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All Advertising Works (And All Advertising Doesn’t)

“Who are you trying to reach?”

That’s pretty much the opening salvo in every advertising salesperson’s repertoire. Give them your answer and voila! “That’s exactly our listeners/viewers/readers!” Then they show you some study that “proves” their advertising works.

Westwood One, a major radio company with stations across the US, commissioned a study to show the ROI of radio advertising. Of course the results were quite promising. Are you surprised that a study by a radio company would show that radio advertising works?

“The only statistics you can trust are those you falsified yourself.” -Winston Churchill

My Yellow Pages salesperson showed me a similar result that when asked where they would go to search for a new business, 87% of the people surveyed said, “The Yellow Pages.” Granted, this was when the Internet was still in its infancy. But it was still false because it asked the question, “What would you do?” instead of, “What did you do?”

Here is the funny thing about advertising …

The advertising salespeople are asking you a question to which you invariably give the wrong answer, yet their response is still accurate.

“Who are you trying to reach?” The right answer is …

People who share my Core Values and believe what I believe.

“That’s exactly our listeners/viewers/readers!”

Of course, all the other media reach those people, too. They also reach a bunch of people who don’t share your Core Values or believe what you believe. You need to target your message, not your media choice, to reach the “right” people.

Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, says time and time again that he has never seen an ad campaign fail because it didn’t reach the right people, but he has seen many fail because they didn’t say the right thing.

Although your advertising salesperson doesn’t know he is asking the wrong question (or, frankly, an irrelevant one), that question is not what will derail the success of your advertising campaign. It is the second question he asks (or sometimes fails to ask) that is the real crux of the matter.

“What do you want to say?”

If you cannot answer that question, he’ll put together some template of an ad that sounds like everyone else’s ads and you’ll be lost in the shuffle, unremarkable and unremembered. (You should read Roy’s post on Template Advertising. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

How you answer the second question is the biggest difference between a successful campaign and a waste of time and money. Every form of advertising works and every form of advertising doesn’t work. It is all in how you use them.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS How you answer the second question isn’t the only difference between success and failure. Each media has its strengths and weaknesses. We’ll explore some of those in the coming days.