RIngling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus poster

Ten “Dids” to Examine Your Failed Ads and Make Them Work Next Time

In the real world, manufacturers create, and retailers stock, things they believe people will want.

Sometimes, they’re wrong.
Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey poster

Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey poster.

There are some pretty silly statements made about advertising. Many are quite obviously irrational.

I can’t advertise in July, the circus will be in town.” 

Don’t talk to me about advertising. Your publication carries my competitors ads.

I have all of the business I need.

Some, like “I tried advertising. It doesn’t work,” at first seem to be perfectly logical conclusions. The conviction of the people making this claim is unshakable – most likely because they’re describing exactly what happened to them.

Of course, if they had said, “My kid tried riding a bike, but he fell over. Bicycles don’t work,” or “I tried golf once. I didn’t get a hole in one. Golf is a stupid waste of time,” everyone would recognize the absurdity of the statements.

But every kid, (and every golfer) knows even common activities require some basic skills.

At its basis, advertising is simple.

Incredibly simple. Just deliver to the public your offer to sell something.

The public’s reaction, though, is not as uncomplicated as “I’ll buy” or “I won’t buy.”

Actual responses range from absolutely no interest on the unsuccessful end of the response continuum, to, on the successful end, people pounding on the door because the sign says the store opens at 8:30, and it’s now 8:32.

Why do most ads produce results somewhere between these extremes?

I’ve identified ten factors that could cause your advertising to produce disappointing results.

Causes #1 and #2 involve your offer.

Cause #1: Did anyone want the stuff you had to offer?

Sale Tag

Sale Tag

Ideally, businesses would identify and research a market, then develop what the customer really wants. In the real world, manufacturers create, and retailers stock things, they believe people will want.

Sometimes, they’re wrong.

When those retailers say to the world, “Hey, come and buy our diamonelle encrusted left-handed can openers,” people don’t say, “I don’t want any, thank you.”

They don’t say anything.

They care so little about the offering, they don’t even notice the ad, and won’t remember ever seeing or hearing it.

Cause #2: Did you offer what people needed when they were most likely to need it?

Think seasonality. Swimsuits don’t sell well in November. Halloween candy won’t get much attention in April.

Causes #3 – #6 involve the content of your message.


Did you hold shoppers attention?

Cause #3: Did your ad snag shoppers attention? Were you able to hold that attention long enough to deliver your offer?

There are three broad categories of advertising communication – entertainment, information, and engagement.

1. Entertaining ads can work, if there’s a direct connection between entertainment and the one thought you’re trying to plant in the minds of shoppers. In far too many ads the entertainment is not relevant to the advertising message.

2. Most ads offer information. Unfortunately, its about the advertiser. Good ads are about the customer. Instead of “We have a huge selection of clean, late model cars to fit any budget,” try “Admit it, you’re going to like the way people look at you when you wear Ajax.”

3. Engagement requires the shopper to pay close attention to, and consciously consider, the content of your advertising. Unless that shopper is ready to purchase, catching her with a marginally different offer won’t elevate your ad to consideration status.

Say the same things your competitors do, and rest assured that most shoppers will ignore you.

But say something salient, something highly meaningful, and watch the difference.


Cause #4: Did you engage? Did you actually say anything worth remembering?

Too many ads are tedious, dreary, boring, and monotonous. Are yours?

Just because you have a lot to say doesn’t mean your audience will sit still and pay attention.

Nobody gets emotionally involved in a laundry list of brand names, sale items, or the number of collective years of your staff’s experience.

The most you can expect of any ad is to convey one single, compelling idea. Find that one idea, and express it.


Old Spice Body Wash

Old Spice Body Wash

Cause #5: Did your ad persuade? Did you extend an invitation to buy (a call to action)?

Sometimes we notice a highly creative and entertaining ad campaign, only to find out later that the advertiser lost market share while the campaign ran. The “¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!” chihuahua, “Joe Isuzu,” and Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaigns come to mind. High entertainment value. Precious little persuasion.

