Advertising Observations From My Hotel Room

Originally published February 10, 2006
Some people when they visit a new community look for the typical “touristy” kinds of things. Others wonder if there’s a casino nearby. I study the local ads.

This week I’ve traveled through four major southern cities. As you might expect, I have some advertising observations to share.

Example Number One:
Earlier this week I dropped in to visit a radio station because I’m a friend of the program director and morning disc jockey.

While we were catching up, he played an ad for me that had a strong character espousing the client. The character was hammering away the copy points in a way that was nearly impossible to ignore.

The client wants it re-done with a “regular announcer.”

I told him that it was too bad that the client was intent on making the ad less attention getting and less memorable.

When clients insist on making an ad sound like or look like an ad (ie. “professional”) they are effectively insisting that their ad be just like all the others.

Estimates are that Americans ignore nearly 3,500 advertising impressions a day. Shouldn’t we be working to make our ads less like everyone elses?

And please note that I’m not suggesting being different for the sake of difference. As the great jazz bassist and composer Charlie Mingus said “Anybody can play weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Example Number Two:
Ads that have attorneys screaming, “I’ll FIGHT for YOU. I’ll get you the money you deserve for your pain and suffering.” are probably running in most markets across the country. Does the same guy produce them all? They all appear to have the same script.

This is transactional marketing taken to an extreme.

Sobering thought: these ads must be producing results for the lawyers to keep running them in prime time.

Example Number Three:
You can’t build a positive image by piggybacking on someone else’s slogan. In a single community over the last thirty days I’ve witnessed “Got Insurance?” “Got Real Estate?” “Got Teeth?”

Honestly, what do you think of these variations on “Got Milk?”

Are you driven to do business with them?

Do you get the feeling that these various businesses are able to solve your problems?

Or do you suspect that they have nothing to offer, and are trying to cash in on someone else’s notoriety?

Example Number Four:
Why do the graphic artists who compose yellow pages ads insist on putting the client’s logo as the headline? I have the Memphis Bell South yellow pages open in front of me as I write this. I’m looking under landscaping.

Here are the headlines.

Bob Hollandsworth Landscape
Complete Lawn & Landscaping Service
Designscapes By D
Growth Spurts Landscape And Irrigation
Landscape Creations, Inc.
Paradise Allscapes
Tee Time Landscape
Total Yards Landscaping

Yes, I’m aware that these are the names of the businesses. That’s the point.

It appears each of these companies is proud of their name. Unfortunately, as a shopper, I want to know what they can do for me. I’ll fix ‘em for making me do all the work. I’ll ignore ‘em.

Now, among all of these easily-forgettable ads are two that hint at the ability to help me.

When Skies Are Blue, We Rain – Blue Skies Irrigation

From Concept To Completion, Your One-Source Solution For A Beautiful Landscape – Pugh’s Landscaping.

Better, but I still have to think about them in order to see the advantage to me, the buyer.

Therefore, the winner is clearly:

Give Your Yard An Exciting New Look – Germantown Landscape Company


At last, a clear promise of benefit. I now know what’s in it for me.

Take a peek at your yellow pages ads. If the headline is your company’s name, you’re wasting money.

Final Example And Observation:
You probably shouldn’t assume that everyone knows how to find your store. “The oldest, ugliest building on Tanner Road” doesn’t mean anything to anyone who doesn’t know which section of Tanner Road to look in to find your store.

Cleverness like this can actually cost you business. If you make shoppers solve a puzzle in order to respond to your ads, they’ll take the easy way out and file you permanently under “ignore,” which doesn’t work well when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

” href=””>Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about making your ads stand out and get noticed? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.


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Will Advertising Sell What People Don’t Want?

Originally Published December 11, 2007

While browsing the web, I came across an article titled, “Why is My Restaurant Not Full Every Monday Night?” (Google search if you’re all that curious. The article doesn’t answer the question, which is why I’m not linking it).

But it does pose a valid question. Why isn’t your restaurant full on Mondays?

Its a common desire in retail to advertise the things which aren’t selling, and let those which will sell easily sell themselves. This is frequently bad strategy. Very bad.

It may well be part of the reason Wal-Mart thrived while K-Mart worked its way through bankruptcy. Of course, their respective advertising policies may only be a reflection of their inventory management. Then again, this all may be only a coincidence.

And for the record, our story is completely fictitious.

Assume that we have one Wal-Mart store and one K-Mart store, each stocked with various sizes of golf shirts in four colors: red, blue, green, and yellow. We’ll further assume that each store stocks ten in each color.

For some reason, the yellow shirts are in hot demand.

Each store sells out of yellow golf shirts.

K-Mart, in the traditional Henry Ford fashion * notes that they still have 30 shirts in stock. No problem.

Wal-Mart however, takes note that they are completely out of yellow golf shirts, and promptly puts ten more in inventory.

Humm. People will buy what they want, when its available to them. The won’t necessarily buy what’s being advertised. So, while K-Mart is advertising golf shirts in various colors, Wal-Mart advertises that they have yellow golf shirts, and they have them in stock. (Again, this story is of my own invention. It has only a passing relationship to any reality).

Can advertising sell them things they don’t want?

The bitter experience of K-Mart would indicate that people will purchase only what appeals to them, rather than what’s being advertised.

But our question wasn’t about golf shirts, was it? The question was “Why is My Restaurant Not Full Every Monday Night?”

The reason is simple.

Its not lack of advertising. (Rookie media salespeople will assure you that it is. They are wrong. It has nothing to do with advertising.)

It is because people customarily don’t go out to dinner on Monday evening.

They just don’t want to.

They tend to go out to dinner on Friday nites, on Saturday, even on Sunday. By the time Monday rolls around, they’re feeling as if they should stop being so extravagant.

On Mondays they plan to eat at home.

Is there a Monday appeal?

