Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When it comes to ads, the house always wins

Advertising is like gambling. The house always wins. By this I mean that the odds of scoring a big victory with your ads are not particularly good. Don’t get me wrong, ads do work. But times have changed. The world of advertising is more complicated now than it was just a few years ago. Finding success with advertising is harder. This is especially so for non-profits.

Want a bet your ad will be effective?
Look at the forces stacked against you. First, there’s the media, which have been fractured almost beyond all recognition by the Internet revolution. Readership, listenership and viewership at your local media outlets are all down. More people are getting their news, entertainment and lifestyle information elsewhere, chiefly through the Web. Some of the people in your own community don’t read, listen or watch any local media content at all. They get everything from media beaming in from elsewhere. New technology is complicating things. Now, anyone can be in the media business online, further crowding the marketplace. And new technology means that some media are being left behind. It wasn’t too long ago that a number of local TV stations in Ontario weren’t on satellite TV services, or were in a satellite channel packages most people didn’t buy. Satellite TV can have as much as 50% penetration in some Ontario cities. That meant that half the population weren’t getting their own local TV stations at home. When technology changes again, it will likely be going mobile and it will likely be leaving a number of media outlets behind in the process.

If that wasn’t enough there’s the issue of saturation. On average, you and I receive some 3,000 ad messages a day. That’s more than two every minute. Some are very big, like billboards. Some are very small, like the icon on the computer I’m working on right now. Your ad is just one in a sea of ads. And chances are, with all that competition, your humble non-profit ad will not be the one that will rise to the top. Big retailers spend millions to make their ads memorable. Let’s face it, most of the ads that come from non-profits are boring. How can they compete? A fallout from all this is that ads have a very transitory nature. We as consumers have been conditioned to digest ads quickly and move on to the next one. The staying power of any ad seems to be getting smaller.

Finally, there’s cost. Back in the days when mass media was king a single ad was so effective that it didn’t matter what it cost. A TV ad on the right 1960’s show would reach and motivate millions. Don’t believe me? Just ask a boomer to recite their favourite TV ad jingle or slogan from when they were kids. That was then. Today, mass media is dead. Reaching the same number of people is going to cost more because media outlets aren’t as powerful as they once were.

So, when you have to advertise, do some hard thinking. Placing ads is not a problem, it’s choosing where to put them that is the trick. Before you do a knee-jerk reaction and call the media outlet you read or listen to, ask what do your customers read and listen to. Making an ad is not a problem, either, it’s making one that will stand out in a crowd. Before you start creating your ads look at the others that it will likely be competing against – even those which are not in competing marketplaces. Ask yourself, if you were someone else, would you want to read your ads? If the answer is no, then go back to the drawing board. Spending money on ads is not a problem – it’s easy to spend lots of money. Ask yourself what am I buying and how effective will this really be? Odds are that you will have to use multiple ads with multiple media outlets to get noticed. In other words, to get the push you really want, it may be necessary to go big or go home. That’s an expensive proposition for any non-profit, but it’s better than spending money on a continuing basis for a few ads that no one will ever see.

Advertising is a powerful tool. And it can work wonders. The trick is to do your homework before you call the ad salesperson.

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