The Most Common Mistakes in Advertising: No 1

1. The Desire for Instant Gratification

One of the most common mistakes in advertising.

Most advertisers like to believe that advertising is like a bubble-gum machine. You put your money in, turn the handle, and out come the results.


The decision a person makes today is very rarely influenced by the ads she heard today, this week, or even this month. You can attract the transactional customer that way, but the longer you keep doing what works immediately, the less and less well it will work.

It’s a law of the universe. It’s true in agriculture, it’s true in physics, it’s true in chemistry, and it’s true in advertising.

Ask your Doctor how to feel good, and he’ll look you squarely in the eye and say, “Eat right and exercise.” Yet for every dollar spent in fitness centres, people spend nineteen dollars on cocaine. The reason? Two seconds after you snort cocaine you feel like Superman. Two weeks of diet and exercise just makes you sore and hungry.

The desire for instant gratification is harmless enough if the only thing it leads you to do is pay higher prices at a convenience store. But heaven help you if you demand instant gratification from your advertising! The businessperson looking for a financial quick fix will soon discover the cocaine of advertising, a four-letter magic chant:

Sale! Sale! Sale! 

Good advertising is painful at first because you don’t see immediate results. The impatient business owner will usually snort a little ad cocaine and then get defensive about it: “How can this be bad for me? I’ve never done better!” 

But just as the junkie never stops to consider how the drug is destroying his physical health, the business-owner never stops to consider how “Sale! Sale! Sale!” undermines his business health. The first dose of ad cocaine makes him feel great. So does the next, and the next, and the next – though it takes larger and larger doses to get the same effect. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to convince the addict he has a problem, even though he started with only “Twenty Percent Off” and has now progressed to “Half Price.”

Successful companies don’t spend their ad dollars training their customers to wait for a sale. 

Do you?

Price Promotions

Summary of a report from the Research & Development Initiative.

Does your organization spend a lot of resources on price promotions? The latest price promotion report discusses the effects of price promotions on a product's long-term sales and profit potential. 

In brief, price promotions:

1. Do not attract new customers 

2. Do not lead to extra subsequent sales 

3. Do not affect repeat buying loyalty 

4. Do not reach many customers. 

HOWEVER, price promotions do produce up and down sales blips at a great cost.

Professor Andrew Ehrenberg, Professor of Marketing at South Bank University, London created the R&D Initiative in 1997; prior to this Ehrenberg spent more than 20 years as Professor at London Business School.

This report was also published in 1994, Journal of Advertising Research, 34, July-August, pp. 11-21. “The After-effect of Price-related Consumer Promotions,” by Ehrenberg, A, Hammond, K and Goodhardt, G.J

Now I have warned you about the insidious nature of Ad Cocaine, here's how to make it. 

How to Create Ad Cocaine

Creating a short-term successful hype ad is simple. 

Here’s all you need:
1. Intrusiveness. You’ve got to get their attention.
2. Offer. Make it too good to pass up.
3. Logic. Add supporting evidence to make doubters believe.
4. Urgency. There’s got to be a time limit.
5. Frequency. Lots and lots of frequency

Leave out any of these ingredients, and you’re dead in the water.

The trouble is with Ad Cocaine the advertiser becomes instantly addicted. But the Law of the Universe says, “Anything that works quickly will work less and less well the longer you keep doing it. The magic always fades. Sadly, like all addicts, these advertisers resist taking the long-term view, and they continue to measure success on an extremely short time horizon.

Mitigating Cocaine’s Danger

Have you shouted “Sale!” so often that customers now ask your salespeople, “When will this go on sale?” Do you find it more and more difficult to sell products that aren’t on sale? Do you have a business cocaine habit you would like to kick, but worry about the financial withdrawal pains?

Do you remember the 3 types of customers?

You’d like to begin branding your name in the better customer’s long-term (chemical) memory instead of depending on a series of short-term (electrical memory) promotions targeted to the switchable for-reasons-of-price-alone customer. But you’re afraid to quit the short-term gimmicks because you’re worried that you won’t be able to survive the chickening-out period between seedtime and harvest, right? 
Another thing that worries you is how long it’s been since you met anyone willing to pay full price. Down deep, you worry that all customers are coupon-clipping, grave-robbing, bargain-hunting predators who will never agree to buy from you unless they’re convinced they’re getting “the deal of a lifetime.”

Bottom line: You have a history of attracting customers for reasons of price alone. So how can you now begin attracting better customers without losing the coupon-clipping grave robbers too soon?

Answer: Use a visual recall cue in a non-intrusive (silent) medium. Run a newspaper ad with a large picture of what’s “On Sale!” but with your company’s name buried in the fine print. The only people who will know it’s your company having a sale will be those looking for your product. 

The newspaper’s lack of intrusiveness, its principal weakness in long-term branding, now lets you advertise your Hurry! Hurry! Once in a Lifetime Sale “anonymously.”

Humans don’t see unless they’re looking. The only people to notice the visual recall cue, the photo of your product, will be those looking to buy your product. But humans hear and retain information even when they are not listening, so above all, DO NOT use TV, or radio ads to stimulate response to the newspaper ad. Unless, of course, you want to train everyone who is not now in the market to wait for your next sale.

During this newspaper-advertised “sale,” allow your broadcast ads to continue building long-term brand awareness in the minds of the not yet in the market majority.

The downsides of this technique:
1. You can’t get away with it forever if you keep it up, and soon you’ll be right back where you started.
2. Because you will be maintaining two separate ad campaigns, your advertising costs will be way out of line throughout the three to six month period of transition.
3. It isn’t painless and easy - it’s painful and hard - because sometimes the newspaper ads don’t pull.

But if you’re truly committed to taking your company in a new direction, you will survive this difficult transition period and emerge from it more profitable, with more consistent customer traffic patterns and more stability throughout your customer base.

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