Is there a way to attract a relational customer to your restaurant on a Monday? Sadly, if Monday isn’t Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or a spouse’s birthday, there is not. You could maybe get a transactional customer into your restaurant on a Monday if you offered a discount, but transactional customers tend to stay home on Mondays too.

OK, make it a BIG discount. That will insure two things:

1. bad turnout, and
2. no profit from those rare few who do show up. 

Humm. Advertising a restaurant is very much like duck hunting. You shoot when there are ducks to shoot at.

So what can you do about those Monday nights in your restaurant?

You can cut back on your staffing on Monday and hold your costs to a minimum. Then advertise your great Friday night specials, or your Saturday dinners, or even your Sunday brunch.

Wait for them to be inclined to dine away from home, then remind them to pick you. Cater to what your customers want – and do so on their timetable, and you’ll start boosting attendance as you fish for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about allocating and scheduling your advertising dollars? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.

* Henry Ford is rumored to have said about the available colors of his Model T automobile, “You can have any color you want, as long as that color is black.

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A Priest, A Rabbi, And A Minister Walk Into A Bar

Originally published December 2, 2005

Most people are convinced that advertising is easy. Most believe that they could do a better job than the ads which inundate them daily. Perhaps they could.

Some of them become advertising salespeople. Sadly, they are predictable. Their first predictable bright idea is to write ads using sex appeal. Their second predictable idea is usually to write ads using humor.

So, the typical rookie radio or television salesperson staples a typical newspaper ad to a typical Broadcast Production Order form, checks the box to indicate “Spec spot” (that is, to be produced under the speculation that the customer may buy it), and under instructions to the copywriter writes “Make it funny.”

Make it funny?


Attach an eighth page listing of all the tire sizes on sale at Bob’s Tire Barn to the affor-mentioned Broadcast Production Order form, and tell the copywriter to MAKE IT FUNNY?

“A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar…”

What’s the last thing the joke teller does before he starts this story? He looks to the left, and then to the right to make sure he’s not about to be overheard. What’s funny to some people is likely to be offensive to a significant number of others.

And yet, advertisers and account executives keep telling ad writers to be funny, and ad writers keep trying to be.

In radio or television the producer can direct the talent to inject “tones of voice” in order to cue people that something other than serious will follow. Those amusement signals are nearly impossible to do in newspapers or magazines.

Fortunately, funny in print isn’t attempted as often as in other media. Unfortunately, about one ad in ten attempts it anyway. You’ll usually see the humor in the headline. That prevents the first line of copy from expanding and elaborating on the attention-getting headline.


People can see funny faster than they can hear it, which is why we’re likely to see sight gags used in television. The major problem is the generic nature of gags. They seldom have any relevance to the product being advertised. Sight gags are bad advertising. They lead to the reason advertisers are perpetually tearing their hair out: people remembering the gag but unable to remember the product or the advertiser.


Where television tends to be gag oriented, radio tends to be joke oriented, and like gags, jokes are seldom relevant. There’s no association between the set up or the punch line of the joke and the message the seller wants desperately to plant in the mind of the listener.

The joke draws attention to itself. It draws attention away from the advertiser’s product.

The funnier it is, the sooner it will irritate on repetition, (which assumes that it was ever funny in the first place). That’s why people say “Stop me if you’ve heard this one…”

No joke is universally funny.

A sizable percentage of the population won’t be amused. Trust me, the words “childish” and “stupid” come up frequently when real people critique “humorous” ads.

Real people get confused by messages that aren’t expressed simply. Real people get offended by things that may not strike them as particularly funny. Even professional comedians tell jokes that they consider hilarious while the audience sits silently on their hands. Real people become annoyed at someone who tries to be funny, and fails.


There’s a difference between humor which appeals to men, and that which appeals to women. International advertising agency J. Walter Thompson interviewed pairs of female friends in eight countries and concluded that male humor is based on competition and impressing people around them. Women use jokes to achieve intimacy and to make people feel at ease. Men prefer gags with a punch line. Women laugh at stories that relate to their everyday lives.

Diana Coulson, director of strategic planning at J. Walter Thompson, Paris, said:

“The key thing that emerged was that women’s main source of humor is from the everyday, the little issues, stuff they observe and that happens to them. They can find humor in a household chore, or something silly that somebody says to them at work. Men use humor in a much more competitive way. Men want to be funny to show off and to get people to admire them. It’s all about scoring points, whereas with women humor is much more a way of creating an attachment, bonding and getting intimacy with people. They are instinctively enhancing their relationships.”

Humm. So men and women find different things funny? Who’d have thought?

Humor can backfire. According to marketing consultant Martin Wales:

“One laser eye surgery company was using humor in its ads, you can see them if you get redirected here. The competition capitalized on it by suggesting that there’s nothing funny about eye surgery.”

In most major cities sizable portions of the people who live there come from other countries. Humor frequently doesn’t translate from one sub-culture to another. Instead of being funny these ads are confusing. They’re frequently offensive. Worse yet, no matter how much attention they draw, these ads seldom sell enough product. Following the “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” campaign, William J. McEwen, Author of Married to the Brand wrote in the Gallup Management Journal:

“In a recent move that surprised relatively few industry analysts, Taco Bell announced that it was firing the advertising agency responsible for its award-winning TV commercials of the past few years. According to the company, the advertising that had built strong recognition as well as profitable merchandising opportunities for the Taco Bell Chihuahua was apparently unable to move product sales. Taco Bell sales have been reportedly flat — a situation clearly unacceptable to its management and to its stockholders..”

Then there’s humor’s short shelf-life. You’re going to have to replace funny ads much more frequently because of the burn out factor.

But you know the biggest reason jokes and gags fail? Their primary job is to persuade someone to purchase something from the company paying for the ad. And as we already mentioned, any attempt at communication that draws attention away from the core message is beyond stupid. When it’s your money being wasted, it’s criminal.

