Happy day if it's your ad. Your advertising investment finally has paid off. Now, all you need to do is maintain inventory, run the good ad once a week and count profits. It can happen, more often than you might imagine.
Each ad can be a potential winner according to the ad-success pitches you hear from media reps, ad agencies and business realtors. Every month you can read true and helpful retailer success stories in this magazine. They made ad winners sound easy. However, as you soon discover, the road to the world of wonderful ads and great sales success may be longer and filled with numerous potholes.
Your effective ad probably worked because it had the right elements—eye-stopping illustration, a tempting headline, a special low-price offer, with simple and easy-to-read copy in a well-designed layout. Also, the media or mailer was obviously targeted to a specific and receptive audience.
Advertising pros talk much about the parts needed to produce an effective ad. I've written many articles about ad elements. Put these basics together skillfully with some imagination and you will have a good usable ad. Then, add tempting prices, insert the mix in the proper media to reach your target audience and I can almost guarantee you'll have a winner.
Notice I said almost. Sadly, other variables can affect your final results. The size, shape, day, page position—even the weather—can be factors that impact results. Plus other unknown variables that pop up. Still, use the basics and you can have good ads that should bring you satisfaction. At least for one insertion, for a day.
But, no matter how good the ad is, you can't expect satisfactory results if you don't repeat it at intervals. Continuity, or message repetition, is another vital advertising element that I've mentioned at times, but haven't stressed. When you schedule and repeat
advertising messages over a set period of time you have an ad campaign.
Regardless of size or kind of outlet, conducting an ongoing ad campaign is difficult for most retailers. Naturally, cost is the primary reason. Rerunning ads can be expensive, no question about that. But so are all the other costs of operating a retail store or studio.
Marketing is a necessary and legitimate part of any business. Every retail merchant understands that fact. They also know that customer communications, in one form of advertising or another, is a basic and costly part of marketing.
Most retailers have some kind of an operating budget, actual or implied. They set aside money for their regular business expenses including normal selling costs. But then they often neglect to save the money they may need for any display-type ads, let alone for a series of ads or an actual campaign. They have basic concerns in addition to cost.
SOME QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Here are some of the most-asked questions that retailers ask about ads and media:
1. Why do ads cost so much to produce and run?
2. Why will an ad work well one time, then bring zilch when it runs again?
3. How many times do I have to run a lousy ad?
4. I spend a fortune on one ad and then it flops. Why?
1. Why ask? Why do you charge so much for a curtain rod?
2. Good question. Wish I had a good answer.
3. If I knew the exact answer to this one, I wouldn't be working to write this article. If you watch much TV, most commercials seem to be run again and again and again. Forever.
4. Another good question. That same ad may be a winner next time you run it. Or, it may never be worth what you paid for it. You won't know until you repeat it enough to guarantee that it's a real loser. Then you repeat another, better ad until it works satisfactorily most of the time. The process is called research. It needs a separate account and amount in your ad budget.
The definitive answers to the above questions involve more than cost or production difficulties. They go back to the basic questions about the value of any advertising. The old cliché, “I know that half of my ad expenditures are wasted, but I don't know which half,” is still valid today.
Many small business retailers, especially in our home decorating area of workrooms, studios and specialists, decide that paid advertising is not worth the cost and effort. So, they rely primarily on word-of-mouth referrals and personal contacts, which may work fine to a degree for many who accept a more limited sales volume.
Other retailers prefer to seek added growth and sales. They determine that advertising is a necessary marketing expense well worth the effort. They experiment constantly with the creative elements needed to produce effective ads. They also realize that advertising is an ongoing process that needs nourishment. So, they set aside budgets and prepare schedules to maintain advertising continuity.
The problem with much advertising isn't that it's poorly planned or carried out, but that it's expected to work wonders. If it doesn't produce as hoped, it seldom gets a second chance.
The unhappy retailer then complains, “I tried ads, they just don't seem to work for my kind of outlet. It's a waste of my hard-earned cash.” (If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that comment, I would be playing much more golf.)
Another reason, just the opposite, is ad boredom. A satisfactory ad or commercial is repeated a few times. It continues to get some results, but the advertiser decides that the ad is boring. An employee or friend has asked, “Aren't you ever going to run a new ad? I'm tired of seeing that same old ad.” So out goes the old ad, even though it may be working effectively.
Possibly, everyone has been bored with the old ad or commercial except those all-important customers and prospects. Research reports repeatedly verify that regular customers take much longer to become weary of an ad than retailers might imagine. New and good prospects may just be seeing it for the first time. Markets and audiences do change from time to time, you know.
REPETITION AND REWARDS
The right ad or commercial repeated frequently can help your sales volume grow. Like sales calls, ads need time to gain recognition and acceptance. Repetition leads to other benefits, too. Here are some:
• Your message has a chance to take effect.
Response to an ad may be slower than you might imagine or hope. As noted above, many good ads are abandoned before they make any impact in the mind of potential prospects. No one really knows exactly how long this process may take; how many times an ad or commercial must be seen or heard to be absorbed by the mind.
Few advertisers have a “formula” for the length of time a message should run. Arguments vary from, “A reasonable number of times,” to, “Until I can't stand to see or hear the thing ever again.” Mostly, they go by sales volume figures. If results remain dismal after several insertions, they change to a different ad.
• One ad builds on another.
Some retailers alternate different ads to bring variety and interest to their campaigns. They change the creative approach of new ads, but they don't drastically alter its overall feeling. They prefer a “family” look in their ads. They want readers to recognize their image at a glance, same as their store logo. Readers may not read the ad, but they will recognize the known store name and associate with it.
Eventually, as recognition grows, readers will check the headlines and benefit offer. That's the way the reasoning goes. And that concept has worked for years to build store image for retailers and brand name recognition for manufacturers.
However, in recent decades, this old tried and true theory has been bashed badly as retailers and manufacturers merge to form huge conglomerates. In the process, famous and well-known brands are often downplayed, even lost forever. Still, the theory continues to work. The larger company then runs untold numbers of ads and commercials to build different images and brand awareness for its new name.
• Campaigns build consumer confidence.
A purchasing decision, regardless of cost, can take time. Even a quick impulse purchase may involve mental association from an old campaign. A customer sees the package when shopping and decides to buy because of an acquired need for the product created by past ads.
A major cost purchase may follow the same thought pattern. A final decision may be sparked by an old, boring ad whose repeated message has been stored deep in our mind. Who knows precisely, but that's the learned opinion of varied “shrinks” and ad professionals.
• Campaigns can conserve your budget.
Creating new ads and campaigns costs money. Much mental effort and many dollars can be wasted in the planning and production of a new ad or commercial that may not be needed. Look around. Some retailers, maybe your competitors, run their same image ad for years.
They then use prep costs saved to run their same old ad in more media reaching more markets. They invest in related other merchandising aids, such as point-of-purchase signs and displays, direct mail, Web sites and related sales aids.
They prepare new ads only for:
• Special sales and store promotions.
• Meeting competitive promotions when absolutely necessary.
• When the old ad becomes a certain loser based on sales or other marketing criteria.
• When you definitely can't stand to repeat the old, somewhat effective ad ever again.
PLAN LONG TERM
Plan your advertising carefully as a basic and vital part of your marketing operation. Create your store image and desired identity strategies for long-range flexibility. Stay with a basic theme and format. Make changes in price and headlines only when necessary. Think in terms of ad campaigns. They can work for your present and future.
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.