"I’m calling to discuss why my advertising did not work" said an advertiser on the phone. It’s a call I’ve had before and one every magazine person on earth gets once in a while.

Advertisers expect results and it’s our responsibility to help them get results. So a phone call like this from time to time is not unusual.

Frankly, it’s never fun to have this dialogue. The customer always wants to blame the media and rarely do they want to look at what they may have done to cause the problem. But, if it’s my fault I’m ready to take the blame.

So… why is it that I can have six advertisers in the magazine who call with RAVE results… lots of business generated from the ads and in the same issue I can have one or two who get no results?
Why, if all things are equal do some ads work and others do not?

First, all things are never equal in marketing. For instance one advertiser may be more established, have a stronger brand (translation awareness and trust), taste in what was advertised that appeals to the taste of the reader, have a more effective web site, a better ad, a better receptionist….

Let’s start with the receptionist. An advertiser phoned me and said I’m not getting any phone calls from your advertising. After our discussion I was curious, so I waited a couple of days and phoned the gallery. "XYZ Gallery. May I help you?" I answered, "Yes, I’m looking at and ad and I am curious about the painting by Gerome which is shown in the ad." Her reply, "OH that’s been sold." ….long pause. "OK", I said, "thank you." "You’re welcome sir, thanks for calling."
What’s wrong with this picture? She did not engage me? She did not ask my interests? She did not ask if I would be interested in seeing another painting from the same artist. She did not ask my name or contact information. She did not ask where I had seen the ad.
Poorly trained receptionists are frequently one of the reasons advertising does not work.

I recently asked my friend, who is a marketing and sales consultant to visit a gallery when he was in town. I good friend had work hanging in the gallery and had complained that they were not selling any of his work. I asked him to seek that artist on the wall, ask about him, and see how well they pushed it. So he entered the gallery… did what I asked. He said he had seen the ad for so and so… and wanted to see his work. She took him to two paintings on the wall. He asked, "What can you tell me about this artist" and she said, "He’s new, I don’t know anything about him." He persisted, "certainly you have something in writing." She said, "No sir, I don’t." He left. Later I told the gallery owner about this and he told me this was a "temp" who was filling in while someone was out. He was not happy that I was "spying" on him (I told him I was trying to find out what was wrong, why the artist was not selling). He told me nothing was wrong. Chances are if this "temp" was not trained, maybe others were not as well….

In another case where I heard from an advertiser that things were not working I asked how things were being tracked…he said "we track the incoming phone calls." So again I waited a few days and phoned. "I saw an ad and I want to find out about the painting," I said. She very kindly said, "Where did you see the ad sir." Rather than telling her, I wanted to see what would happen if I did not know, so I said, “I’m not sure. I ripped it out of one of the magazines I was reading." She said, "That’s ok sir, what was advertised?" I told her and she said, "well sir that was in XYZ publication. Thank you." She then answered questions about the painting. Well, it may have been in XYZ publication too… but it was also in mine. They got credit. I did not. Now I know this happens from time to time, I know I fold pages and rip them out to call on ads.

Recall studies are a good way to track things but they can also backfire. Why? Often when people are asked they say what is "top of mind." For instance they may have seen the ad in five different publications and said the one they remembered the most, maybe the one they had subscribed to the longest. Or, they may not have even seen it in that magazine and still said what was top of mind. I once had an advertiser tell me that a magazine scored high in the recall study and they had not even advertised there. This is normal. Quick name a fast food restaurant? Its human nature. SO it’s a great way to track top of mind awareness but not always actual recall.

One last mention… in one case I made a call and the receptionist asked where I had seen the ad… she gave me a list to choose from. My publication was not on the list.

The biggest issue about tracking phone calls with art ads these days is that people are not calling like they used to. If you call you have to deal with someone… and that takes time. A quick visit to a website can answer most of your questions. If the price is out of their range or if something answers their questions they may not call unless ready to buy. (This is often a good thing.)

I don’t want to sound defensive. Advertisers tell us all the time that they get calls… and buyers. But some don’t. It could be what people hear on the other end of the phone, it could be that they went to the web site, or it could be that the ad is not inviting… or the piece advertised is not resonating with the audience, or the brand does not have trust or awareness (or it does and people are aware of a reputation of being difficult, or expensive, or slick, or….). There is never a simple answer.