The father of modern copywriting, Claude Hopkins, understood the purpose of advertising very well. In 1923 Hopkins explained:

“Don’t lessen respect for your self or your article by any attempt at frivolity. People do not patronize a clown. There are two things about which men should not joke. One is business, one is home.”

John Caples, author of Tested Advertising Methods, observed:

“The two most influential books in the world have no humor in them: the Bible and the Sears Catalog!”

Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the Guerilla Marketing series of business books said:

“Marketing is not a stage for humor. If you use humor in your marketing, people will recall your funny joke, but not your compelling offer. If you use humor, your campaign will be funny the first and maybe the second time. After that, the humor will be grating and will hinder the very concept that makes marketing successful – repetition.”

But, with a contrary opinion comes David Ogilvy.

“I think this was true in Hopkins day, and I have reason to believe that it remained true until recently, but the latest wave of factor-analysis reveals that humor can now sell. This came as a great relief to me; I had always hated myself for rejecting the funny commercials submitted for my approval.

“But I must warn you that very, very few writers can write funny commercials which ARE funny. Unless you are one of the few, don’t try.”

Four famous advertising men with interesting, and slightly contradictory opinions. Are there facts? Surprisingly, considering how many multiple tens of millions of dollars are spent on humorous advertising, there’s precious little research done on it. At the least, every ad using humor should be tested against a serious ad to see which pulls better response.

One such study was published in Journalism Quarterly in 1989. Bob T.W. Wu, Kenneth E. Crocker, and Martha Rogers did in a test of print ads for facial tissue and for athletic shoes. They found no difference in appeal or persuasiveness, but found “the attitude toward the ad” was higher for the humorous version than for the serious one.

Did you catch that? People found the product no more appealing. They were not persuaded to switch brands. The only reported that they found the AD more entertaining.

Our objective is not to entertain, it’s to sell.

Can humor sell your product?



Most businesses should not use humor in their advertising. On the other hand, I willingly admit humor can be used quite effectively to sell product. Not jokes, but humor. A joke is only funny the first time. Humor is appreciated every time a listener hears it.

A humorous touch can engage, and involve, the prospective customer. An ad that shows the advertiser’s sense of humor (or charm, or personality, or playfulness, or likability) frequently resonates in the hearts and minds of the public. When that happens, advertising gains credibility, and sales usually trend significantly up.

The major problem is that at any given time there are only, what? Maybe a dozen people who can make humor work? Humorous ads are difficult to write well. It’s even harder for that well-written script to survive the treatment of producers, directors, and actors.

What about your product, and the way it connects with the self-image of the consumer. High involvement products tend to have a longer purchase cycle. Prospective customers are more likely to search for hard facts. They won’t find those facts in a humorous ad. Unknown, expensive, or potentially embarrassing products won’t sell well with humor, either.

Fun advertising has a much easier job selling snack foods, beers, sodas, cigarettes, movies, and music than it does in selling high ticket items. Fun advertising tends to work best with inexpensive disposable products that are themselves “fun.”

Should you use humor in your advertising?

Probably not. You’ll likely do far better when you stop trying to entertain and focus on offering benefits and spelling out value. (Note: I’m trying hard to talk you out of it).

However, if you insist, here are some things that might mitigate the damage.

  • No sight gags. No jokes. Use humor to be friendly, rather than funny. When humor is subtle it’s usually more effective and suffers from less burnout than something more overt.
  • Use humor to attract customers, and make sure it doesn’t distract from the product. Use humor to reinforce and support your basic premise. Make it relevant to the product you’re selling.
  • Before you attempt humor, be sure you know your customers. Research if it’s available, personal observation always.
  • Do not use humor to attempt to deceive your customer. Humor intensifies people’s reactions. When they find you’ve not been truthful, you can expect outright hostility.
  • Don’t over-analyze humor. It’s either funny or it’s not. The best humor comes from the edge, where it can easily be offensive.
  • At the same time, don’t rush your first idea into the marketplace. Sleep on it.
  • Be thought provoking. Engage your customers’ imaginations. Let your customer experience “getting it.”
  • Be careful not to let prospective customers see themselves as the butt of your joke. Vonage’s “People do stupid things” campaign wouldn’t work as “You do stupid things.”
  • Use humor about situations, not people. Whoever they are and wherever they come from, people will usually identify with a situation.

And above all, never lose sight of your purpose in advertising. Your purpose isn’t entertainment. Your purpose is to sell the product. Will humor motivate people to buy? Then do it. If it won’t, then don’t use it when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about writing ad copy, with or without humor? Call Chuck at 304-523-0163. Or “E” him at [email protected].

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Is a Radio Remote Broadcast a Good Investment?

Originally published October 4, 2009

One of the advantages electronic news has over print is the capability to deliver information in real time “live from the scene.” As you might imagine it didn’t take long for this proficiency to migrate from the news department to the sales department, giving birth to the radio “remote broadcast.”

Remotes are traditionally expensive. But as advertising sales remain weak in this economy, advertisers are being offered discounted rates on almost all advertising, including remote broadcasts. And that prompts a critical question: is a radio remote a good investment of advertising dollars? Like everything else in business, the correct answer is “possibly.” I would suggest going to two way radio suppliers in Cape Town to get the best price. The problem is there are at least four different people involved in the decisions effecting such a broadcast, you could any of the skills required for them and learn how it could help you from the Skill Success blog. Most of the time each has a different objective. Those four people are:

  1. the Manager/Owner of the business,
  2. the Radio Sales Person,
  3. the Radio Program Director, and
  4. the Disc Jockey.

What do each of these people want?

The Manager/Owner wants buyers.

His objective is to sell merchandise in such quantity that he can pay for the advertising and still show additional profit for his efforts.

