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Does Newsprint Even Exist Anymore?

I used to read the Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper cover-to-cover every night of the week. It was a daily paper that was delivered in the afternoon and made perfect bedtime reading. It was also delivered right to my door. It was a sad day when they switched to a morning paper and I no longer had full stories on the late night games in sports (my favorite section). It was an even sadder day when they switched to three delivered papers a week. At least we still had a paper unlike many communities that had gone strictly online.

I don’t remember when I stopped reading the print version of the paper. My parents still get the daily Detroit paper and the Sunday New York Times. I might thumb through a section or two when I’m at their house.

I miss the print paper. I liked it so much better than the online news. I liked it for the very same reason why it was such a difficult place for advertisers. I could skim through every headline and picture quickly to decide what content I wanted to read and just skip the rest. Some nights I would be done with a four-section paper in mere minutes. Some nights the paper would have stories I was setting aside to read again.

It was part of my bedtime routine.

A Toy House newsprint ad from the 1950’s

Here is the scary part for advertisers. I could read the paper cover-to-cover every day and not remember one single advertiser in that paper.

That became incredibly clear to me the day we decided to buy a couch. That night I saw four large ads for couches in the newspaper including one from a store I didn’t even know existed. I quickly grabbed the previous day’s paper from the stack by my bed. Sure enough, all four ads were in that issue, too. In fact, at least three of the four companies were in the paper every single day! Yet I never saw one of them until I was in the market for a couch.


Unlike television and radio, newsprint and magazine ads are passive ads. You only see them if they are relevant to your current situation. You only see them if you are actively in the market for what they are selling. When I took over the advertising for Toy House in the mid-90’s the Jackson CitPat (there’s a name for you) had a circulation of over 30,000. If you bought an ad, you were paying for 30,000 people to see your ad.

The truth is that not all 30,000 read the paper beyond the front page. Only a fraction of the 30,000 looked at the page your ad was on. And only a fraction of those people were in the market for what you sell. And even then, only a fraction of those people noticed your ad because you likely built it wrong. Taking it even further, only a fraction of the fraction who saw your ad were moved to take action.

You paid for 30,000 people to see your ad. Only three took action.

If your community still has a print newspaper, is it worth advertising in that paper? Believe it or not, it still might be. Ask yourself these four questions …

  • Do the people who share my Core Values read the print newspaper?
  • Are there a lot of people in the market on a daily basis who buy what I sell?
  • Can I get their attention with a great picture and headline?
  • Can I craft a call-to-action that gets them to do business with me?

If you’re going to advertise in print, those last two bullet points are the kicker. You need to craft your ad to fit the way people read the paper. We are skimmers. We first look at pictures. Then we look at headlines. Then we read the first paragraph of the story. Then, and only then, do we commit to the full article.

Therefore, your print ad has to start with a killer, attention-grabbing, jaw-dropping picture of the product or service you sell. Better yet, your picture shows a customer using the product or service you sell. It has to be intriguing and attractive. It has to grab the mind of everyone actively in the market for what you offer. Then you need an emotional, mind-blowing headline to engage the reader to want to know more. Yeah, think click-bait here. Finally it has to deliver the goods. Tell the people what they expect to hear and give them a call to action.

Since newsprint only reaches the people already actively in the market for what you offer, it isn’t the best medium for branding, but it is a great way to reach your Transactional Customers or announce an event or sale. Make sure your ad tells them what you want them to do next.

If you’re going to do newsprint, here are a few other tips:

  • Never be on a page where less than 50% of the page is content (never buy anything larger than a half-page, either). People skim. You need to be on a page where they stop for a moment or two. If it is all ads, they go right on by.
  • Yes, the right-hand page is more visible (think about how we open a newspaper and where our eyes go first).
  • Inserts work if you’re strictly going after the bargain hunters. That is their domain. The largest circulation day for most newspapers is Thanksgiving as everyone wants to see the Black Friday circulars.
  • Use white space.
  • Pay for color.
  • Bury your logo and information in fine print. If the ad gets their attention and makes them want to act, they’ll find your info. Your info by itself doesn’t make people want to act.

Newsprint isn’t the best for building a long-term branding campaign and going after Relational Customers, but it can be effective when you craft your ad to match the way people read the paper.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This is one post in a series of posts about different advertising media and how they work or don’t work. Follow these links to read about Television, Radio, and Billboards.

PPS I miss reading a daily local paper. I pick one up from newsstands every now and then. I like it better than reading the news on my tablet.

