Take newspapers, for example. Placing one ad involved many decisions:
1.Choosing the local paper (or papers) with the greatest circulation and editorial interests for your best prospects.
2.Picking the best days to run the ad, and deciding how often to run it.
3.Selecting the proper part of the paper for the ad: run-of-press, regular or special section, right- or left-hand page and where on the page (top, bottom, near editorial or with other related products).
4.The size of ad.
5.Black and white or color.
6.Cost of ad, with discounts for frequency.
Those were the basic decisions. Others might arise during planning. That would depend on media used.
MEDIA EXPENDITURES UP
Fred Allen, a noted comic writer of pre-World War II days, once noted that "advertising is 85 percent confusion and 15 percent commission." Most retailers of today would agree with his comment, only they might argue that the commission was too high, same as did earlier retailers. Me, too.
Much about media selection has always been difficult for retail advertisers both large and small with any kind of outlet. So has what to say in ads placed in those media. But have those problems stopped retailers from investing in ads and commercials?
At times in the past, yes—especially during economic tough times, as now. Ad spending declined with the economy, but not much this time it seems. In fact, hardly at all! Final figures for last year show ad expenditures were the highest ever. Companies worldwide spent many billions of dollars, euros, yen and other moneys to reach and communicate with old and new prospects. (However, ad spending is down by 10 percent for the first six months of this year.)
Inflation in media costs affected the totals. So did unusual commercial purchases by new Internet companies. Odd-named dot.coms, startup companies, invested heavily in traditional print and television to build awareness for their new brand names and electronic services.
ELEPHANT AD FLOPPED
One new dot.com company spent its entire advertising budget (almost its entire capitalization) on one 30-second commercial during Super Bowl 2000. The 50 million-plus viewers were amused by the humorous spot starring an elephant. However, they weren't sold enough to buy the company's services. Along with many other dot.coms, it went bankrupt during the recent dot.com meltdown. Spending big bucks on humorous TV spots to build brand recognition doesn't always work. It's just another piece in the media selection puzzle.
Still major business firms continue with large marketing outlays. Many retailers, including major discounters, department stores and women's apparel outlets, actually increased their media budgets this year. They've found in past economic downturns that it may not be wise to cut ad budgets routinely. They risk losing long-range market share, along with brand name awareness and a high fashion image that cost millions to achieve.
MORE MEDIA, MORE CONFUSION
Choosing the traditional media to reach good prospects was never easy. Think how much more difficult the task has become today with the continuing technological revolution in ways to communicate. We now routinely use marvels such as the Internet, cable TV, specialty magazines (both consumer and trade) VCRs, new digital products and other amazing electronics.
More and different media has created smaller fragmented audiences. Technology in printing and broadcast media has made it possible to cater to these special interest groups with new media or an updating of all types of traditional methods. Many prospects who make up these select groups seldom use older mass media. They watch a favorite cable channel instead of the old network channels. Maybe they prefer a special magazine, cruising the Internet or whatever. They have many choices.
The problem then for advertisers is how to target their messages to special, smaller audiences. That's always been the problem, of course. But selecting the right medium has become more of a challenge. It's easy to become totally bewildered trying to guess what method and message will reach and sell your best prospects.
That's why we are inundated by more than 3,000 ads and commercials each day. (That's a minimum estimate, too.) Ads, logos, symbols, commercials, messages and signs of all sorts are everywhere: on bodies, beaches, banners, bottles—on everything printed, on every exposed space, even in the very air.
You can't escape ads and commercials. People become turned off, but still the madness continues. Why? Because a substantial portion of it brings satisfactory responses in sales or awareness.
We have created a mad, mad world of marketing out there, worldwide. Polls say all the ads and commercials lead to negative responses. However, the actual ratings say people continue to watch and listen. Much of it may be garbage, as critics note, and lots of messages are wasted. All the repetition over and over drives us crazy. But, still enough of the offers and benefits penetrate our consciousness to influence a purchasing decision now or later when we recall a known brand name or benefit.
NEW MEDIA, NEW PROBLEMS
Traditional choices of media to carry our messages to consumers could be confusing. Selecting advertising to run in the new and changed media seems to cause almost a complete quandary. That is especially true with using the Internet. Advertisers are still trying to get a handle on how best to use this elusive communication medium and its huge, growing and selective audience.
They try banner ads, boxes, splits, pop-ups, pop-unders, e-mail, chat rooms, electronic newsletters, search engines and other unique methods to convey ad messages. They must select and use such concepts cautiously, however; it's easy to overdo aggressive marketing and risk alienating target groups.
CHANGES REACH WINDOW COVERINGS
How are window coverings and home fashions retailers coping with media confusion? It's hard to say. Most of them are still trying to absorb the impact of industry mergers, the Internet, economic anxieties and reluctant prospects.
Some couldn't cope. They gave up on the struggle to survive against low-price merchandising and the marketing disruptions caused by various mergers.
A goodly percentage, about 25 percent, of retailers (especially decorating studios and workrooms) relies as always on word-of-mouth advertising. They supplement their reliance on good service and decorating know-how with telephone calls to prospects and follow up calls to good customers. They use aggressive community relations to help spread their store names and images.
Many established and modestly successful window coverings retailers continue to advertise and promote in familiar media. They run a small 1/8-page ad in their local newspapers and telephone directories; use radio spots to promote occasional sales; and invest, at times, in direct mail materials such as personal letters to past customers, post cards, flyers and folders from suppliers. Some run low-cost spots at random times on local community television stations and various cable networks with regional spot coverage.
According to a recent article in this publication by Internet expert Reid Goldsborough, about 27 percent of small businesses have their own Web sites. This same percentage probably would be found among window coverings retailers. As he noted, the percentage grows as more dealers become familiar with Web site technology and decide to make the investment needed, either on their own or with an independent site developer.
Many window coverings retailers are participating in the online listings and information sources offered by this magazine. They are:
• Monthly Website Directory
The Web is here to stay in our business and culture. Eventually all retailers will adapt to its use and media potential. It will be confusing, just as making and using other media selections have been since printing was invented.
Note: Each month, D&WC reports on a retailing firm that has achieved some measure of success in our industry. I find these articles to be very interesting and helpful. I know you will, too.
Next time: How to tailor your ad messages to reach the smaller target audiences in both the traditional and new-tech media.
Window Treatment Advertising is a regular feature in Draperies & Window Coverings examining many ways in which retailers can make the best use of their time, efforts and resources to create effective marketing and promotional campaigns. Past articles dating back to 1996 can be found on D&WC's online archive categorized by author and subject: www.dwcdesignet.com/DWC/ArticleIndex.html
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.