He believes his store offers value. He believes when large numbers of people hear about his offers, they’ll flock to the store to buy. This is usually expressed as “you get people in the door, and we’ll sell ’em.

The Radio Sales Person translates this instruction.

Get them in the door” becomes, in her mind, “your job is to attract a crowd.”

She will arrange all of the crowd drawing techniques at her disposal. These will include a clearly identified station vehicle in front of the store as an attention-getting device. It will be augmented with banners and sound system.

She’ll provide tee shirts emblazoned with the station logo and other station paraphernalia to give away to listeners who come to the event.

She’ll try to arrange to have clowns, balloons, and face-painting to attract kids, free food to attract their parents, and the ever-popular “register to win” entry box. (The prize will, of course, be provided by the customer).

The Radio Program Director will coordinate.

After determining there are no conflicts on the proposed broadcast date, the Program Director will assign a Disc Jockey as “talent.”

The Program Director’s job is to keep listenership high. She hates remotes, considering them to be interruptions to the programming (music), and potentially harmful to ratings. The Program Director will thus limit the number of reports from the scene, limit the length of each report, and do her best to disguise the reports by running instrumental music under the Disc Jockey’s voice.

The Disc Jockey will be expected to attract a crowd.

Feeling pressure from the Manager/Owner and Radio Salesperson, the Disc Jockey will attempt to bribe listeners. He’ll repeatedly emphasize “C’mon down. We’re having a great time,” and will list all of the free items they could win just for showing up.

A few listeners will be impressed by being close to a celebrity. He’ll be tempted to talk to those people who come to him, rather than introducing himself to other potential customers. Part of this, believe it or not, is shyness.

The results are entirely too predictable.

In order they will be:

  1. Reacting to the offers made during the broadcast, people will come to the event for the free food, the clowns, the balloons. They will register for the prizes. They will then leave without buying anything.
  2. Frustrated by the lack of sales, the Manager/Owner will accuse the Radio Sales Person of bringing the wrong people to his event.
  3. The Sales Person will explain to the Manager/Owner the benefits of branding and name recognition. She’ll explain the positive effects of today’s high-profile advertising might not be immediate, but will definitely impact future sales.Back in the privacy of the radio station she will find fault with the Disc Jockey who spent too much time socializing with fans and not enough persuading them to buy.
  4. Of the four people involved, the Disc Jockey will take the majority of the heat when the outcome is disappointing. He’s not a seller. He’s an entertainer. And even though he feared it might end this way when he agreed to accept the talent fee, he will bitterly resent being held accountable for lack of sales, which he believes are beyond his control.
  5. Oddly, the Program Director has the best grasp of the situation. After listening to the Sales Person’s criticism, will resolve to discourage future remotes as too much hassle. “Next time sell ’em a schedule of ads” will be her recommendation.By doing her best to hide the event from her own listeners, she’s created a self-fulfilling prediction of failure.

Unfortunately, the Disc Jockey did attract the wrong people. When listeners hear words like “fun” and “free” instead of compelling reasons to purchase right now, they react accordingly.

Equally unfortunate is the Sales Person’s claim that future sales will benefit from today’s advertising of an event. Although branding and image building ads do take a while to affect customers, and do frequently work better over time, event advertising is quickly forgotten.

No immediate sales. No future sales. Conclusion? Most remote broadcasts are a waste of money.

Which is why, in general, I don’t recommend them.

However. . .

When done correctly they are powerful marketing tools that provide opportunity for greater sales. And at some of the prices we’re now seeing, this may be an excellent time to consider adding one, or more, to your marketing plan.

In our example the four people involved had mutually contradictory objectives. To have a successful event all four must embrace the same purpose: greater sales during the event. That goal must guide every decision effecting the broadcast.

Here’s how to assure higher remote broadcast ROI.

Mr. Manager/Owner,

… take a step back. Recognize that you are more excited about the things you sell than the public will ever be. Expect them to be less excited about your remote broadcast, too.

Think of it this way: a remote broadcast is not an event. Much like a newscast, it is only coverage of an something newsworthy which is already happening. People want to know the news.

A strong concept works well if promoted in the newspaper, on television, or through direct mail. It doesn’t require creativity of the medium to make up for lack of customer interest. If your event that exciting, continue planning the remote. If not, abandon the idea. There’s no sin in passing up an inexpensive opportunity which won’t benefit your company.

OK. You have a strong concept. Good. Don’t use the station as your only source of publicity. We’re not trying to prove this station can draw a crowd. We’re focused on attracting as many buyers as possible. Buy a newspaper ad or two. Keep those ads customer focused.

The headline should address the primary benefit you’re offering. The body copy should say the things your best salespeople say to customers on your sales floor. Put your logo, as well as that of the station, at the bottom of the ad. If your headline catches people’s attention, and your body copy offers strong reasons to buy, only then will they care who’s making the offer.

Miss Radio Sales Person,

… give your client’s business the benefit of your experience. “Great savings throughout the store” is much too generic and won’t persuade anyone. Make sure all of the parties agree on a message which is both specific and highly beneficial.

Is the proposed remote broadcast the best use of your client’s money? As you know, grocery stores make dozens of offers in a “double truck” two-page newspaper layout. They focus so many reasons to buy into a single space every week because it works. If you believe you could create more sales impact with an intense, highly-focused schedule of recorded ads packed into a single time period, do that instead of the remote. The cost to the advertiser is the same either way. Give him the choice with less risk.

Miss Program Director,

… stop compromising. Either refuse to interrupt your music with talk, or commit to making the talk segments so compelling that your music listeners don’t want to be left out.

Would you refuse to interview the top artists in your format? Of course not. Listeners don’t resent talk. They resent people blathering on about topics that don’t interest them. You, Miss Program Director are uniquely qualified to find the exciting appeals that your listeners will want to learn more about.

