Why Getting Sick of Your Ads Will Hurt Your Business
“I’m sick of my ad. Can you come up with something new?” said an advertiser I was working with years ago at my radio station.
I had a choice. I could give him what he wanted and take his money, or I could tell him something he didn’t want to hear at the risk of losing his money. I decided to take the risk and provide an educational moment.
“Why are you sick of it?” I asked.
“All my friends at the country club have heard it, all my employees have heard it and are suggesting I change it. Even my kids are telling me I’m running it too much. Frankly, I’m a little tired of it.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?”
“Sure,” he said.
“When you see ads with a person wearing a little white moustache, what do the ads say?”
He replied, “Got Milk?”
What is it that Nike says on all their ads?
He replied, “Just Do It.”
What happens with an M&M?
He replied “It melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”
He replied “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”
The biggest mistake advertisers make is getting sick of their slogans, their ads, their campaigns. And believe me, they have to resist: Milk processors and dairy farmers used “Got Milk” for 21 years starting in 1993, Nike used “Just do it” for 26+ years starting in 1988, M&Ms has used the same slogan since 1954, and Alka Seltzer since 1971.
Ad agencies are notorious for destroying heritage campaigns for something fresh and new — and sales usually go down. Look how many ad campaigns and slogans McDonald’s has had — dozens. Yet the one we all still remember is “You deserve a break today.” That campaign ended in 1975.
It may take some time to get the right campaign created and tested, but your goal should be to find a slogan, a concept for your ad, that is strong enough that you can run the same concept forever.
Our friends-and-family test always fails us because they already know you, they already know your business; they already know everything they should know about you. But the person down the road doesn’t know you exist. Your job is to repeat your promise, your uniqueness, your special offer, to that person over and over again.
“But surely they’ve heard it by now. So why keep running it?”
I always get that question, and the answer is simple. In the 1980s it was believed the average person had to hear or see something at least seven times within a short period of time before they would take action on it. Today, due to all the clutter, experts believe it takes 13 times to get someone to act — it’s almost doubled.
We assume because we ran an ad that everyone saw it or heard it, but that’s simply not true. Let’s say that you’re running ads in my magazine Fine Art Connoisseur, which reaches lots of ultra-wealthy consumers. It comes out six times a year. Though people do receive it, what if they flip through it without seeing your ad? What if they are away on a business trip when it comes out and they miss an issue? No media on earth can guarantee that someone will see and absorb something.
There are three elements to the success of an ad. It has to reach the right audience (not necessarily the largest audience); it has to have creative that grabs your attention so that when someone is flipping through, taking less than a second per page, you jump out, grab their attention, and make them read it; and it has to be run with frequency.
Let’s say they flip through the magazine the first time you run it. They notice your ad, but they don’t stop to read it. The next time they flip through, they pause briefly and think, “I’ve seen this,” but then they keep going. Next time, maybe they pause and think, “Hmm, I should read this sometime.” And the next time, they pause and read it. When they see it again, they might think, “I should pay more attention to this.”
Repetition is nothing more than familiarity, like meeting a new person, seeing them time and again, and then, once you trust them, becoming friends. Then and only then does the friendship deepen enough that they enter your world more completely.
There are many other elements that ads need to contain, which I’ll touch on in the future, but the most important thing is to get people to notice and pay attention. Only then does and ad begin to do the selling.
Once that trust and awareness have been established, that’s not an indicator that someone is going to buy. Now they need a reason to buy. It could be an impulsive, “I really like that painting. I want to own it.” But if they get to that point before trust is built, they will probably tell themselves, “But I don’t really know anything about this artist, so I’ll pass.”
You see, interest in buying ebbs and flows. Timing is everything. If someone is in the middle of moving or downsizing, another painting is not what they want at the moment, but three weeks later, when they are in the new condo, buying new furniture, and thinking, “We need something new for over the couch,” they might pay closer attention next time they see your ad.
In my first Art Marketing Boot Camp video, where I describe the basics, I show an escalator with people going up and going down, to represent that people are always in and out of a market. If money is tight, or if something is going on in their lives, like illness or a family issue, they are not buying. If they come into money because college bills ended, they got a bonus at work, they inherited some money, got a raise, or sold a business, they may feel the desire to spend.
Big brand advertisers never stop advertising. They understand that people are always in and out of the market. I don’t want or need a new car today, but in a year my kids will get their license and will probably get my old car. Advertisers understand that there are always changing circumstances. Though they also repeat and repeat to gain top-of-mind awareness, they also know you must be there when the decision to spend is made.
I often tell the story of my friend Raul, who suddenly found himself with a lot of money. Because he loved Sargent, he decided to buy a Sargent painting. Though he was a reader of my magazine, he called and said, “Who carries Sargent? Where can I get one?”
Ironically, the company that sold Sargent had advertised a couple of times and then dropped out because they felt they were not getting any results. A year later, I got this call and I referred him to these people. He bought two Sargent paintings, spending millions. He was lucky he knew to call me. But what about the other 500 who wanted to do the same thing and never found the seller?
Of course, today the answer is “Google it,” but how do you know who is trusted? Reviews? Maybe, but this is where brand-building is important to focus on those most likely to buy (known art buyers) so they recognize your name when they do Google something.
Another friend, a major collector and an avid reader, told me he wanted to buy a Holbein painting. I suggested he go to a particular major fine art fair in Europe. “What’s that?” he said. We were in his office and he had a stack of art magazines, including mine. I flipped through them and found an ad. “Oh I’ve seen that but didn’t know what it was.”
This is a case where perhaps the advertiser assumed everyone already knew about the event. But it had not reached him, either because he did not see it enough times or the message did not cut through. Later, I researched it and found the fair had only advertised twice, about 30 days before the event. They assumed everyone already knew them, so they were not doing enough repetition to get their message across. In a case like this, an advertiser needs to use bold, attention-getting creative.
Usually an advertiser bails out before an ad is working because they assume everyone has seen or heard it, but in reality people are just starting to see it. Great campaigns take time to get attention and rarely work instantly, but once they start working, they work forever. People may have heard the message, but not been in the market. But after years of hearing it, when they are in the market, they buy.
That’s how advertising repetition works.
That advertiser I was telling you about earlier used just our one radio station, because that was all he could afford. But with repetition, he sold so much merchandise that he had to move to a bigger showroom. Then he out grew that one, so he opened a second store, then a third, and by the time I left town, he had built to six or eight stores and was the biggest furniture seller in town.
I’ve not stayed in touch, but chances are some ad agency somewhere talked him into changing his message and his ads — but hopefully did not destroy the business we built.
Whatever you do, do it with repetition. Don’t get overly concerned that people have seen it or heard it, because they go through many stages before they are aware enough to buy, and then they need to be in the market at the right time for them.
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