Billboards – The Drive-By Advertising

When you’re too young to drive and born before portable DVD players existed, a trip from Michigan to Florida was a lot longer than it is today (not even counting the fact that the speed limit was 55 back then). I wasn’t the book reader in my youth that I am now, either. Mostly what I read on one of our trips south was road signs and billboards.

Image result for ruby falls billboard

I think I counted 37 of these “See Ruby Falls” signs on one trip.

The billboard that blew my mind on one of these trips to Florida was a sign just outside Orlando for Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the famous Christmas store in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Yes, Michigan! In Florida!

I had seen their billboards all over Michigan. That made sense to me. You’ll drive across the state to go to this 100,000 square foot extravaganza of everything Christmas. But Florida? All in all, Bronner’s has over 60 billboards in seven different states.

Like Wall Drug in South Dakota and Ruby Falls in Tennessee, Bronner’s uses billboards for two reasons. Advertising is only one of them.

When you see a billboard in Florida for a store in Michigan, your first thought is this is no ordinary store. You would be right. You wouldn’t be surprised to see a Disney billboard near Frankenmuth, MI because Disney is a destination. Bronner’s put a billboard near Disney for the same reason. They believe they are a destination.

Unfortunately, it takes a lot of money (and courage) to put up billboards like that across the landscape. Plus, you have to be able to deliver when people follow the signs to your place. After seeing what felt like 543 signs for Mitchell’s Corn Palace while driving across South Dakota, I took the family on a detour to a tourist trap from hell. Wall Drug was actually a relief from the corn.

Billboards work well for reaching a lot of people. You don’t have to be on the highway in another state for them to be effective. Since we are creatures of habit, a well-placed billboard not only will reach a lot of eyeballs, it will be seen multiple times by the same people. Remember, frequency is a good thing.

The downside to billboard advertising is two-fold.

First, they are a passive media. You have to get people to look. In today’s distracted driving where even the passengers are looking down at their phones, getting anyone to look at your billboard can be a challenge.

Second, you only get about two seconds to make an impression. That’s one simple picture and six-to-eight easy-to-read words.

Can you tell a heartfelt, emotional story to your tribe in one attention-grabbing picture and six words? If you can, billboards are one of the best bangs for the buck for reaching a lot of people with a high frequency. One well-placed sign can move the needle. Buy as many signs as the budget allows and change out your boards at least once a month. (Or more, if they’ll let you. Even the good billboards lose effectiveness after about 2-3 weeks because they become familiar and blend into the background.)

If you can’t tell a heartfelt, emotional story to your tribe in one picture and six words, you’ve just added another boring, bland, meaningless blot to the mundane landscape everyone is already ignoring.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Pro Tip #1: When you create your billboard on your computer, it looks awesome. Before you submit that to your ad rep, print it on a letter-sized piece of paper and post it on the wall across the room. Does it still look good? Is it easy to read? Is the picture obvious? Computer screens distort what we see.

PPS Pro Tip #2: Your logo isn’t the “one picture”. Bury it deep in the bottom corner of your billboard so that it doesn’t detract from the message. If the message is good enough, they’ll figure out who said it.

PPPS Pro Tip #3: Humor is an emotion. Get people to laugh at your billboard and you may get some viral spreading of the word. Just make sure your humor is tied to the product or service you’re selling.

Radio – The Marathoner

I love my radio sales reps. Seriously. I have Linda to thank for turning me on to Roy H. Williams. I’ll never repay that debt. Scott and I still play golf. When I see Mike or Stacy or Fanny any of my other reps, we stop and chat like old friends. The good reps will do that. I was blessed to have some great reps.

The great reps also understand things like frequency. They know that for my ad to be successful, not only does it have to be impactful and tell a great story, it has to be heard several times by the same people in one week. The goal is for the same ears to hear my ad at least three times each week for as many weeks until they are in the market to shop for my goods.

Radio Ads, Toy House, JacksonThat is the beauty of Radio. Unlike Television, where viewers change channels faster than a butterfly changes direction, Radio listeners tend to stick with one channel through multiple commercial breaks. Sure, satellite radio and music services like Pandora and Spotify have eroded some of the ears on radio, but that can be said about every medium. The one difference is that the people still listening are “still listening.”

The advantage of radio is that people don’t fast-forward through the breaks. They don’t look away, or run to the bathroom, or go get some food. Their ears are always open. They listen with some regularity, whether it is the morning drive, at the office at work, or while getting dinner ready for the kids.

