among four stations. They spend a little on radio, but split it up among six stations. They spend a little on print. They might spend a little on billboards.  Some paid search and some internet display, maybe some social media.

The result? It doesn’t work.   It’s like buying a single share of 100 different stocks in your investment portfolio.  Diversified?  Yes. But will it give you a substantial return on investment?  No.

But it can work if you do it right.  Again, though, you’ve got to be realistic.

Let’s say you’ve used one medium or marketed one way for a long period of time, but decided they have to try something different.  Maybe you’ve always been a die-hard, long-term newspaper advertiser that notices your ads aren’t bringing in the customers like it used to.  Is it declining circulation of the newspaper?  Increased marketing in other media?  The internet?

In that case, you may decide to “try” television or digital advertising.

We’ve seen this time and time again

In most cases, that advertiser will continue to spend 80% of their budget in newspaper and spread the other 20% over a couple of radio and TV stations, or digital ad networks.  A few week later, the advertiser will ask his customers where they heard about them.

The advertiser, hearing newspaper as an answer more often, will decide TV or radio or internet advertising isn’t effective. But the truth was only the newspaper was given an adequate budget to really work for his business.  And it had years of consistency to burn it into people’s memory.

When asked, the advertiser will say those seven words media salespeople never want to her:  “I tried (Fill-in-Medium of choice here) once.  It didn’t work.”

In the case above, they were right.  That was trying it out.  And it won’t work.  It wouldn’t work in any other media either.

It’s all about consistency and long-term strategy.  Don’t waste your advertising dollars “trying” something.  You’re just wasting money.

Be Realistic.  If you want to test something out, give it enough funding and enough time to make a valid judgment.


Cheap is Only Good When It Works.  And It Rarely Does.


5155ty35xllThe above is an excerpt from Paul Dughi’s second book on marketing, The Economy Sucks. Your Business Doesn’t Have To:  How to grow your business in tough times, published in 2009 and 2016.

You can download a free Kindle version at Amazon here.

51ijbonyqvlDughi is the co-author along with Jennifer Bliesner, of Weapon of Mass Distinction, published originally in 2005 and 2016.

You can download a free Kindle version at Amazon here.

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