Will Advertising Sell What People Don’t Want?

Its a common desire in retail to advertise the things which aren't selling. This is frequently bad strategy. Very bad.

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 ChuckMcKay@ChuckMcKayOnLine.com. Or call him at 317-207-0028.

* 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.


  1. Trey Pitsenberger

    Thought provoking post. Small, independent garden centers are in something of the same boat as restaurants, yet it doesn’t just involve a certain day closed but a whole season when people just don’t think about gardening. Winter is our Monday, and and the questions of when to focus our advertising dollars is an important one. The nursery industry has come up with all sorts of promotions to increase winter time and Christmas sales yet I wonder if we are spending too much money on bait at a time of year when the fish just are not biting.

  2. Sean Stefan

    Loved the part about shooting when there’s ducks to shoot at. It makes so much sense, no wonder no one seems to get it.

    I had an marketing professor at University give me a bad grade on a marketing project once because I didn’t gear my advertising strategy towards marketing to customers during the slow times.

    If people aren’t buying, there’s probably a reason. One of our jobs as marketers is to maximize profit when people are buying.

    Sean Stefan

  3. Chuck McKay

    Trey, I think a major part of the decision comes down to whether your business is targeting relational or transactional customers.

    Transactional customers believe they know everything necessary to make an informed decision. They’re shopping for price and features.

    Relational customers are afraid they don’t know enough to decide. They’re shopping for an advisor they can trust not to take advantage of them.

    If you’re targeting transactional customers, by all means make the advertising expenditures proportional to your selling seasons.

    But if you’re targeting relational customers you can’t ever afford to go away. You need to remind them year round why they should trust you with their purchases.

    That aside, I suspect the nursery business has a very real seasonal limitation that no amount of off-season advertising can correct.

    What’s been your experience? Have winter promotions worked for you?

  4. Chuck McKay

    Sean, most of us have wittnessed first hand enough examples to convince me that trying to make people do things our way is an exercise in futility.

    But, one of my favorite definitions of marketing is “helping people to get what they want.”

    If we can maximize profit while helping them, then life is indeed good, isn’t it?

  5. Sean Stefan

    Well put, it makes so much sense.