The disadvantage of radio is that most people don’t actively listen to radio. It is background noise while driving, working, or cooking. Most people are doing something else when they listen to the radio. That means you have to say something truly interesting to capture their attention. Boring ads that sound like everyone else’s ads won’t get heard. They just blend into the background.

Because of Radio’s strengths, however, it makes a great choice for long-term branding campaigns because you can reach a lot of ears with a lot of frequency for a lot less than most media. The key is to make sure your schedule has that frequency of three per week, and that you run it at that pace for at least as long as half your purchase cycle before you can expect traction.

Now, please understand that many radio advertising salespeople don’t know about the frequency of three. I know this because I have sat through many presentations done by radio salespeople. In one such presentation, after the video they showed, you had to be on Valium to not want to sign up for radio. But the package they tried to sell me had a frequency of only 0.5/week. They were dumping their unsold inventory on me through this package, and it wasn’t going to help anyone but them!

You have to be adamant about getting enough frequency. Fortunately, because I had such wonderful radio sales reps, I got the chance to sit down and explore different packages to see what kind of frequency I could get. Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, taught me that running 21 ads per week ROS (Run of Station), I would typically get pretty close to the frequency I wanted. Unfortunately I didn’t always have the budget for that. I found, however, that if I ran ten ads, two per day in back-to-back hours, Monday through Friday, I could get my frequency. I didn’t reach as many people, but I reached them well enough. (Roy also taught me that you can try to convince 100% of the people 10% of the way or 10% of the people 100% of the way—they both cost the same, but have wildly different results for you.)

If you want to run a radio branding campaign here are some tips for making it more effective.

  • Buy a schedule that gives you a frequency of three per week for the same people hearing your ad. (Your sales rep can help you with that, even a bad one.)
  • Buy a schedule that is at least 50% as long as the purchase cycle for your industry. (Longer if you can. In fact, the longer a contract you buy, the better rate the station is willing to give you.)
  • Create ads that are far more interesting than whatever the person is already doing while listening to the radio. (Remember that radio is a background noise more often than a primary channel.)
  • Change your ads (but not the emotions or message) at least once a month. The more creative and impactful your ads, the more often you should change them.
  • Don’t buy a station just because it is the top ranked station in your town. The top-ranked station often charges the highest rate. Why? Because they can. The funny thing is that often the difference in the number of listeners between #1 and #4 is not that significant, but the rate card varies greatly. A good ad salesperson will tell you how many people you’ll reach for the dollars you spend. Find the best value. (Pro note: the number #2 station in a particular format in your town is always more willing to negotiate rates than the #1 station. Give them a one-year commitment and you’ll be surprised the deals they can offer. You’ll still reach a whole bunch of people—without spending a whole lot of money)
  • Don’t buy a station just because that station has “your demographic”. Your customer base is not a demographic. It is a psychographic. It is the people who share your values and beliefs regardless of age, income, or education. You’ll find them on almost every station.
  • Don’t ever buy a prepackaged deal until you know it has the frequency you want at a price you can afford.

If you plan to be in business a long time and have the budget for it, Radio makes a nice long-term partner to run that business marathon with you. If you’re looking to get on and off like a ride at the state fair, it probably isn’t your best bet.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS While Radio is best suited for long-term branding campaigns, if you want to use it for an event or sale, do what Roy taught me. Schedule the ads beginning with one hour before your event, and then schedule backward in time running one ad per hour (two, if they’ll let you) until your budget runs out.

PPS Often times sales reps will throw in “live remotes”, special events where the deejay visits your store and reports back to the listeners several times an hour to tell them how much fun he is having. While fun to have that happen, unless the deejay is a huge celebrity, they rarely draw a crowd. And if they do, the crowd is there to see the talent, not you. That’s okay. Just make sure that what they say on the air to the 99.99% of the listeners who didn’t stop by is on point with your message. That’s the true value.

PPPS Thanks, Linda! You are the best!!

Television – The Super Bowl of Advertising

You watched the Super Bowl for the ads, didn’t you? That’s the trendy thing today. Whether you root for (or against) one of the teams in the game, you tune in mostly to see the ads. I have actually seen Super Bowl Parties where everyone gets a scorecard to rate the ads they see.

In fact, I use the Super Bowl ads and a Super Bowl party as the premise for my book Most Ads Suck (But Yours Won’t).

