How to Fail at Advertising

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I’ve had some nice feedback from the last post on this theme, How to fail in three easy steps. Its a nice format, a short and hopefully punchy few paragraphs of advice, and its inspired me to write maybe a couple of others on this theme.

It amazes me how many businesses get even pretty simple ideas so wrong. Size isn’t everything in this area, as Ive seen everyone from Global brands to local shops make the same basic errors.

There is of course a lot to think about when it comes to advertising, from the channels you need to use to the creative treatment. And maybe we’ll get onto some of that in the future, but for now, here are three things you absolutely need to get right, or risk failure…

1. Fail to target

Your advertising should speak to one person. OK, one market if you must go for scale, but under no account should you aim to talk to more than one segment per campaign. I have lost count of the times Ive heard the client (or agency) answer ‘Everyone’ or even worse, ‘Adults 15 plus’ in radio language, in answer to the question, ‘who are you talking to?’

Recipe for disaster. How hard is it to talk to two of three people at a party? Or how confused do you get when your boss is asking you for something, and wants it right now, while you’re talking to a client on the phone?

Your advertising is the same confusing mess of noise if it tries to capture too many targets at once. If you are aiming at men, aim at men. Don’t aim at men, and women who buy for men. Geddit? Good..

2. Fail to ask for action 

‘I didn’t get a response’ says the client.

‘What did you ask people to do?’ says I.

‘What do you mean?’ responds the client…

Always ask the receiver of the advertising message to ‘do’ something. Call, or visit your website or buy now, and pay later – whatever, make sure there is a call to action.

The only time you can get away with less explicit requests is when you are brand advertising, or awareness advertising. The idea here is to make sure people are aware of your offering, or understand your specific position in the market. But even then you can think in terms of asking people to be aware of you, or asking them to think of you in a certain way.

3. Fail to provide a compelling reason to respond

I’m not sure which of these three points are the biggest sin. But for sure, I see this one A LOT! And as the great copywriter Mike Bersin once told me (Once!? Who am I kidding!) lots of small reasons don’t make one big one.

Why should people respond to your campaign if you don’t give them a good reason to? Why should they rush to your websites, or over to your shop, or pick up the phone to talk to you unless there is an absolutely compelling reason for them to do it?

And if you don’t think you have one you’re not alone. Many of the people I’ve worked with have struggled to come up with one big reason, luckily there is a lesson to be learned from big brands.

Big brands know they need to ‘own’ certain attributes in their customers minds eye. What brands fit these attributes?







And so on.

If you’re not cheaper, or faster or more reliable, or more trustworthy or whatever, or its difficult to demonstrate that you are any of those things, then its time to think of ways to inhabit one of those attributes and communicate that attribute to your customers.

But make it one really important attribute to one customer, and tell them why its important!

What do you guys think? Anything I’ve missed? Or anything you would have put in place of numbers 1,2 or 3? As ever, please leave a comment below.