Somewhere in America a rookie cable TV sales representative is talking to the owner of a men’s clothing store. The rookie could have been working in newspaper, or outdoor, or radio. The retailer could have sold sewing notions, or computers, or farm supplies. The the specifics could be variable. The outcome won’t change much.

The story begins.

Our rookie is explaining to the owner why his ads are such a bargain. The owner says, “Young fella, you’re making a pretty good case for some cheap ads. I’ll tell you what. I’ve got three hundred dollars left in my budget. See that rack of suits back there? You sell those. We’ll test just how effective those cheap ads of yours are. Do a good job for me on this sale, and I’ll consider advertising with you again.

The rookie takes note of the rack of pea green suits, and thrilled to have cracked this account, says “Yes, Sir! We’ll get right on it.” He calls his production department to schedule a video shoot at the store, and writes up the order.

Unfortunately, it will be his only order. The pea green suits will not sell.

A slightly more experienced media rep would from this point on avoid the client. The more experienced rep has already learned that these kinds of ads only work sometimes, and those times seem unpredictable.

Our rookie, however, is a little less experienced and a lot more conscientious. He will stop at the store to check on the progress of the sale. The owner tells him nothing is happening. Nobody is buying the suits. In fact, nobody has even mentioned seeing the ads.

Back at the station . . .

The rookie tells his sales manager that he’s worried about the new account. If they don’t make something happen, the store owner isn’t likely to advertise again. The sales manager tells the rookie to order a “blind bonus” – ads that the client will never be charged for. The client won’t be charged because the announcements will be added to the schedule without hiss knowledge, in an effort to increase the impact of the advertising, and cover up any shortcomings in the original plan.

Not surprisingly, the extra ads don’t drive any additional traffic.

When the sale is over, the ads have run, and its time to reconcile the books, our young media rep will apologize to the store owner. The rookie will collect the three hundred dollar payment. He will decide to never again try to sell this advertiser anything.

Worse yet, this conscientious young media representative has now started doubting that advertising works. He’s previously seen it work well. Sometimes. Now it seems that sometimes it doesn’t work at all. And he can’t see any way to predict which.

Did advertising fail the test?

Yes? No? Not sure?

Consider that rack of pea green suits. The regular customers of the store did not purchase them. Why? Are they the wrong color? Wrong size? Wrong fabric? Wrong style? Wrong price? Some combination of wrongness? It is a safe conclusion that something is wrong. The store still has so many of them in stock that those suits have become the entire focus of an advertising schedule.

Unable to sell these suits to his regular customers, the store owner now expects the rookie to magically create new customers. New customers who like unacceptable merchandise.

I submit that this exercise is not a test of advertising at all, but rather a test of whether it’s possible to sell goods no one wants. “Won’t you please buy one of these previously-rejected suits, despite their wrongness?” No matter how many times people see this ad the outcome is the same.

Oh, and it’s also a test of the rookie’s willingness to accept responsibility.

It always comes down to the offer.

Not that long ago the owner of a local business (who used to license the software for lawn installation companies) wanted me to create ads which said, “Mention you heard this ad and get a free key chain from Acme Widgets.” I agreed that any medium not able to deliver the message should not be included in his advertising budget.

Then I pointed out that a much more fair test would be “Mention you heard this ad and receive a free $100 bill.” He sputtered something about the stupidest thing he’d ever heard and slammed down the phone.

I’m assuming he and I won’t be working together.

So, the first decision must always be what we are to test.

Let me save you some time. It all comes down to the offer.

And why would you waste your money testing such lame offers as free key chains or racks of pea green suits, anyway?

Want to learn how to make every ad deliver a positive ROI? I highly recommend the Advertising Performance Seminar next week in Denver, presented by the Wizard of Ads Partners. For only $99, you’ll come away with more knowledge of effective advertising messages and positive customer experiences than many of the media sales reps calling on your company.


Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover you, and choose your business. Questions about testing your advertising may be directed to