Entertainment aside, shoppers are skeptical. No matter how truthful any claim you in your ad, people don’t automatically believe you.

That process which falls between demonstrating your evidence, and leading them to agree with your claim, is persuasion.



Your Professional Reputation

Cause #6: Did your ad complement your image?

People who project different personalities, depending on which group of people they’re associating with, are not trusted. Without trust, you don’t have customers.

Like people, companies have personalities, which are a critical part of their brand. Advertising is an extension of that brand. If it’s loud, insulting, self-centered, annoying, or otherwise offensive, people will assume your business is organized around those qualities.

What is it that people know about you? What is your professional reputation? What is your image among customers? Among non-customers?

Do you have an image?

How do you know?

Causes #7 – #10 involve external factors.

Cause #7: Did you choose the right medium? Did you have the right sized ad?

Think of advertising as your cost to acquire customers.

Costs per exposure, per thousand, or per rating point only matter indirectly. Media efficiency is calculated by dividing the number of dollars invested by the number of new customers you’ve acquired.

Magazines with tiny circulations but active readership may be a great investment. Regional television stations with the highest priced ads in town may also be a great investment.

Until you track the number of new customers each produces, and the average sale of each new customer, you can’t do a meaningful comparison.


Cause #8: Did you schedule your ads at the optimum frequency?

There are two factors which combine to make media impact. One is the size of the ad (in column inches, or seconds, or pixels), and the other is the number of times shoppers read  / hear / view it.

Exceptionally salient ads may only need one exposure. Most require multiple exposures to the ad before people respond to your offer.

Under normal circumstances you’re going to need to run that ad several times.


Old Refrigerator

Old Refrigerator

Cause #9: Did you allow enough time for shoppers to need what you sell?

People eat several times a day. They need new tires every year or two. They buy refrigerators and mattresses maybe once per decade. How many of them are in the market for what you sell at any given time?

Ads for short purchase cycle offerings should pay off quickly. The impact of grocery or restaurant ads can be measured in days.

Other products, which have longer purchase cycles require more patience, and more persistence.


The Plan

Business Plan, Illustrated

Cause #10: Did you start with a clear goal?

What was it you wanted to happen when you bought that advertising which didn’t work?

Did you expect to see new faces in your store? Additional referrals? Greater market awareness for your company (“getting your name out there”)? Sales increases? Additional goodwill?

If you don’t know what you were attempting to accomplish, how can you be sure your advertising DIDN’T work?

Advertising works. I suspect we all know that.

A former boss, when told advertising didn’t work, offered to run some free radio ads for the skeptic. He said, “Let me tell you what they’ll say: Free $100 bills at your business.”

No one ever took him up on it.

Maybe yours is one of those companies which has all of the customers it needs. Congratulations. I envy you.

Most every business owner I talk to, however, needs a steady influx of new customers.

Like playing golf or riding a bicycle, there are skills you’ll need to make it work. You weren’t born with the ability to run your own company, but you learned what to do, and when, and why. Likewise, you can develop the ability to profitably advertise that same company.

You’ll need to invest a modest budget, commit to some seriously detailed record keeping, and allocate enough time to develop and hone those skills. Thirty minutes a day for the next year will give you the rough equivalent of one semester of Intro to Marketing.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of great information available, and much of it free. If you’re ready to get started, drop me a note and I’ll send you a recommended reading list.

And take another look at the “Dids.” If you’re ready to start fishing for customers, isn’t time for you to give advertising another shot?

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 making your company’s advertising “work” may be directed to ChuckMcKay@ChuckMcKayOnLine.com. Or, call him at 304-523-0163.

1 Comment

  1. Patricia McGuinness

    A lot of very good and useful information here. This is a great article for newbies to the advertising arena. I think a lot of it is common sense but that could be my experience speaking.

    I think one of the most important aspects you touched on here is engagement. I have found that excellent customer service and treating a person like a person and not a customer you're just trying to sell a product/service to does wonders not only for a lead but a referral source. Pushy sales aren't usually very effective but rather annoying.

    Unlimited Resources for Limited Budgets