When Ads Aren’t Advertising

Not an adSome advertising isn’t advertising at all. It just takes advertising space and usually precious advertising dollars to achieve a different company purpose.

Consider these examples where ad space is used to:

  • Announce a new professional or service employee
  • Announce lists of employees with long service
  • Thank sponsors or volunteers for a particular event
  • Promote a preferred charitable endeavor

Each is a legitimate use of space or time, but should not come out of an advertising budget. They are not effectively advertising the business, but fulfilling a different role.

But, you might argue, “Announcing a new employee such as a famed doctor or hair dresser is advertising how our business has captured a great new talent and it will drive traffic to our business from those who follow this person.”  True to a degree, but it’s also likely true that the talent came with a “book” of their own and have already emailed and called regulars to announce their new location. More often, this type of ad is used as an ego-soother, just to make the new employee happy, and even might have been part of a negotiated package to bring them to a business from a competitor.

The same could be said of the next two bullets.  The ads are goodwill to employees, volunteers and sponsors.  A personal thank you note or gift may have worked as well and even been less expensive.

The last bullet is a charitable donation not an ad spend.  It’s a legitimate way to help a cause or organization gain recognition that it cannot afford on its own.  In this case, the ad should be written to promote something about the charity so that the ad works hardest for the cause being promoted. Then the ad is an ad, but not for the business paying the bill. For that business, the charge should be seen on the books as a valued, and likely non-deductible charitable donation unless the donation is given to the charity directly to purchase the ad space on their own. Many charities welcome and desire this type of donation over cash, because it improves their own effectiveness to  raise donations, or encourage volunteers from others.

Dollars for these types of ads should, ideally, come out of marketing budgets, HR budgets, or community service budgets for larger companies. For smaller companies, they should also be allocated to a non-advertising line to be accounted for accordingly and not skew the company’s review of its own ad effectiveness at year’s end.

Last, but not least is image advertising. Large companies know not to look for an ROI in dollars with image advertising because it’s not the purpose of the ads.  Instead, they might measure awareness effectiveness. The lesson in this is that not all ads are equal. Don’t judge them all the same way or look for the same metrics in reviewing their effectiveness as each serves a distinctly different purpose.

 The Walk-Away:  Advertising is a serious and not inexpensive endeavor. If using advertising space for reasons other than directly advertising a business, don’t allocate the dollars from your advertising budget.  Spend them from lines that allow you to see what you did during the year in an honest way, and allow you to measure true advertising results accurately.

Print Ads Used in Phenemy Positioning War

It started at the Consumer Electronics Show at the beginning of 2013, then moved to a full page ad in major nationphone legsal papers, only to be countered in the same papers soon thereafter.  What is it?  The newest phone ad wars between AT&T and T-Mobile!

Newspapers love ad wars almost as much as oil companies like price wars, and divorce lawyers like contentious divorces.  But, besides bringing in unexpected ad revenue, there are lessons to be learned from these phenemy (phone enemy) ad campaigns and not all of them are positive.

Companies have two basic ways to get their side of the story out — PR and advertising.  Effective PRcan get company spokespeople on pundit talk shows and inches in commentary sections of newspapers. If done really well, it can get the company quoted in an actual news article. But there are never any guarantees with PR.  On the other, Advertising does guarantee placements. It’s why during strikes, elections, employee recognition periods, and even phone wars, you’ll see a proliferation of print ads, because nothing tells a story better or quicker than a full-page ad in print.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear the recent AT&T and T-mobile ad wars were effective. Here’s why.

  • The campaign was limited to national publications.
  • It was based on a conference speech that was also limited to industry insiders.
  • The company with the leadership position gave free press to the competitor.

Here’s what happened. The new CEO of T-mobile made a snide remark about AT&T. Few might have heard the comment or given it credence since AT&T has the leadership position. But, instead of letting the comment slide, AT&T came out fighting with limited national ads. Most people never saw the ads, but others started talking about it as it hit the trades. In essence, AT&T gave a broader voice to the initial T-mobile argument.

The AT&T ads could have worked if they had been more widespread, but the creative also gave unnecessary ink to T-mobile. The AT&T ads claimed T-mobile had two times the dropped calls, two times the failed calls, and 50% slower download speeds. This drew added attention to the ongoing complaint about AT&Ts own dropped calls rather than playing to its strengths.

As noted in the now classic marketing text “Positioning The Battle for Your Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout, “At almost every step of the way, the leading brand has the advantage.”  By responding to the T-mobile posturing, AT&T gave up some of that advantage and opened minds to the possibility that T-mobile may be right. Or, as T-mobile’s CMO Mike Sievert said to Advertising Age, “AT&T doth protest too much.”

broken legCheck out the AT&T and T-mobile ads and judge for yourself.  Then, take a step back and think how the full page ad space could have been used more effectively, because a full page is a terrible thing to waste.