Your presentation skills can turn this potentially dull and boring jabber into the most exciting information available on the day of the broadcast. Hype won’t work. You’ve got to dig for genuine value, and then make sure it’s presented in a way that helps your listeners imagine themselves owning what the advertiser sells.

Schedule three reports per hour during the broadcast. Have the Disc Jockey announce his location during the FCC required legal ID. Require your studio talent to plug the event during each music segment. That works out to acknowledging the remote seven times per hour. Just as you wouldn’t allow your station to go a quarter hour without reminding listeners to whom they’re listening, this proposed broadcast will also need that frequency of repetition.

Give your Disc Jockey the latitude to react with his own personality from the scene, but make sure each key point is included in each remote break by scripting a standard beginning and ending.

Here’s the part you’re going to hate: kill the music bed during reports from the scene. We want people to take note that something unusual is going on. Play a quick attention-getting intro (think fanfare) as he’s introduced, and then, other than the Disc Jockey’s voice, let the natural ambiance of the event be the only sound.

Can you commit to promoting this event for maximum advertiser impact? If not, do both the client and your listeners a favor and offer to help create a persuasive advertising campaign for him instead.

Mr. Disc Jockey,

… your role needs to change. You’re no longer being asked to host this broadcast because you’re popular and have fans who are likely to come see you. You’re being asked to use all of the presentation skills you’ve acquired in your career to introduce your listeners to the advertiser’s business.

Why would you do that? Because they will benefit from the resulting relationship. Believe it, or recommend another talent. Use that conviction every time you open the microphone.

Get rid of every cliché in your vocabulary – especially those things which you’ve grown used to saying on similar occasions. Repeating the same old verbiage will only produce the same old results.

Watch for customers leaving the store. People who’ve purchased something are sold on the value of their purchase. If they’re reasonably articulate, invite them to briefly answer a couple of questions during your next break. Tell them what you’ll be asking, and help them to quickly express their reasons for buying. These people have exceptional credibility with other folks listening to your broadcast.

And don’t worry about what the station provides for you to give away. We’re now looking for different responses from different people than you’ve invited to past events. Truthfully, you’ll make more money persuading people to visit the store who don’t care so much about meeting you as they are interested in the client’s offer.

By the way, shaking hands with everyone in the crowd and personally welcoming them builds listener loyalty in a way nothing else can.

Finally, Mr. Manager/Owner . . .

The question was, are remote broadcasts good investments? Normally, no. But with the prices now being offered, maybe.

If you decide to try it, don’t choose a station as your promotional partner because of ratings, or even because of price. Instead, choose a partner committed to getting qualified buyers to your event. You’ll know whether you have the right radio station early in the planning process.

Get the station’s Sales Person, Program Director, and Disc Jockey into a planning meeting. Bluntly ask if the station will commit to the three breaks per hour, plus the legal ID, plus three more mentions by the on-air host. Ask if the station will eliminate any music during reports from the scene. Ask if they are willing to make your broadcast the single most important event on the air.

If they are not willing, call a meeting with a different radio station. If they are, commit your resources and schedule the event.

And remember that media partners who put your needs first have earned a significant part of your non-event advertising budget, too. A willing partner can multiply your impact when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about remote broadcasts or other event marketing? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.

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Five Advertising Lessons From The Personals

Originally published June 17, 2005

Classified Ad

Personals Ad

Is any advertising more closely monitored by the advertiser than a “personals” ad? I don’t believe so. If ever an advertiser wanted results, and wanted them now, this is it.

Personals ads demonstrate some of the best, and the worst, techniques in advertising. Let’s look at these examples and see what we can apply to advertising in general.

1. Stop trying to reach everyone

Personals ads immediately need to focus on prospects, and eliminate non-prospects.

All too often, business advertisers try to make their ads appeal to “everyone.” If you’re a single woman posting in the personals, though, you don’t want responses from everyone. Other women are probably of no interest to you. You likely don’t want to hear from married men, either. If your objective is dating, it’s pointless to attempt to reach people that aren’t potential dates.

Trying to reach everyone is a fool’s strategy in business, too. You probably don’t have any interest in people who can’t afford what you have to sell. You also aren’t likely to want to reach the idly curious. As a business your objective is to reach people who could become good customers.

Make your ads speak directly to those people.

2. Your Headline Is Critical

Get your prospect’s attention. Get it immediately. If you don’t get your prospect’s attention, will he even notice the rest of your ad?

“Relationship wanted” will never get as much attention as “North Texas filly looking for stable mate.”

Draw the business parallel. Your retail ad shouldn’t say “We want your business.” Instead, it should say
“Everything you need to make your garden grow is waiting for you at Mineral Wells Hardware.”

3. Make me want to learn more

The objective of personals advertising is to find someone to date. The objective of mass media advertising is to find new customers for your business. In neither case will you benefit from skimping on the descriptions.

“Single woman desires long term relationship.” is less likely to get the attention of gentlemen reading the ads than is “Witty, flirtatious, and outgoing. I smile easily and enjoy laughing, am open-minded, honest, and like to talk about ideas. I would like to get to know a man who is confident of who he is and what he wants out of life. I’m single, have never been married, but like the idea of finding my soul mate.”

By the same token, “Bedding plants in stock” is weak when compared to “Brighten your yard with salvia, iceplant, petunias, and pansies. Color your flower beds with all the hues of spring, ready to take home today from the Nolan River Nursery.”

4. Tell potential customers what you give them that your competitors can’t

Nobody spends advertising dollars in hopes of being ignored, and yet every day business owners manage to fade into obscurity by making their ads sound exactly like other ads.

Consider an all-too-typical personals listing: “I love sunsets, long romantic walks by the ocean, and candlelight dinners.”

No kidding? Is there a woman alive who doesn’t like sunsets, long romantic walks by the ocean and candlelight dinners? This will not make anyone stand out as worthy of attention.

