Why Ads Fail

Posted by on May 9, 2011

The MondayMorningMemo for May 9, 2011

I’ve never met a business owner whose advertising failed because they were reaching the wrong people.

Let me say that again. I’ve never met a business owner whose advertising failed because they were reaching the wrong people.

Advertising fails when people have

   1. no knowledge of the offer. The ad is easily ignored.
   2. no interest in the offer. The offer is (A.) irrelevant or (B.) misunderstood.
   3. no trust in the offer. The claims made in the ad are not credible.

These problems can be solved by

   1. getting the attention of the people with words and phrases that are new, surprising and different.
   2. offering the people what they want to buy (instead of trying to convince them to buy what you’d like to sell.)
   3. supporting your claims with examples that agree with the experiences of your prospective customers.

“But wait a minute, Mr. so-called Wizard of Ads. Your second point was that ads sometimes fail because the people who were reached had ‘no interest in the offer.’ Because I am an honorable advertising salesperson, I always begin by asking the advertiser, ‘Who is your customer?’  Now if I can offer this advertiser a higher concentration of those people, isn’t that a better value?”

The foundation of your sales pitch rests on the assumption that an advertiser should be able to articulate their customer profile as a demographic cell. While this premise may seem reasonable to both you and the business owner, it’s almost never true.

Let’s put this to the test. I will ask the questions. You will answer them honestly:

   1. Do your friends tend to be male or female?
   2. Do your friends tend to be under 30, 30 to 44, 45 to 59, or over 60?
   3. Do your friends tend to be married or single?
   4. Do your friends tend to be Republicans, Democrats, or Independents?

These questions are perfectly reasonable, but you know in your heart that you have lots of male and female friends of all ages, married and single, and with political affiliations than span the spectrum. Am I right? 

But all of them bought the same product: you.

If you say, “My friends tend to be male, 30 to 44, Republican and married,” the truth is this description fits no more than thirty percent of your friends. (Realistically, that number is probably closer to 20 percent.) Welcome to the world of demographic targeting.

There is something deep in each of us that knows there has to be a right customer and that wishes we could find more of these “right people.”

I believe that right customers exist. I do not believe they can be targeted according to income or demographic profile. If you target a demographic cell, it’s because you believe in your heart that persons of the same age, sex and marital status all think alike.

Target the ‘right customer’ through your ad copy, not your media selection. Reach as many people as your budget will let you reach repetitiously, regardless of their age, sex, or income bracket. Choose words, phrases and points-of-view that will resonate with them. Do this and you will be amazed at how many different people suddenly become ‘your customer.’

Next week I’ll tell you how to select your message delivery vehicle. If discussions about advertising bore you, next week’s memo will be a good one to skip.

Ciao for Niao,

Roy H. Williams

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