Television has been, from its moment of inception, one of the greatest media for advertising. Why? Because it combines the three most important elements—Words, Music, and Pictures.

“Use a picture. It is worth a thousand words.”Tess Flanders

Pictures are storytellers by nature. Storytelling is one of the most powerful principles for making ads more effective. With thirty seconds you can tell a powerful, emotional story just with pictures alone.

“Control the music and you control the mood.” -Roy H. Williams

Music is emotion. Music allows you to speak to the heart. Regardless of the words or the visuals, music can change the way people feel quickly and fully. Don’t believe me? Think about the TV Show M*A*S*H.  Can you hear the soothing melodies of the theme song? Feel-good music for sure. Now go ahead and Google the lyrics to this song entitled “Suicide is Painless.” If that isn’t enough to make you scratch your head, check out the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife. Music controls the emotion. (I’ll bet the politicians who try to use the Boss’s song for their campaigns never bothered to read the lyrics.)

“In the beginning was the word …” -John 1:1

Words power the imagination. Words call whole worlds into existence. The right words in the right order can change history. When Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address many people of that day felt it was the worst presidential speech ever, mainly because of its brevity. Most presidential speeches lasted an hour or so. But Lincoln knew the power of fewer, more tightly written words. Now we consider it one of the greatest speeches ever because he said so much in so few words. God spoke the world into existence. You speak worlds into the imagination of your listeners.

What this trifecta means for advertising is that Television Ads have the ability to make a much stronger impact than any other form of advertising out there. A well-crafted television ad can be impactful with only one viewing. Just last month I bought two different flavors of Pringles because of the Super Bowl Ad I saw. Once.

The downside to Television?

  • It is expensive.
  • It is difficult.
  • Fewer and fewer people watch the ads.

It is expensive and difficult to create a great television ad that moves the needle. Just look at how many flops and failures to move the needle we had from this last Super Bowl. And these are companies with millions of dollars at their disposal. Too many companies try to be too clever. You simply need to step back and look at the three elements—pictures, music, words—and make sure they tell the story, invoke the feeling, and implant ideas into the imagination of your viewers so that they think of you first.

It is also expensive and difficult to schedule a television campaign so that your not-so-impactful ad can be seen enough times to make a lasting impression. Unlike radio, where listeners pretty much stick to one channel and don’t switch, television viewers are not as station-loyal. Some stations such as ESPN and HGTV do have a loyal group of followers, but those viewers often have the station on in the background, making your ability to attract their attention even more difficult. Most viewers, however, never let the remote control get out of reach and are quick to change stations as soon as a commercial break begins.

People are using DVR’s, Netflix, and Hulu to avoid advertising as much as possible. I know I am guilty of taping shows to watch later, fast-forwarding through all the commercials. Part of it is that I don’t have time to commit to the full show. I can save about ten minutes an hour watching on my own schedule. Also, frankly, most television ads suck. I don’t want to watch them. Even from its first days as a medium, people used the commercial breaks to go to the bathroom, get more food, or take the dog outside.

If you want to use television to get your branding message out to the world, here are some tips to helps.

  • Choose the words, images, and pictures carefully. They need to tell a story, invoke a feeling, and spur the imagination. Period.
  • Make it about the customer and her life, not about you.
  • Say something memorable, powerful.
  • Have your images move/change slowly. This way your images are more visible to the fast-forwarding crowd.
  • Choose shows or stations that people watch repeatedly. News shows, talk shows, and specialized programming stations are usually best.
  • Change the story (but not the message or the feeling) every three-to-four weeks. Ads grow old quickly, especially when humor is part of the ad. The joke wears thin after several tellings.

If you have the budget, the creative talent, and the knowledge how to use it correctly, Television still works incredibly well for delivering your branding message and driving traffic to your doors.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This is the first post in a series of posts on the different forms of media and how they work best. As I said before, all advertising works, but only if you know how it works best and use it the proper way. One area that Television is becoming less and less effective is in the Hype ads. Not only are Millennials “hype”er-sensitive and skeptical, they are teaching the rest of us to view hype that way. Even though one television ad can be quite impactful, if you have an event or sale to hype, there might be better, more affordable ways of getting your message across than television.