By the same token, does there exist any business that doesn’t offer helpful, courteous service and years of experience? Helpful courteous service doesn’t make you special. It’s the minimum entry-level behavior that customers expect.

Statements like “helpful, courteous service” make your ads fade into background as noise. Your store ad could just as well say that you “love sunsets and long romantic walks.

When your ads sound like everyone else’s, you’re not likely to be noticed, let alone be remembered.

5. Tell me what’s in it for me

If you met a stranger who opened the conversation with “I want to tell you all about myself,” how much interest would you have in talking to that stranger?

Here’s the personals ad which takes that posture: “I’m looking for a long term relationship. Honest men only. I’m tired of fakes and game players. And if you are looking for someone to hang on your every word, keep on looking. No mama’s boys need apply.”

Think she gets many replies?

No, I don’t suppose so. The business equivalent is: “We need to sell one hundred cars to meet our sales goals, so we’re going to be making the best deals we can remember. Limited to items in stock. Limit one per household. Not valid with other offers. You must take delivery from dealer stock before close of business Friday.”

“We, us, our.” “We” again. Aren’t we something? Just ask us. Bleh.

Stop talking about you, and what you want from me. Start telling me why I should want to do business with you.

Here’s a better example from the personals: “Would you like to spend some time with someone who’s optimistic and fun to be around? I hope you’re comfortable in jeans, you know what you want, and aren’t afraid to show it. You’ll find me open-minded, non-judgmental, and loyal.”

Much more effective, isn’t it?

In the business community you’ll get substantially better results when you drop the “we / us / our” verbiage, and replace it with “you.” “Have you ever noticed that you walk a little bit taller and you even feel better, when you know you look good? We promise that you’ll turn heads when you’ve had your hair cut at the Singing Scissors Salon.”

Use these five rules as a starting point. Study the personals, and take note of those that get your attention. The basic principles will make good business ads, too.

Whether their purpose is personal or business, good ads don’t scream for attention, they seduce – a crucial skill when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about writing secucing headlines and emotional appeals? Call Chuck at 304-523-0163, or write [email protected].

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Budgeting For Word Of Mouth

Airplane atop gas station.

WWII Vintage Airplane Sits on Gas Station

You’ve just spent the day, a long day, at a Disney theme park. You’re beyond tired when you finally make it back to your car to find you’ve locked the keys inside. Can you imagine a more frustrating feeling? Now imagine the arrival of Disney’s locksmith.

He reads your VIN, punches the numbers into a computer in the van, which bounces the lock information off satellite, and cuts a replacement key. You unlock the door, and with a fair amount of relief, you ask him what you owe for his service. He tells you that you owe nothing. He hopes you enjoyed your day at the park. Especially in New Westminster, a good locksmith is always necessary.

What will you be doing when you get home? And for years afterward?

Yeah. You’ll be providing excellent word of mouth for Disney Corporation.

Positive Word-of-Mouth

Positive word of mouth is triggered when your customer experiences something way beyond his expectations.

It isn’t enough to be good.

It isn’t enough to be very good.

To be noticed, and to be so unusual that people want to talk about it, you have to be so far above the norm for your industry that your competitors would never even think about doing what you’re doing.

Roy Williams has said that physical, non-verbal statements are the surest way of triggering positive word of mouth. These statements can be generated from one of three possible sources: architectural, kinetic, or generous.

  • I vividly remember a gas station that had a WWII fighter on the roof. When Dad was pumping gas we could climb up a ladder and sit in the cockpit. Architectural word of mouth at work.
  • The restaurateur in Mississippi who made the 6 o’clock news by throwing dinner rolls at his patrons from across the restaurant understands kinetic word of mouth.
  • The Orlando car dealer who’s “Good Samaritan Van” provides a can of gas, water, help changing a tire, or jump starting your car, and then tells you there’s no charge has generous word of mouth down pat.

Can you plan one of these strategies for your business?


Should you advertise it?

Absolutely not.

Worth Repeating?

Remember, you must exceed expectations to make your customer’s experience memorable, and worth repeating.

If you advertise your new architectural, or kinetic, or generous word of mouth trigger, you’ve just raised your customer’s expectations.


Budget for your next word of mouth trigger, then hush up about it, and allow your customers to deliver the good news.  Sometimes it’s best to sit quietly and wait for them to be drawn to you when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about helping people to talk about your business?  Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.


Mike Dandridge’s book The One Year Business Turn Around is all about generating positive word of mouth. Mike details fifty-two tested techniques that helped him build an electrical supply company to more than a million dollars a month in sales, in a town of 50,000 people, even though he was challenged by Home Depot on the left and Lowe’s on the right.

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Why I Don’t Care For Co-Op Advertising

Fishing 101

Fishing 101

Sounds like such a great idea, doesn’t it? You’re a retailer – say a hardware store owner. Your store carries Ajax Widgets. You want to advertise in your local market to get customers into your store, but the cost is high. Ajax wants people to buy Ajax brand widgets, but the cost of advertising in every local market is exceptionally high.

Ajax problem: spreading the word to people who can’t purchase from them (those who live in a community without a store which carries the Ajax brand, for instance) is a waste of money.

Ajax solution? They will team up with you to share the cost of advertising to your market, as long as you promote Ajax Widgets in those ads, too. You’re trying to reach the same people, aren’t you? Why not share the cost? What a great deal for both of you.

You simply use the Ajax Widget pre-approved script, and submit the appropriate media documentation to Ajax. They will reimburse you for part of the cost of the ads.

Fifty percent is the most common plan, but I’ve seen ‘em go up as high as one hundred percent. And all cooperative advertising programs “cap” the amount of advertising dollars you’re allowed to spend at a percentage of dollar volume of the product you’ve purchased from the manufacturer.

A great deal. Or is it?

