How Advertising Works


The successful Philadelphia retailer John Wannamaker once said, “I know that half of my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.”

That feeling of uncertainty about advertising plagues many business people. They know they should advertise, but they don’t really understand the process … so most of them simply end up doing, as one local businessman said recently, “what my father did.”

Regardless of what medium or media you choose – they all have their strengths and weaknesses – there are certain principles that always apply.

Effectiveness is a Combination of Reach and Frequency
“Reach” can be defined as the number of people who hear or see your message over time. “Frequency” is how many times the average person hears or sees your message. Your advertising needs to reach as many people as possible, as often as possible.

Those million-dollar ads you see on the Super Bowl have great reach but lousy frequency. An ad run on the front page of every edition of the Left-Handed Accountants’ Daily (if there were such a thing) would have lousy reach but good frequency.

Research shows that your prospect has to hear or see your message more than three times before they’ll act on it. So you need to make sure that the advertising medium you select has a wide enough audience for your needs, but more importantly, is designed and priced for frequency.

Keep Your Message Simple and Consistent
Many people don’t realize that if they run two or more ads in their schedule, they are reducing their effective frequency. So the best plan, for maximum results, is to run one and only one ad at a time. If you absolutely need to run different copy, have your advertising consultant construct a “shell” that remains the same, with the different copy inserted into that shell. That way the first thing your listener hears or your reader sees is that consistent impression, even though the middle or your ad may vary.

If you are running in more than one medium, you’ll get the maximum impact if your message is the same in all media. You should coordinate the efforts of all your media representatives to make sure that your message is consistent everywhere.

Concentrate Your Advertising
A common advertising mistake is to do too little in too many media. It is better to dominate one medium than to water down results by spreading out your ads.

On the other hand, a “media mix” is a powerful way to get your message to as many people as possible. There is research that shows how you can reduce your investment in one medium without significantly affecting effectiveness – which frees up budget that can be used in another medium. (Our radio marketing consultants have the details on this.)

Test Your Advertising
Most of the time you don’t just throw money down a hole and expect it to work for you … and you shouldn’t do that with advertising, either! Advertising should be an investment, not an expense.

If a friend of yours told you about an investment that produced a guaranteed 50% return – and you could verify it absolutely – you’d scramble to find as much money as you could to put into it. Similarly, if you are getting measurable results from your advertising program and you know how and why, you’ll advertise more!

Smart business people test their ads, their schedules, and their media – but not all at the same time! You need to test only one variable at a time.

How do you test? Well, you don’t test a medium by asking customers to “Mention you heard about it from …” People don’t do that! The best way to test is to run one ad, one schedule, one medium at a time – and see what happens to your traffic and your cash register. (Be sure you understand how much time you need to give the medium and the schedule to work; your advertising representative can help you with this.)

Keep Testing
Once you’ve found the ideal medium or media for your business, understand that things can change over time. Here are some reasons to reopen the issue:

The competitive situation among media has changed (more media competitors, new opportunities, different rates, etc.).
Your “share of voice” on your medium or media has changed (your competitors are advertising more, so your message is cutting through less).

You have saturated the prospects of a given medium (declining traffic is one indicator of this)

Keep Advertising!
There’s an old saying: “A funny thing happens when you don’t advertise – nothing.” If you want your business to grow, you have to get your name and your products or services in front of your customers and prospects – and keep them there.

Even if you just want your business to stay where it is, you need to advertise – because it’s a proven fact that you will lose up to 25% of your customers each year to relocation, competitors or death.

A Brief Commercial
As we’ve said elsewhere, our Radio stations and website are not in the business of “selling ads.” We sincerely want to help you achieve the greatest possible success, and advertising is an important part of that success. We want to work with you in a marketing partnership to suggest proven, creative ways to achieve greater success through advertising. If we mutually determine that we can help you, nobody will work harder to earn and keep your business – and we’ll even suggest complementary media when appropriate.

But if our exploration shows that one or more of our stations are not right for you at this time, we’ll suggest media that are more on target. We’d rather part friends than rope you into something that doesn’t work!