A Case Study From Yesterday

A couple nights ago as I was climbing into bed I got an email from my friend, Phil. He owns the brewpub where I frequently play guitar. He was sent a script proposal for a television ad and wanted my opinion. I read it and told him not to run that ad, and that I would respond more fully the next day. He has given me permission to publish here what I wrote in reply …

Hi Phil,

I looked over the ad script you sent me. It is typical of what I see from ad salespeople who were never given proper training into how to use their media best. It’s not their fault. They just end up writing ads that look and sound like every other boring, bland ad they have ever heard or seen. The thought process is, “If everyone else is doing it, it must work, right?” Wrong.

The script they gave you violates all the principles of the most effective ads.

To recap, they wrote this …

Spend your weekend nights at the Poison Frog Brewery, always offering a great atmosphere! Featuring great entertainment, wonderful inhouse brews, custom made glass mugs, and real poisonous frogs, The Poison Frog Brewery has it all. Overflow parking is across the street! The Poison Frog Brewery, come have a hopping good time!

The ad sounds like everyone else, doesn’t tell a story or speak to the heart, tries to make too many points, and is all about you instead of your customers. It doesn’t speak to the craft beer crowd, the live entertainment crowd, or the people who share your core values of Curious, Resourceful, Persevering, or Affectionate. None of that is going to garner any attention, let alone convince anyone to visit your brewery.

If you want to be noticed, remembered, and visited, you need an ad that speaks to the heart of your customer, makes only one point, and is interesting enough to get people to sit up and take notice.

The Poison Frog Brewery on Horton Road in Jackson

In the copy above, the ad tries to make the points of:

  • Great entertainment
  • Wonderful inhouse brews
  • Custom made glass mugs
  • Real poisonous frogs
  • Overflow parking

That’s too much information for one ad. The average viewer is lucky to remember one thing. The more you try to cram into the ad, the less likely he or she will remember anything at all. You’re better off choosing one of those points and crafting an ad around that while also tying in your core values.

For instance …

You’ve driven past this bright yellow building several times. You’ve even seen it before the frogs were painted on the wall. You know it’s a local brewery and pub, but the small parking lot doesn’t give the proper impression of what you’ll find inside … like master craft beers and meads brewed in house. When you drink one from your own custom-made mug, you’ll be glad you finally pulled in. Poison Frog Brewery. It’s hopping inside!

This speaks to the curious beer lover who hasn’t tried you yet. It gets all your info in, but under the guise of curiosity. The true point is that your place is worth the visit.

Here is another one, more aimed at the entertainment crowd.

You’ve been to bars with live entertainment. Not all are the same. In some, the band is too loud for you to hear the person across the table from you. In others, you have to hope you get a table close enough to see the singer. At Poison Frog Brewery, you’re always in view of the musicians, you’ll always be able to hear them and everyone who came with you, and with the talent we have in Jackson, you’ll always be entertained. Looking for a hopping good time? Check out Poison Frog Brewery.

Or you could take this more story-like approach …

A singer, a guitar, a microphone, and a stage. All the hours of practice and now his success depends on you. If you clap, sing along, or even just smile, you’ll make his night. In return he’ll rock your world. At Poison Frog Brewery, the musicians you see every Friday and Saturday night are there for one thing, to make sure you have a hopping good time.

Here is an ad approach using Perseverance and your overflow parking as the base …

You’ve always wanted to stop in, but the parking lot is small and often full. Fortunately there is extra parking across the street – and plenty of seating inside. Once inside you see why the lot is full You order one of our hand-crafted beers, your partner wants to try a mead. Ahhh … Worth the trip. Poison Frog Brewery. When the lot is full, it’s hopping inside!

Finally, here is the beer ad …

You drink craft beer because of the taste. You’re looking for the nuance, the little notes that excite your palate. As a master brewer, my job is to give you something exciting and pleasing to the palate. Did we always get it right? No. But the beers you’ll find today have been carefully honed to give you the perfect blend of flavor in every sip. It’s time you hop into Poison Frog Brewery.

This ad uses a little of the “downside” and speaks to those who have tried your brews in the past, before you had everything perfected. There are a lot of craft beer hounds who have either had a bad beer in the past or have heard about others having a bad beer. This admits that flaw and lets them know you’ve corrected it. Powerful language to gain their trust.

Notice how all the ads use the word “you”. Make your ads about the customer, not about yourself, and they’ll pay far more attention. Tell a story and they’ll remember. Speak to their heart, their values, and their needs and they’ll take action.

I know this is different from the script they gave you. They’ll have to be a little more creative with the video they shoot for the ad, but a good videographer can use these scripts to craft an amazing television ad that will move the needle.