You’re trying to build an image for your hardware store. Every ad you run should re-enforce that image. Perhaps your desired image is “The store that has everything you need in stock.”

What’s Ajax’ image? “The most dependable widget money can buy.”

How does it benefit your hardware store’s image to have a fifty-second message about Ajax dependable widgets, followed by an effectively different message: “Ajax Widgets are available at fine retailers like Your Hardware Store?” (Don’t kid your self. It’s not a continuation of the same ad. It is a completely different message).

The equity issue

Ajax dictates the radio or television script, fifty seconds of which is dedicated to Ajax and their widgets. You get the ten second “tag” at the end. They provide the newspaper or magazine layout. You get the small white space at the bottom to drop in your logo and location.

At the end of the advertising schedule the medium sends you the invoice, and a notarized “affidavit of performance.” You pay for the ad. You send the required documentation to Ajax, who reimburses you for half the cost.

Let me repeat: you got only ten of the sixty seconds. You got only three of the 15 column inches. And yet, you paid for half.

Anyway you look at it, you’re paying way too much for ads, and worse yet, those ads deliver the wrong message.

I don’t care for co-op advertising. At least, most of the time.

The Exception

Some co-op programs will let you write you own ad and still claim reimbursement under the terms of their co-op program, provided that you mention their brand and product a minimum number of times.

One of my clients has an annual sale one time each year. For fifty weeks a year his store advertising reinforces the benefits of purchasing from him. For those fifty weeks co-op doesn’t help him to meet his goals.

But for the two weeks of the sale, he uses every accrued co-op dollar to fund the promotion of an event. It’s a completely different message presented in a completely different style. The sale event message is delivered with enough frequency to effectively reach most of the community. For those two weeks you can’t turn a radio to a local station or open a local newspaper without being exposed to his ads.

Then, event over, it’s back to business as usual.

If you’re going to use cooperative advertising in the promotion of your business, plan it’s use carefully. Don’t kid yourself, though, that co-op funds can replace any portion of your ad budget for the year. Run co-op ads IN ADDITION to your regular ads, not in place of any of them.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Wondering if you can get real value from your available co-op advertising funds? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or pick up the phone and call him 304-208-7654.

This article was first published August 6, 2006

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Could I Offer You a Free $100 Bill?

Origninally published October 23, 2007

BankrollIn Shel Silverstein’s 1970 song I Got Stoned And I Missed It, he tells of “a nut down on the corner givin’ hunnert dollar bills away.” Being otherwise preoccupied, Silverstein wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity.

But untold numbers of websurfers essentially passed on the same opportunity when Mike Enlow tried to give away $100 bills on a web site he created for that purpose. (We can only hope that most were not operating their computers in Silverstein’s impaired state).

Mike tells the story in Internet Marketing Expert Can’t Give Away $100 Bills. The story has great insight into the need for credibility in everything Internet.

What’s The General Conclusion?

Enlow expressed it well when he said about shoppers on the web, “They Don’t Believe One Darned Word You Say! Literally. They’re sick of being lied to. Sick of being misled. Tired of outrageous offers, unsolicited email spam, products that don’t work as advertised, and people who hide behind fake names and fake email addresses.

“And Here’s The Problem: Even if you are selling the greatest, most effective, amazing product or service in the history of the world (even free $100 bills), I GUARANTEE you that whatever you are doing to establish your credibility right now isn’t enough.

Does your website make it easy for people to snail mail you? Place a phone call? Do you show your name? Your photograph?

The more of these things you make easily accessible, the more trustworthy you appear.

Hancox adds, “The funny thing is, in so many aspects of our lives, we’re all trying to give away hundred dollar bills. Maybe not that specific dollar amount, but we may be trying to give away something we think is of value.”

He goes on to say “One of the simplest and yet most effective things you can do in life to improve your marketing and, quite frankly, just about everything you do to persuade and influence others, is to look at it from the other person’s perspective.”

And this, my friends, is the secret to all great advertising as well, when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Questions about increasing your credibility through your advertising may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-523-0163.

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Your Professional Reputation – Three Distinct Levels of Word-of-Mouth

Originally posted April 30, 2009

Car Trouble

Car Trouble

According to an old saying there are only two things people want to know about you: what you stand for, and what you won’t stand for. This is the basis of reputation.

We intuitively understand that people’s actions are nearly always in accordance with their values. Someone who embraces fairness and treats other people honorably is likely to treat us honorably. Someone known to be dishonest has a higher likelihood of cheating us, as well.

And like our personal reputations, our companies have professional reputations, built on the experience customers have in dealing with our companies, along with their willingness to talk about those experiences.

Call it Word-of-Mouth

Another name for professional reputation is word-of-mouth, which comes in three variants. From least to most influential, they are:

1. Market Awareness – Do I recognize any of these names in this directory?

2. Recognition – Have I heard of anyone who has the ability to help me with my problem?

3. Customer Experience – Do I have knowledge of, or experience with someone who can help me to solve this problem?

Each successive level takes priority over the previous.

Market Awareness

At the awareness level, customers recognizing your company’s name trumps them never having heard of you. This is the weakest level of word-of-mouth. If you stay in business long enough, you’ll achieve some level of awareness. You’ll then have a slight advantage over some newer company that has yet to achieve any awareness at all. Why? With no other information to go on, shoppers will usually buy from the company they’ve heard of.

Professional Awareness is largely a function of repetition. A customer notes your name on the outfield sign at the ball park. Hears your jingle each morning on the radio. Sees your banner ad on the Internet. Catches your sponsorship of the six o’clock news. Recognizes your logo on the a coffee cup. If you’re part of the community, eventually people will bump into your name in the course of living their lives. The longer they’re aware of you without hearing specific negatives about you, the more generally positive this awareness becomes.

