“I’ll buy and ad and see if it works. If it work’s I’ll buy more.”

These are words, which those of us in the advertising world hear frequently. I usually respond in the nicest possible way saying “keep your money. One ad usually does not work.” Though I love people to advertise my experience tells me that if the client’s expectations are not managed they will run one ad and then never be back if their expectations are not met.

It’s important to think about all the things which impact the success of an ad:

         The design of the ad

         The headline

         The copy

         The call to action (or lack of)

         The artist featured in the ad

         The painting featured in the ad

         The audience reading the ad

         The audience’s awareness of your gallery

         The audience’s trust of your gallery

         The timing of the ad

Any single element can impact whether or not someone responds to an ad.

Over many years I have had instances where one advertiser in an issue will tell me she had overwhelming success with an ad while another advertiser will tell me they had zero success. How can this be? It boils down to all the elements working in unison. You’ve seen it happen in other ways… one gallery on your street will have a great month or great traffic while another does not.

When “testing” an advertiser needs to understand how they measure success.

Is it number of phone calls? How many? Number of paintings sold? How many and at what price? Is it increased web site traffic? How much? Emails? How many?

“I’ll know if it’s working” is a typical response; however having a predetermined and reasonable expectation is an important starting point.

I believe it’s important to understand that tests also need to be equal. If you run an ad to test it in a new publication which has an audience which is unaware of your brand and you run another ad in a publication where the audience has an established trust of your brand you should see better result from the publication familiar with your brand. Yet if new audiences are important to your strategy of growing your business its important to invest in building trust with the new audience. (Building a brand is critical. People unfamiliar with your brand are less likely to do business with you until they are comfortable. Trust starts with repetition…being seen frequently.)

I once ran an ad in a magazine at great expense with a large audience. I received no evidence that I received any result. My instinct was to cancel, tell them it did not work and mark them off my list. However as I started thinking about it… I received no result because I was the new advertiser and they had no awareness of my brand. (Or maybe my ad was ineffective). My best strategy is to continue to advertise, build my brand and then after a couple of years if it does not work then perhaps I’ll reconsider.

Long term strategy building is difficult to do when running a business and wanting instant results. For some it’s not possible. For others it’s imperative to build new relationships, which take time. In any case it’s mission critical if you want to be known and trusted by an audience who does not know and trust you presently. (We all get close to our products and like to think everyone knows who we are.)

Think about a sales person who shows up to sell you something. They keep calling. You barely know their name. If they keep showing up, you keep seeing them at events and you eventually get to know their name, maybe you get acquainted with them… only then are you comfortable to start giving them your business. Advertising often works about the same way. It’s about showing up, being present at every possible opportunity.

In 1898 E. St.Elmo Lewis wrote of an advertising strategy, which he called AIDA. (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). The Journal of Marketing states that though this basic tenant of advertising seems to be important there are deeper psychological reasons such as memory, attitude toward brand, cognition, feelings which important to making a sale. However let’s touch on his AIDA strategy:

To create attention a consumer must see your message. Lewis believed the message needed to be seen 3.5 times before a consumer would react. That was 1898 when a fraction of advertising messaging was taking place. Today consumers are bombarded with advertising messages. In his book Cash Copy Dr. Jeffery Lant believes it requires 7.5 impressions before a consumer will respond to an advertisement. This does not mean you need to run 7.5 ads, it means the person reading must see that many ads. If you run 7 ads and they see five of them you have missed the target. This is why the world’s most successful companies advertise constantly. Its about reach, frequency and reinforcement to keep people coming back. Reaching your 7.5 response number may require ten or twenty ads before they see it 7.5 times or in the case of a magazine with long shelf life, which they may return to several times, it might be accomplished with fewer ad impressions. Since shelf life viewing cannot be easily measured advertisers typically focus on multiple impressions, sometimes in a single issue and usually by having a presence in multiple issues and multiple magazines (or media). It’s the combination of impressions, which are important. For instance if you are building a gallery brand to build trust it may be about impressions of your brand at art fairs, magazine ads, newspaper articles, show openings, etc. Just like the aforementioned salesperson, it’s about showing up and being seen until trust is established.

Of course frequency allows a consumer to see your ad, yet being there is not enough. Your ad needs to be noticed. This is where headlines, copy, ad design, images and graphics come into play. If your ad is not noticed, does not send a message the reader will respond to, does not build trust or send a message of quality (if quality is important to the reader) it will not get attention.

Interest is about the customer being interested. What does your ad say that makes me interested? This boils down to the copy. Once you get them to notice the ad and if you are fortunate to get the person to read it, the copy must create interest. It must also create desire.

What do you desire? When Lexus and Infinity were simultaneously launched no one knew the brands and though both were striving to capture the high end market, Lexus won the battle. People did not instantly desire the Lexus brand. Lexus out advertised Infinity one hundred to one. It also beat the drum of a single message… the utmost in luxury and quality. Word of mouth spread as people learned the brand lived up to its message. Time combined with word of mouth and frequent advertising built trust in the brand.

Action is the final point of Dr. Lewis theory. Consumers must take action. Your desire is to have them pick up the phone to buy a painting, email you, visit your web site or walk into your gallery. If your advertising does not make this easy, make the customer comfortable it is less likely to take place.

Advertising is a complex game of science, creativity and gut feel. I’ve spent a lifetime in the advertising world and cannot ever be sure anything I recommend will work. Sometimes it works well and sometimes not. The odds are with you if you dominate an audience with frequent messages, multiple ads, and prominent positions and if you have advertising which stands out above other advertisers. But even then, there are no guarantees. All the more reason a simple “test” is typically destined to failure.