Keep me posted on what you decide to do.



-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I publish this because many of you get the same bland, boring scripts from your ad salespeople. I want you to see the difference between the template-type, boiler-plate ads that are all about you and ads that speak to the heart of your customers. Unfortunately I only had about an hour to put that reply together so those scripts aren’t as tight as I would like them, but they are a far cry better than where he started. I’ll have more time to craft something powerful for his next ad. I’ll share it with you when I do. By the way, he went with the curious one and the perseverance one.

How Long Do You Want to Be in Business?

I don’t think my grandfather ever envisioned Toy House being open for 67 year, 7 months, and 1 day. I’ve looked through all his notes and never found anything that stated how long he planned the store to be open. I know from an interview I did with him about twelve years ago that he knew he wouldn’t be in retail all his life.

“Retail is a young man’s game.” -Phil Conley

Phil Conley, working the register in 1958 at age 39.

You can argue all you want about that last statement. I know a lot of people who either started in retail at a later point in life or worked retail late into their lives. But that was my grandfather’s view.

At the same time, my grandfather had one other point he liked to drive home with his kids and grandkids.

“Plan for success.” -Phil Conley

When he founded Toy House, he did it on a rock solid set of Core Values and business principles. (His core values of Fun, Helpful, Educational, and Nostalgic matched mine perfectly!) He set the business up to succeed not just today but every day long into the future. In fact, there was only one “mistake” he felt he made in setting up Toy House for the long run.

“If I had only placed the building twelve feet farther north on the property, there would have been eight or ten more front parking spaces.” -Phil Conley

I bring this up because over the next few weeks we’re going to discuss advertising. There are two main types of advertising.

  • Short-term (Events and Sales)
  • Long-term (Branding and Awareness)

Too many businesses think that a string of short-term advertised events and sales is a “campaign.” It isn’t. It is an addiction.

You run a series of ads highlighting a sale. You get a lot of traffic for the sale. Everyone feels good. The ads and sale end. The traffic ends. Everyone feels bad. You run another sale.

You take a hit of a drug. It feels good. The drug wears off. It feels bad. You want another hit of the drug.

See the similarity?

Branding campaigns are different. First, they are long-term. It doesn’t matter when you start (to paraphrase a Chinese proverb, the best time to start a branding campaign is twenty years ago, the second best time is today) as long as you start and keep at it. You change the ads, just not the underlying message. The goal of this campaign is to make sure you are the first place someone thinks of when they finally need your service.

The beauty of such a campaign is the long-term effect. The longer you run the campaign, the more residual effect it has on people’s memory. It’s kinda like when your car runs out of gas. You put your shoulder into it and it barely budges. Eventually it starts to roll. The longer you push it (as long as you aren’t trying to go up a steep hill), the easier it gets until you barely have to put any effort into it at all.

These two campaigns are completely different, so it is important to know which campaign you are running. Some media are better suited for one more than the other. Some can do both, but you plan it differently.

My grandfather planned for success by building a business that would outlast him. His timeline was longer than he planned to be around. You make different decisions when you think like that. I know he did. When it comes to your advertising, you need to be thinking long-term there, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Some people call it playing the long game, knowing that what you do today is positioning yourself for something farther down the road. Amazon is playing that game. All those “profits” they didn’t show for many years was because of the money they reinvested into the company for R&D and infrastructure. Unfortunately, many publicly traded companies look no further than next quarter’s results. If you want to be in retail for the long run, play the long game. You’ll be surprised how effective it can be even in the short-term.

The Myth of the Call to Action

I took a little walk down memory lane. Started reading some of the old radio ad copy I wrote back in the 90’s. My goal today was to talk to you about the pros and cons of the different media options you have for advertising. Sometimes, however, you pull on a thread and it unravels in a whole different way than you expected.

Image result for radioHere is an ad I used on the radio twenty-two years ago …

Ad Copy Winter 1996

Hi, this is Phil Wrzesinski from the Toy House in downtown Jackson. You’ve heard me talk about the many wonderful toys we sell here at the Toy House. I’d like to remind you that we’re more than just a great toy store. Our hobby department has everything you need for your trains, planes, rockets or models. Plus, our staff are experts able to answer your questions and make sure you get exactly what you need. Our baby department has all of the new, safe, quality products for infants including everything from cribs that convert into beds, car seats & strollers, and over 100 different bedding patterns. We offer baby registry, special orders, and a ten-month layaway on infant items. If you’re working on a project for school, check out our craft and science departments. And, if you need a new bike, we’ll assemble it for free and inspect it after 30 riding days. You see, at the Toy House we want to make your shopping as easy as we can by offering free giftwrapping, layaway, delivery, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. So come visit us at the Toy House on Mechanic Street in downtown Jackson.