Small businesses like to advertise how long they’ve been in business, as if years of “experience” automatically translates to a benefit in the minds of shoppers. Unfortunately, shoppers have proven not to care. (Kind of ironic, isn’t it? All those years of doing business in the community have lead to awareness of your company – but the benefit is to you, not to them).


The next step up, recognition, beats out basic awareness because people now have attributes to attach to your name. “Here’s what people say” is the next best thing to first-hand knowledge – provided of course people aren’t saying uncomplimentary things.

The size of the community is a factor, too. The fewer people who make up the population, the more likely a shopper to run into someone with a story to tell about the business.  Recognition is a bigger factor in small communities than in large ones.

According to Wikipedia, one study found that a good reputation added 7.6% to the price businesses received for their goods. Some companies are finding that improving their reputations can actually boost stock prices.

Side note: the Internet has changed the nature of “community.” It simultaneously offers the potential of world wide reach while providing individual gossip to anyone who seeks it. And just as bricks and mortar stores have public relations companies to put a positive spin on community perception, their web-based brethren are now hiring reputation managers to keep track of on-line credibility.

Personal Experience

And finally, those people who have had actual dealings with the companies in question will have the most convincing word-of-mouth of all.

Shoppers who get what they expect will not give interaction with that business much thought. Word-of-mouth commentary happens when the customer’s actual experience differs from the expected. Delighted, wowed, or amazed customers spread positive word-of-mouth. Disappointed, disgruntled, or dissatisfied customers will spread negative.

A real life example

The new guy on the staff has just relocated here to take the job. This morning he heard a strange grinding sound as he drove to work. New guy is worried. The disparity between his lack of knowledge about possible causes, and his pressing need for such knowledge makes him feel vulnerable.

He asks his co-workers for credible information to help him choose a solution, or at least his next step.

Does anyone know anything about cars?” Note that he starts looking for information at the highest level of credibility – personal knowledge.

Not finding an expert among his co-workers, new guy begins to rely on word-of-mouth. Why? He’s trying to lower his risk level. A bad choice in a mechanic could have him paying for services he doesn’t need. Worse yet, he could choose someone who won’t be able to fix his problem (but will charge him for time invested anyway).

His next question: “Does anyone know a good mechanic?” addresses the most credible level of word-of-mouth – personal experience.

In the absence of such knowledge, he will quickly go down the probability scale, asking next what his co-workers have heard about mechanics in town.

Finally, he’ll go to his newspaper, or to the Yellow Pages and start studying the ads to see who appears to exhibit expertise in his specific grinding noise, or at least a company affiliated with a national chain.

Back to the beginning

There are three levels of word-of-mouth. Only two can be effected by your advertising. The third is strictly a function of the way you operate your business.

So what are your company’s values? What do you stand for? What won’t you stand for? Do you consistently project those values in each interaction with customers?

Is your business not growing because potential customers don’t know about you, or is it because they think they do?

Are you scaring the fish, as you fish for customers?

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

Chuck McKay

Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Have questions about helping word-of-mouth to help build your professional reputation? Send them to [email protected]. Better yet, pick up the phone and call Chuck at 304-523-0163.

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The Flaw In The Advertising Plan

Originally published November 17, 2007

Chess pieces on board.

Pieces on chess board.

A regional community college has just contacted the marketing rep for the local TV station.

They’ve spoken the words which strike fear into the hearts of salespeople everywhere: ““The advertising isn’t working.”

Tell me more,” says the rep.

Well, we’re getting a lot of calls – probably more than we’ve ever gotten before. We send our information kit to everyone who calls, but they don’t become students. We’re spending more on printing and postage than ever before, and aren’t getting much to show for it.

“Seems you’re wasting our money by bringing us the wrong people.

The wrong people. Those would be people who don’t buy.

The advertising plan didn’t account for appealing to the “wrong people.” The plan assumed the right people would respond to the ads.

Radio stations are accused of bringing the wrong people when 200 listeners show up at Mr. Car Dealer’s remote broadcast but don’t buy cars.

The wrong people come to the grocery store and only buy the items featured in the coupon.

And now, you’re telling me the wrong people are picking up the phone and asking the college to send them information?

Why would they bother?

Who has so little to do today that he’s going to pick up the phone and call an institution of higher learning for information he doesn’t need or want?

The “wrong people” are common to nearly all businesses.

In the on-line world we refer to this as the “bounce rate” – the percentage of people who followed the link to your website and immediately changed their mind and went away. Its funny, but the conventional on-line wisdom doesn’t blame the advertising for bringing the wrong people, it INCREASES the advertising to get more people to the site.

Bricks and mortar stores? A recent study indicates that 81 percent of the people who enter such a store will leave without buying anything. What do they say when a salesperson approaches them? “No, thanks. I’m just looking.”

In both the real world and the virtual world, people are pressed for time. They don’t just go wandering around your store to alleviate boredom. They don’t enter your web store just to kill time. They don’t pick up the phone and call your 800 number out of indifference.

They’re never just looking.

They’re looking for something specific. They’re leaving because they didn’t find it – at least not the quality they demand or at a price they’re willing to pay. If they thought they’d found it, they’d have bought.

Stop blaming the advertising plan.

Your advertising isn’t bringing the wrong people. Your sales process is failing to convert them into buyers.

Its time to examine your sales process.

Begin by determining what your customers are seeking when they make contact. Then look for any impediment to prevent them from purchasing. Anticipate their questions and answer them in the way that makes them most comfortable buying from you.

Do you recognize this process as Persuasion Architecture TM?

There’s no use blaming your advertising if you have a long list of steady prospects and you’re not turning them into customers.

There’s very little point in trying to hook ’em when you can’t reel them in. It could be your brochures. Maybe it’s your salespeople. Either way, the flaw isn’t in your advertising. You’ll need to fix your sales process, before you can successfully fish for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Questions about reaching the right people with your advertising may be directed to [email protected].  Or call Chuck at 304-523-0163.

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