The Walk-Away:  Advertising should never be done defensively or off your main message because instead of giving a campaign legs, it creates confusion.  It’s more like trying to run on a broken leg. All you get is more injured.

Advertising Extends Seasonal Sales Cycles

Being in a seasonal business can mean one of three things:

  1. Your business is seasonal catering to a defined seasonal market. Summer amusement parks fall into this category.
  2. Your business is located in a seasonal market, but isn’t generally considered seasonal. Grocery stores that cater to local residents, but see an increase in sales during tourism seasons share this category.
  3. Your industry is considered seasonal.  Many retail businesses fall into this segment, with high holiday and back-to-school selling seasons.

carlegsRegardless of your category, great marketing helps you either broaden your season length, or create additional seasons. For instance, some category 1 B&Bs previously known only as for summer destinations have successfully positioned themselves as off-season resorts in addition to their regular high season. By advertising these new selling propositions to both standard clientele and new customers looking for different or more cost-effective vacation experiences, these B&Bs have effectively created a second sales season that didn’t exist several years ago.

When in a category 3 business with a seasonal selling cycle, it’s important to stay abreast of ever-changing consumer trends to ensure that what has traditionally been your key selling season hasn’t changed the game. The auto industry is a great example of how consumer shopping patterns have shifted just within a two-year time period.

Take a look at the table below from the US Census, which tracks retail sales by category every year. In 2010, two years after the recession hit high gear, auto sales by auto dealers were highest in December as consumers waited for late year models to go on sale.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2010

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
7.3%
7.2%
8.4%
8.3%
8.5%
8.4%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.4%
8.5%
8.1%
8.3%
8.6%
10.2%

Sales in December were 2-3 points higher than any other time of the year with January and February being the off season. Traditional car advertising followed this pattern, tending to run heavier during the holiday seasons and staying low during the early winter months.

But, buying patterns have changed and if a car dealer today is still buying advertising based on the 2010 model, they would be missing a significant amount of  2012 buyers, who are far more consistent in buying cars throughout the year. Check out the buying patterns for 2012 below.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2012

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
8.0%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.2%
8.4%
8.6%
8.4%
8.7%
8.8%

This new data set shows that consumers are actively buying cars all year long with December still being a key buying month, but no one group of months being significantly different from the others. What was once a semi-seasonal business has evened out.

What this means is advertisers not adjusting their media plans to attract consumers all year long are missing those consumers who are actively in the market at any point in time. The data is available from the government for most key industrial codes.

The Walk-away: Assumptions made about key selling times of the year can cause businesses to unnecessarily miss key selling opportunities. The recent past is not always a good indication of current or future buying trends.

SOURCE: Monthly Retail and Food Service Sales, 2012 Sales, census data, http://www.census.gov/retail/mrts/www/data/excel/mrtssales92-present.xls

Real Estate Study Shows What Advertising Works

In real estate advertising, a recent study shows that print and digital ads are a powerful combination. Seeking to determine effects of both print and digital advertising on effectively selling a home, the study found:

Homes for sale that are advertised in both print and online are 20% more likely to be sold than those that use just one medium.

Furthermore, the study showed that “properties that used a combination of both print and online advertising had lower discount levels and spent less time on the market.” The study, considered the first of its kind,  was conducted by News Limited, the majority owner owelcome matf Australia’s website realestate.com.au,  to determine what marketing worked in moving more than a half million properties within a 12 month period.

Previously, realtors swapped information on what they thought worked or didn’t in advertising campaigns, but the field was sorely lacking in valid statistical data. The industry in the U.S. is great at tracking metrics on homes for sale, homes listed, and prices achieved, but has a lack of information on what fosters the sale. The Australian study starts to shed light on advertising effectiveness that can be insightful not only for American realtors, but other small to medium-sized retail operations in the U.S, namely:

  • Inventory that sells fast tends to not to have to be discounted.
  • Using a combination of print and digital advertising increases exposure for items you have to sell.
  • The added exposure can increase your advertising return by up to 20%.

The Walk-away: When creating your media plan to sell inventory, don’t just think of one medium. Print and digital are a strong combination. Because of their strong local reach, the print/digital combo should be the foundation of any local advertising program, with other medium added for effect.

The Power of Measured Media

mismatched shoesThere’s a reason advertising rates are radically different for different media partners. The short answer is: “Not all media are equal.” The longer answer lies in the term: Measured Media.