Looking back at this ad through the lens of the six principles that make an ad more effective, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Sure, this violated the Make Only One Point principle big time. It didn’t Tell a Story or Speak to the Heart, or Speak to My Tribe.

But even in an ad all about “me”, I used the word “you” quite often. Considering I had zero training and zero understanding of how ads worked, seeing this ad made me happy.

Don’t get me wrong. This ad sucked. About the only thing going for it was the conversational tone that didn’t sound like all the hype ads of that day, plus the frequent use of the word “you”. It also told you specific actions you could expect (“we’ll assemble it for free and inspect it after 30 riding days.”)

Contrast that ad with this one fifteen years later …

The Promised Land November 2011
She almost fell out of the pew. Her pastor actually called Toy House the Promised Land for kids. Right there in front of a packed church.
The lady on her left leaned over and said, “You work there, don’t you?”
She nodded.
The lady on her left leaned in again, “I love that place.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Me too,” she whispered back.
It’s the promised land for kids and adults. Just ask the lady sitting on your left.
Toy House and Baby Too in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

It certainly doesn’t sound like an ad. It tells a story and speaks to the heart. It speaks to the tribe. You’re smiling in agreement if you’re already a fan of the store. It only made one point, and it wasn’t about “me”.

The one thing many pundits will tell you it is missing is the Call to Action. The first ad said, “So come visit us …” Without a call to action, how can you measure the results of the ad? About the closest thing to a call to action in the 2011 ad is to, “ask the lady sitting on your left.”

I started running ads like this in 2005. That same year I hired a statistics class at a local university to do a survey for me. One of the questions the students asked was, “Name all of the places in Jackson that sell toys.” We were named about 66% of the time. Two-thirds. One-third of the population did not think about us as a place to buy toys—even though we were one of the largest independent toy stores in America and had been around for 56 years.

In 2007 we did the same survey. Our name recall had jumped to 74%. More interestingly, 88% of the people who named us as a store that sold toys named us first (compared to only 69% in the first study). Not only were we more top-of-mind, we were more top-of-heart. That’s how I measured the results of ads like that one.

I wasn’t in business just for today. I was in business for the long run. I didn’t want a call to action that got you in today, only to forget about us tomorrow. I wanted to win your heart and be not only the first place you think of, but the first place you wanted to visit.

Knowing that distinction changes the way you advertise.

Some media work better for immediate calls to action. Some work differently for sales than they do for branding. Before we start exploring the different media, I thought that concept might be worth visiting.

Thanks for joining me on memory lane. You never know where it might lead.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I used a lot of radio. Not because it is the most effective form of advertising, but because it was the best fit for my market, my budget, my talent, and my goals. What will work best for you may be completely different based on all those factors.

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.

How to Use Humor in Your Advertising the Right Way

I can count on one hand the times I have tried something new because of a television ad and I would still have several fingers leftover.

I tried Sam Adams Light Beer after they ran a commercial talking about how they took their Sam Adams Light to a beer festival in Germany and won first prize … even though there wasn’t a “light beer” category. (It was easily the best light beer I have tasted, but not necessarily the best beer I have tasted, not to mention difficult to find in stores.)

I bought two flavors of Pringles a couple weeks ago. Just like the Super Bowl commercial showed me, I put the two flavors together to make a new flavor. Barbecue and Jalapeno pair up fabulously. That helped get me home on a long, tired drive from up north. I had forgotten that ad when I talked about the 2018 Super Bowl Ads, but it obviously struck a chord with me since I recalled it the moment I was standing in front of the Pringles display contemplating which flavor to buy. I give them a thumbs up because they taught me to buy two flavors instead of one. I bet they have seen a spike in sales since that ad, especially if they are still running it.

Now I am seriously contemplating buying some Duluth Trading Bullpen Underwear. Here is the ad that caught my eye …


This ad (and most of their campaign) is a homerun!

