Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why do so many ads fail?

By John C. Peterson
The Peterson Group

That's a question I ask in several of the seminars I offer. The answers run all over the place but generally have a common thread.

Here's a sample:

· Lousy offer.
· Awful looking, 10 pounds of junk in a 5 pound bag.
· The ad was all logo.
· They only ran one ad.

The real answer the ad failed is, because somebody let it fail. That may be the ad rep or someone in graphics, but ultimately somebody didn't do their job.

The greatest variable in the process-- selling the space, was accomplished. The rep convinced someone on the need, benefits and value, but the ball got dropped after that.

Selling space and creating an attractive ad are not enough. The space needs to work.

As professionals we know that one size does not fit all. While some of the basic tenets will apply, every ad is unique in what it requires and it's every newspaper's duty to maximize the opportunity for success. Yes, duty, because we too are a consumer product, and we're getting paid to do our best.

The principles of successful advertising are no secret, so what was the problem? In some cases, the sales rep didn't know any better. Too many reps are salesmen, not the marketing consultants they need to be.

Unfortunately too few papers invest much time training nor do they devote great energy to creating strong ads or policing weak ones.

Is the customer the expert?
There's another reason we see so many see so many lousy ads. The answer I hear far too often-now cringe with me-- are some of the scariest words in this business: "That's what the customer wanted." The newspaper professional knew better but let the customer prevail. How many professions operate that way? That's not what we would do with our physician or the mechanic working on the car brakes.

We're talking about specialized knowledge, professional judgment, time-tested and proven elements. We may not be able to guarantee success but we can be certain about what isn't in their best interests. But, we cave because we don't want to upset the customer. At least not until we have the conversation about how the ad didn't work and they wasted their money.

Try this exercise
Here's a quick exercise to prove my point. Pick up the latest edition of your paper. Go page by page and put a mark on every ad you find engaging. By engaging I mean it got your attention and you could immediately determine what was offered.

Part two of this exercise is to go back through the paper a second time, page by page, and ask yourself if each ad answers the question, "Why?" Why here means why should the consumer buy this product or service, why should they go there, and what's in it for them if they do?

Try this with a gathering of reps and designers.

I've done this exercise with about a half- dozen papers recently. Somewhere between 10-25% of the ads passed the test. If half of the ads in your paper pass this test even by a loose standard, you're blessed.

At some companies there's a large chasm between the sales and graphic departments. Reps put notes (sometimes legible) in a folder and hope for the best. Good communication and clear instructions make all the difference. Designers may or may not have a clue about what's important to the customer or what they want to accomplish.

Reps also need to be trained in marketing techniques to know how to showcase a business and relate the "Whys" that are important to consumers. And they need to be fluent in the mechanics of best advertising practices to make their case.

Dumb or smart?
As a publisher in the good old days I would tell ad reps not to take the business if we couldn't do it right. It didn't purge us of inferior ad practices, but it was a start. Over the years I've vacillated whether that belonged in the dumb or smart column, but I reveled in the call I got from the retailer who complained the rep wouldn't take his money for one small ad. It gave me a chance to "educate" him about good advertising practices and he went on to become one of our larger accounts and one of our biggest cheerleaders.

When ads work, price is less an issue.

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Blogger Janee said...

I've been selling classified ads for several years and this is the best article I've read on the subject. I've been using the poor state of the print industry as an excuse to take money for crappy ads that don't work. You made me realize that now it's more important than ever to help advertisers get the most out of their investment.

6:01 AM  

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