Measured media, by definition, is exactly what it says. But measurements vary widely. The first rule in paying for media is to make sure it’s measured. The second rule is to determine if the measurement is credible — done by a third party resource, or auditor. Media that is audited can prove through outside resources the claims they make on reach and demographics. Then, since you know what you’re paying for, the cost to affiliate with these legitimate outlets is also usually higher, but definitely more valuable.

It is true that there is no such thing as a free lunch and also true that cheap lunches can get you food poisoning. The same is true in advertising. Free media means it has no value. If someone is giving you a spot for free, you know they couldn’t sell the spot. If they could have, they would have. This is particularly true in broadcast with a set 24-hour cycle and a set amount of spots to offer.  Morning drive programs in radio, for instance, are very popular and filled with paid spots because of their proven reach. Discounted or free ads, as a result, rarely if ever run during morning drive time. Free spots are commonly run in the wee morning hours and on weekends when paying customers won’t pay for the radically reduced reach, listenership, or viewers.

With measured media, measurements vary by type of media. Outdoor billlboards use traffic numbers called DECs, or daily effective circulation, provided by the Traffic Audit Bureau. The numbers tell you how many cars are likely to pass a billboard, but not how many people actually see the ad. The measurements are credible and allow a buyer to value one billboard over another. News in print is measured by Scarborough, broadcast stations are measured by Nielson or Arbitron, and online sites are generally  measured either by  Comscore , Alexa or Google Analytics. These third party research agencies are reliable and stake their reputations on being unbiased, although they can’t always be used to measure one type of media against another.

Social media historically had no measurements except followers or likes, which did not measure anything but one-time popularity. As it gets more sophisticated, especially in terms of taking advertiser dollars, the Facebooks of the world are providing metrics, but unlike with other measured media, their measurements are their own. By definition, it makes the numbers worthy of some skepticism.

So if you’re considering a discount coupon on the back of a grocery receipt or a Facebook ad, know that you are getting what you pay for. In the first instance, you have no idea how many people actually see or care about your ad. You only know how many times it was printed out by the register. With Facebook, you get more refined demographic reach, but again have to rely on Facebook’s word, not a third-party provider, that you received the impressions you wanted. Neither are measured media, just media with a measurement. There’s a huge difference.

The Walk-Away:  In advertising as in everything else in life, you get what you pay for. It ‘s the reason a Superbowl ad costs millions, Facebook ads are close to free and there are all levels of media costs in between. Make sure you’re buying media by what you need and not just by what it costs, or you could end up with a bargain that’s really no bargain at all.

Promises = Real Ad Impressions

Recent posts by my colleague Bill Merklee have discussed the pros and largely cons of using humorin advertising. The basic tenet is that it doesn’t work if too many people don’t “get the joke.”  I’d argue humor in advertising doesn’t work for a bigger reason – advertising is serious business. People want to find something that you’re hopefully selling.

One key to advertising is catching someone’s attention – hence the attraction of humor.  It’s also the reason frequently for skimpily clad girls, six-pack bare-chested men and celebrities in ads.  Sex and celebrities grab our attention. However, getting attention and having a message resonate are two very different things.

The reason ad-men have bad reputations and most ads don’t work is very simply that they don’t keep their promises. A promise not kept in an ad is a scam and you know the old saying: “Fool me once…”

The most basic reason for an ad is to make a promise. You advertise to tell someone that you have a product or service that will do something for the consumer. Heaven help you if you don’t have that product or service and if it’s falsely advertised in terms of what it promises to do.

Unfortunately, false promises are more common that one would hope. In one recent example, a retailer took a stock photo of a garment and put it in her ad. The good news is that the ad worked and people walked into her store with the ad in hand and asking for the item. Oops. The retailer never carried that particular item and couldn’t fulfill expectations. Sure, she tried to steer people to similar or different product she did carry, and also tried to quickly order the pictured garment, but the promise was broken particularly for those who hurried in to be first to buy.

What’s the promise in your ad? If you can’t easily say, there’s a problem right there. If you can, but feel unsure if it’s solid, that’s yet another problem. Make sure your ad firmly makes a promise you’re comfortable keeping. Promises can range from lowest price to largest inventory, punk trendy, get this one great outfit, get a James Bond car here, or find your closet full of coolest stuff. Then when targeted customers respond, they will never be disappointed.