  1. It doesn’t look or sound like anyone else’s ads.
  2. It makes only one point in a clever and unexpected way.
  3. It tells a story, one that men know all too well.
  4. It speaks to the heart by talking about a felt need and getting you to laugh, too.
  5. It speaks to the tribe of men. (A female companion told me she hated that ad. Like magnets, the ability of an ad to attract is equal to its ability to repel.)
  6. It makes “you” the star.

“Keep your boys where they belong.”

Yes, it hits on all six of the principles that make an ad more effective.

The best part of Duluth Trading’s campaign is the humor. Unlike Doritos, Dr. Pepper and Progressive Insurance, Duluth trading has found a way to tie their humor directly into the benefits of the product. The humor isn’t gratuitous.

The humor is used to drive home a point.

Progressive is running an ad right now that has a guy talking about how he and co-worker look exactly alike (spoiler alert: they don’t) and how he knows they look alike because he is good at comparisons. Unfortunately, the message I get is that Progressive must NOT be good at comparisons because this guy sucks at them.

Time and time again I see really funny or moving ads, but the funny or touching part has nothing to do with the company or product the ad is supposedly pitching. People remember the funny but forget the company or product. In Duluth Trading’s ads, you won’t ever have that problem. The humor is tied directly to the benefits.

If you want to use humor in your ads, do what Duluth Trading does and use the punchline to drive home the one point you are trying to make.

I’m looking forward to a new pair of underwear. (There’s a phrase you won’t often hear.)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Duluth Trading is doing a few other things well.

First, they are running a campaign, not an ad, with a distinct and unique style. All of their ads use similar cartoon art, the same voice-over, and the same unexpected humor. Those three elements combined have a residual effect. You liked some of their early ads because of how fresh and surprising they were, so you perk up when a new ad comes on.

Second, they are speaking to the felt needs of their tribe. One easy way to speak to the heart and speak to your tribe at they same time is to identify a problem common among your tribe, and then show how you solve that problem. I’m looking at adding their ballroom jeans to my shopping list after ripping the crotch in my jeans while loading and unloading a moving van yesterday.

Tide For the Win

While the Philadelphia Eagles may have won the Super Bowl, the other winner was Tide. Their ads consistently hit the mark and take home the top prize for me.

Image result for tide adIn my workshops and upcoming book I teach six principles for Making Ads More Effective. Tide nailed it on almost every point.

Principle #1 Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad

Okay, they actually looked and sounded like every ad out there. But on purpose. It was the meta moment of advertising where they spoofed every single ad out there. Well done, Tide! Well done!

Principle #2 Make Only One Point

Clothes are clean. Must be a Tide Ad. Point taken.

Principle #3 Tell a Story

This may be a stretch, but the fact that they didn’t have a one-and-done campaign—heck, they even had a cameo during the telecast in football uniforms—made this a story campaign. I’ll give them props for that. Even after learning their joke, they continued to surprise us. Admit it. You laughed at the Mr. Clean ad.

Principle #4 Speak to the Heart

Laughter, Love, Anger, and Fear all speak to the heart. The Tide Ads made me laugh out loud. More importantly, their humor was tied directly to the product. T-Mobile showed a bunch of babies but didn’t tie it back to their phone service. Mass Mutual’s pregame ad was the same—heartwarming, but it could have been anyone. Budweiser, Verizon, and Hyundai did emotional ads tied back to their actions, but they all felt a little contrived.

Principle #5 Speak to the Tribe

The Tide Tribe is people who love clean clothing. If you’re a Tide user, that ad spoke to you strongly and reinforced your belief that Tide makes the cleanest clothing.

Principle #6 Make Your Customer the Star

Even in my book I point out that few Super Bowl ads ever use this principle. Kraft tried with modest success. I liked what they were trying to do, even felt it spoke to their tribe, but it didn’t quite speak to the heart as well as it could have. In the Super Bowl, close doesn’t count.

Tide didn’t make you the star, but after hitting on the first five principles, I’m going to call it a solid win for them.

Good night everyone!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Feel free to share your own comments on the ads you liked best (or least). I missed a commercial break in the third quarter when NBC went off the air for about ten minutes in our area.

PPS I also liked the Rocket Mortgage Ad in the first quarter making things simpler and more understandable. Then again, that spoke directly to me and what I try to do for a living—make things more understandable.

PPPS The Doritos Ad with Peter Dinklage was stupid, until they doubled down with Mountain Dew Ice and Morgan Freeman to make it almost work. That ad, however, is done. From this point forward it will only be annoying. One-and-done is not a successful campaign, nor will it make me want to buy either product.

Sweet dreams.