There are more articles written on how to “do” advertising than almost anything else in business. But sometimes, it pays to get back to basics.
After all, every Australian sees or hears about 1,000 ads a day. Radio ads. Billboards. Bus shelters. TV ads. Cinema ads. Ads on websites. Ads in emails.
Ads, ads, bloody ads. Everywhere.
But stop and think. How many of those ads do you actually remember from yesterday? Think hard. Even more relevant: how many of them motivated you to actually do something?
We suspect the answer is precious few.
Cue outraged opinion
Now when this “Did you notice or act on any ads?” challenge is put out into the ether, advertising “experts” rush to the barricades to argue that the subliminal effect of advertising means that even if it isn’t consciously noticed, it still moves our decision-making.
And yes, this is true.
We are influenced by all sorts of cultural stimuli, including advertising, in ways that we don’t always understand.
Long-running ad campaigns, for example, have been shown to influence buyer behaviour when they are faced with a choice between two products from different brands, both of which seem to be equally good, at the same price.
The buyer chooses the better-known brand, even though when asked why they can express no particular reason. This is sometimes called “owning share of mind”. And it works.
There are other influences. For example, the first brand in a new category will imprint itself in people’s minds as the original, the authentic, the real thing. Kleenex in tissues. Hertz in rent-a-cars. Heinz in tomato ketchup. Starbucks in coffee shops. First in, best dressed. (Until you do something wrong, or until someone else comes along and seizes the initiative.)
You can also sell one product by promoting the hell out of another, when you know that the heavily-promoted product is popular with consumers. In one famous case history, Apple spent a disproportionate amount of money spruiking the iPod and iTunes. Sales of computers, software and services – not to mention Apple’s share price – also all went up, with virtually no promotion. This is sometimes called the “Halo” effect.
In another example, research showed that bottle shop patrons bought more German wine when German music was playing in the store and more Italian wine when Italian music was playing in the store. When asked what led them to choose the wine they chose very few patrons mentioned the music, implying that despite the fact they could hear the music most of them were unaware it was influencing their behaviour.
Let’s cut to the chase
Would you rather someone was buying your product because they know it, are convinced of its quality, and actively prefer it? Or just because you have outspent your opposition? (Money you could have spent on other things the business needs.)
And are you content to rely on being the first in the market, or do you want to be recognised as always the best in the market?
Are you prepared to risk the Halo effect not working, or something coming along to disrupt it? What is your plan B?
And if you are a wine-maker, would you rather customers were visiting that bottle shop with a known, positive view of your brand, heading straight for your wine out of choice, regardless of whether they were listening to Lili Marlene or O Sole Mio?
Of course you would.
The key to answering all these challenges – and the reason it is the first rule of advertising – is Be Noticed. And you simply can’t be noticed with “me too” advertising. There’s just too much advertising. You and your products disappear in the dross.
Now: at this assertion, marketing managers everywhere will nod sagely and agree. Perish the thought that we would do same-y, uninspiring, non-standout advertising, they say. And ad agency heads rush to concur: their agency is all about breakthrough advertising. No boring crap served up here. Let’s do lunch.
And yet. And yet.
And yet – and yet – the vast majority of the advertising output we see every day IS same-y, uninteresting, safe, and unengaging. It’s an ever-growing oncoming wall of noise and images but it doesn’t gain our attention – we tune it out – it leaves us cold. It’s boring.
Isn’t it? Seriously?
Which is why we struggle to remember any of it.
As a test of this assertion, just take the logo off a dozen ads in any advertising category you choose to look at. Once the logos are off, can you really tell the ads apart? No? Neither can the public.
Now open any advertising manual from the 1960s or 1970s and turn the pages slowly. You will be stopped, time and again, by genuinely un-missable ads, full of strong propositions, humour, bite, and impact. That’s because when advertising was really on top of motivating mass audiences, the first rule was always understood to be “Be Noticed.” The medium is irrelevant. It’s as true of radio ads as it is of TV ads or print ads or online ads. Any ad.
If you’re not going to be noticed, you are going to have to spend a hell of a lot more to achieve your goals than if you are. Assuming you can achieve your goals at all, which is by no means certain.
So be noticed. It’s Rule One. Ignore it at your peril.