The Walk-away: Great advertising makes a promise so compelling, targeted customers can’t help but respond. But like first impressions, consumers will only trust you once, so make sure you can fulfill the dream you promoted in your effective ad, or you’ll have trouble attracting repeat business.

shopping-legs

Put Benefits in Your Ad Headlines

Advertisers and marketers frequently make one huge blunder. They forget about benefits. They get so focused on WHAT they have to sell, they forget to tell consumers WHY they should buy. The Why’s can take many forms:

  • Why buy from you
  • Why the product/service will make life easier for them
  • Why now
  • Why something is different

In advertising, you don’t have to answer all “why’s” at one time. In fact, you shouldn’t. But, as a rule of thumb, every ad should address at least one “why” prominently somewhere in the ad, preferably the headline or in the lead.

This was highlighted recently in Scarborough research pulled for a local auto dealer. The data showed that the primary reasons consumers from Atlantic and Cape May counties bought a car from a dealer within the last year had less to do with model selections and price and more to do with service, warranty and a dealer’s reputation. For those who actually purchased cars within the last 12 months of the research, service indexed 265 while price/value indexed 100 and model selection surprisingly indexed 85. With 100 as the baseline, this means, that an adult in the market for new cars is 165% more likely to buy based on service and 15% less likely to buy based on model. Although price is a consideration, it doesn’t rate higher than a dealer’s reputation or concerns about  service and the warranty. Local consumers want cars that won’t cost them a fortune after they’ve driven off the lot!

Knowing this information, now take a look at most auto ads in newspapers and other media outlets. Almost every ad hypes make, model and price. This works for national manufacturer ads as the big three want to entice you to look at their latest models, none of which they sell directly to consumers. But, if you’re a dealer, the data shows that your local ads should promote your service record, warranties and reputation. Sadly, there are few examples of these to show.

The Walk-away: If you can’t answer at least one “why” question in your ad copy, it’s time to ask yourself a different question: “Why are you spending your money on advertising?” If it’s to gain customers, then at least address the question why someone should buy from you versus a competitor. Pick a  “why” question and  address it in your ad copy! Make sure your ad answers that question clearly and prominently so the right customers drive to your door.

Why Market Research Can Be Misleading

If it’s true that “Numbers don’t lie,” how come so much data is misinterpreted? According to Nate Silver, now popular political data blogger and tracker for the New York Times, numbers can be misleading when analysts don’t have the historical context for interpreting them. For instance, in retrospect, Silver in his book The Signal and The Noise, notes that although data existed to strongly suggest the 9-11 attack on The World Trade Center, humans did not have the experience to correctly interpret the signals. Silver writes, “the 9/11 Commission deduced, the most important source of failure in advance of the attacks was our lack of imagination.” In other words, we could not imagine or conceive of such a horrendous attack, so no matter what the data indicated, the intelligence community could not see it.

In business, false interpretations of data are not as critical as with the intelligence community, but ignoring trends and/or the failure to imagine possibilities can lead to businesses going out of business long before their times. It’s why market research is important in making business decisions from next year’s color trends for fashion houses to the copy and graphics choices in an ad. If we always produce the same ads, or always stock the same inventory as the year before, our business will appear stale to our consumers, and we will ultimately fail to be positioned correctly in the near or longer-term future.

How can you get data? Trade associations are always a key source as are consumer surveys you do on your own. The value of the former is that the data is usually analyzed by a credible industry executive. The danger in the latter is bias or misinterpretation.

One of the best customer surveys is done by GoDaddy, the url management and web hosting service. After every service call a simple questionnaire is sent to each customer with just two short questions. Was your question or issue answered to your satisfaction? Would you recommend our service to others? Each question has a ranking from 1-5, with 5 being strongly agree.The simplicity of the questions allows for little misinterpretation of the data and doesn’t allow GoDaddy to determine new products or services, but does allow them an ongoing benchmark of their customer service. It highlights how highly GoDaddy considers it’s customer service as key differentiating factor, and gives clues to effective market research.

  • Only ask questions that supply meaningful answers – those you know you can interpret and use the data to change behavior. In Go Daddy’s case they can use the scores to easily understand which CSRs are worth promoting, or weeding out.
  • Don’t ask too many questions, or consumers will jump ship. No one has enough time to take more than a few seconds to answer questions.
  • Don’t ask questions if you won’t do anything with the data. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. When framing a question, ask yourself, “what will I do with this information once I know it?” If the answer is “nothing,” abandon the question.

The Walk-away: When it comes to using data for determining advertising decisions, don’t go it alone. Ad effectiveness depends on many factors including but not limited to resulting sales. The questions, research methodology, and analysis are best left to experts.

The Public Relations Value in Disaster Recovery

This past Sunday, the ACHLA sponsored a walk to highlight the vibrancy of the Atlantic City boardwalk post Sandy. News coverage around the nation left the impression that the boardwalk had been decimated. Nothing could be farther from the truth either in AC or OC – Ocean City. Both boardwalks are open for business. But, as Al Reis and Jack Trout noted in their now classic book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, once an idea takes hold it’s hard to unlodge.

