Advertising: Which Half Works?

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Advertising: Which Half Works?
| Published March 24, 2014  |

By Brien Sorne
Thursday Review guest columnist

Another urban legend foiled: not just half of your advertising is working—it’s all working! That is to say, it is being viewed or heard or read by someone, somewhere within the consuming audience of that medium. As such, it is “working” to create a lasting impression, or drive sales, or position the business name, or even boost company morale. That doesn’t mean it is working to achieve your particular objective. The manner in which you have chosen to advertise may not be the most effective and/or the most efficient for the message you’re trying to convey. The first step is to consider whether the content of your message matches the context of the medium you have chosen.

Perhaps you have said this: “We tried [radio, tv, newspaper, outdoor, etc] …it doesn’t work.” When I am presented with such a claim, I first review the content and the intention of the advertising. As I do so, I find it useful to apply Marshall McLuhan’s (1967) assertion: the “medium is the message.” Okay… but if that’s true shouldn’t we consider what is the medium saying? Further, are all media saying the same thing? And, is this “medium message”, or what some call the meta-message consistent with the content of our advertising, not to mention, our overall marketing objectives?

If you agree with any of this, permit me further to assert that each medium delivers one meta message unique to its domain and this must be the basis of our selection. Audience size, cost efficiency, geography, and demography, even ad composition all come after this consideration. That’s why you don’t see doctors and lawyers driving around with magnetic signs on their cars. We all know it intuitively. No matter how informative or how attractive, the message is all wrong.

Matching up your message, your target, and your objective with the right medium at the right time is fundamental to the game. For sure, if you are not doing this part right— and this part you do control, it is pointless to think that you can expect efficient, effective advertising results.

With good intentions, people run TV ads that amount to the announcer reading newspaper copy. Or vice versa, they place display ads in print that are intended to develop the “image” of the product or the business. TV ads best build image. Print ads best give the details. These folks are not using the meta-message of the medium to their advantage.

How many times have you heard a radio ad that gave you the phone number at the end. Like you’re supposed to remember this. With a few good exceptions, there aren’t too many phone numbers that have a “ring” to them (pardon the pun). Most radio listening is done while driving. So, I guess we’re supposed to cradle the cell phone and steer with our knees while we jot down the number. Radio is best used to convey urgency, not all the details. Get us excited! We’ll look up the number, or find it in the newspaper ad you just told us to be looking for!

A simple rule is to ask: “Why,” “When,” “How,” “Where,” and “Who.” Everyone who buys from you will have to answer each of these questions. Each advertising medium: TV, radio, newspaper, outdoor, and direct mail can be matched by their respective ability to answer each of these questions. If you are trying to get people to buy from you now, not later, use radio to drive your sales incentives. Radio personalities and voice actors are great at getting people pumped about your “event.” When the objective is to help people find you, select a billboard near your location and give them simple instructions (a couple of words!) and an arrow if possible. Likewise, outdoor advertising can also help to “locate” your business mentally. A billboard can increase awareness by saying figuratively “we are here!” i.e. “we are open and ready to do business.” Meanwhile, TV best answers the question “why” someone should do business with you by virtue of its ability to engage a person emotionally far more than any other medium.

Of course any of these media can be used to answer any of these questions, but, like using a screwdriver handle to drive a nail, though it may eventually get the job done, the time you’ve wasted, and the risk you took in actually doing damage can leave you wondering if any of it is worthwhile…whether any of your advertising is working. The truth is, all advertising works when it is worked in the right way and with respect for your message.

Brien Sorne, a guest columnist for Thursday Review, is also the host of Tallahassee Talks with Brien Sorne, a radio show which airs each Saturday morning from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 in Florida.