That’s where the walk came in. It wasn’t to raise money. It was to raise awareness. If people stay away from Atlantic City and other boardwalk communities, the monetary damage from Sandy can be unnecessarily greater. Sandy was an Act of God. Bad PR is an Act of Mankind. Both require a concerted effort for real disaster recovery.

News coverage claims close to 600 people attended the Sunday walk. I was one of them. I can’t substantiate the number, but I can substantiate the energy on the boardwalk and the fact that almost everywhere you looked, the boardwalk was clean, undamaged, and open for business.

So when public perception is wrong, how do you go about changing it? The answer is an integrated, strong campaign. Advertising alone isn’t enough. But advertising combined with PR and a full marketing toolkit can be a powerful agent for change. PR takes spokespeople to talk to news organizations outside the area, press releases and targeted articles to travel publications and sites, and a full court press of social media and traditional media options.

And what about the Do AC ad campaign? It’s being run by some very smart people,who have already revamped to account for Sandy positioning. Their latest headline? “Nothing Can Hold Back The City Where Anything is Possible.” Why? Because, just promoting DoAC won’t work post-Sandy as no one wants to get away to someplace devastated in their minds. The key is to show, prove and entice people to see AC as it really is – and perhaps as a social responsibility for rebuilding NJ.

There’s a model out there already. It’s called Bourbon Street post Katrina. The Gulf Coast made sure to let people know it was open for business and that by visiting you were helping to rebuild New Orleans. It was almost a public duty to visit New Orleans in 2005. Emotion is a key factor in PR and advertising. Don’t be afraid to use it.

What can you do as a small business at the Jersey Shore? Use your email list to let customers know you’re open for business. Aggressively use your web site to foster sales. Post on all your social media sites with pictures to show ongoing vibrancy of your business. Entice people to help support the commercial growth of The Shore. Advertise to show you’re here to stay. Use emotion. Don’t be afraid to say Jersey Strong, or Rebuilding the Shore in your ads. It’s what people want to see happen. Show you’re a part of the fiber that makes the Jersey Shore a national treasure.

The Walk-away: Disaster happens. Don’t let it be the end of you. Stake your flag (or foot) in the sand and use advertising, PR, email, social media and every message channel open to you to encourage customers to come back sooner rather than later. Be Jersey Strong. As an aside, if your business is  a collection drop for any charity, please make sure the public knows by emailing an alert to PressitForward@PressofAc.com,  the new listing service also started on Sunday called PressItForward.

Credible Ads are Placed in Trusted Media Sources

When it comes to consumer trust, traditional media still rules the day. A digital report released this summer by Triton Digital, shows that newspapers, radio and TV each outweigh internet-only news sources in terms of trust. Reported in e-Marketer under the title “Traditional Media Still Most Trusted Sources of Info,” the article concludes … “with time and attention –and trust—still focused on traditional media, TV, radio and print are not to be neglected.”  Both Triton Digital and eMarketer are services dedicated to digital growth trends, giving the report significance as one of those “eating crow” times when digital gurus formally admit the power of print and broadcast.

In this increasingly digital world, people have frequently confused news with news delivery trends. Findings from a January Pew Research study note: “People are no longer taking one path to access news.” Consumer appetites for news today are extremely healthy, but instead of reading three newspapers as their grandfathers did, today’s consumers gather news from three or more platforms frequently including print, desktops, and mobile devices as sources for their daily news consumption.

The Pew survey also reported in e-Marketer found: “ that when seeking news, the highest percentage of consumers went directly to a news organization’s website or app, which suggests that pre-existing relationships are what drive readers to particular news outlets.” The reason boils down to trust.

A new business book,The Trust Edge,by David Horsager delves into the elements needed for businesses of any type to gain consumer trust.  Not surprisingly, he finds that  trust is not built overnight. Hence, it should be  no surprise in the higher level of consumer trust  in more established news sources who have honed their reporting skills over time.

How does this affect advertising? By affiliation, an advertiser associated with a credible media source has higher perceived “trust” value with consumers. Is it any surprise then that Google just reported it’s average cost per click has fallen by 15% compared with the same time last year?

The Walk-away: All that glitters is not gold. New devices are engaging for games and email, and also give consumers greater access to news. But when news and information is wanted over Angry Birds, consumers use those devices to find credible, trusted news sources. These landing pages are the places you should consider for ad placements, so you, too, can be found by consumers actively seeking credible resources.