by John Pellegrini

You never know where you're going to find educational information in this business, but when you do, it's worth sharing. This article was the result of my reading an article in a West Michigan business publication about advertising. The article was titled, ominously enough, "Why Advertising Doesn't Work Any More." With a title like that, I knew I had to read it. And surprisingly, it was a great article.

Although it was written for companies who use primarily print advertising, its message is universal to all advertising, especially radio. The message is a warning to all companies who think that because they now have computers with desk top publishing, they can eliminate the cost of ad agencies by simply hiring a secretary or a kid out of ad school to write and create all their print advertising. That's way too dangerous a move, because those people seldom know how to communicate to the audience the company may be trying to reach.

The article went on to say that this is nothing new, that many companies and marketers have long confused art work and graphics gimmickry for advertising. Advertising, which has always tried to claim legitimacy as a true profession, is no such thing. Anyone with an ounce of audacity can promote themselves as an "Advertising Professional." But most are nothing but under-experienced pretenders with a new computer and laser printer. Simple graphics excitement is no substitute for an expertly guided marketing strategy. And the number of businesses that go out of business every year (current statistics show that eighty-two percent of all new businesses fail within their first three years) proves that market strategies are sorely lacking in today's advertising.

My fellow radio guys, take those previous paragraphs and staple them to your sales people's foreheads! What we have here is, finally, proof of what we, the tried and true experienced people of radio advertising, have known for years. Only those who live and breathe in the trenches every day, such as ourselves, can see through the fog of hype. If I had a dime for every first year advertising student who thought they could do a better job for the client than the radio station's Production Director and ended up costing the client money in lost sales, I'd own Texas! Amateur Ad Makers have no access to the amount of production we produce or see in any given year, and they certainly do not see the same things that go wrong in each of the failures every day, month after month, year after year, as we do.

One of my biggest complaints about copy that I've been receiving from these Amateur Ad Makers is the amazingly poor grammar, especially the nearly complete lack of verbs in most copy. Did they stop teaching the proper use of verbs in English classes? Since most of these Amateur Ad Makers tend to write in headlines, why do they eliminate the one prerequisite of all headline writing: The verb? Good headlines must convey a benefit or reason to buy the product. Which is the more appealing line to you: NEW DISCOUNT POLICY or COMPANY CUTS PRICES? How about this example: NEW ERGONOMIC CHAIR versus NEW CHAIR REDUCES STRAIN? Verbs make the copy important and convey a true interest. Too many inexperienced advertising reps simply put down what the client thinks is important, rather than what is important to the customer or, in our case, how the listener hears the spot.

Trained and experienced copywriters use the "Inverted Pyramid" method of handling facts and information. Get the important facts up front and fill in with the trivia as you need to. No listener is interested whether the client's store has been in business since 1492, or the Dark Ages, or before the dawn of civilization. The only thing the listener wants to know is: What are you gonna do for me NOW!?!

Something else that needs to be stapled into the foreheads of all store owners worldwide and advertising reps: Retailing studies have shown that ninety-five percent of all purchases are made on EMOTION, not price. Think of yourself as the perfect example; you know you really want that top of the line CD player. The fact that it's priced twenty dollars lower this week really makes no difference, you'll buy it when you can afford it and no sale is going to convince you otherwise. Loads of prices in a commercial don't cause excitement, they cause confusion. Radio listeners are typically driving their cars in heavy traffic and are barely paying attention to what they're hearing. They'll completely turn off anything that's annoying.

Therefore, think about how you sound when you say something, and does it have real value to the listener. Is "TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE" of value? Or does it sound better if you say "BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE"? The latter is certainly easier to understand and shows a real value.

Of course, not all advertising is used to boost sales. Not all client services have an immediate consumption. Other clients advertise to keep a rapport with the listeners for their services which have a finite usage, clients such as lawyers, loan services, real estate, etc.. These clients also seldom use Amateur Ad Makers because they understand the need for correct imaging of their business so that people remember them over periods of time when their services aren't needed. The problem is usually in retail sales, especially where the client lives by the "bottom line." This is a dangerous way to run a business because there is no long-range planning or strategy for business. It's only "We've got to do better than yesterday, last week, last month, last quarter, last year..." and on and on. No long-term marketing strategy. Usually those are also the clients with the lowest repeat customers and the lowest customer satisfaction results. They are almost always the ones who complain that "Advertising doesn't work!"

The one and only way that radio will continue to thrive beyond just surviving is to adapt long-range marketing planning of our own. We've got to take the ball in hand and educate the clients to correct advertising strategies. Not all of the clients will believe or go along, and the nice part is, we'll be able to point to their eventual failures as examples of what we're trying to prove. Customer service is what makes or breaks most retailing operations. Customer service is also our key to competing against Amateur Ad Makers. We have the knowledge and experience that they don't and may never have. We can develop the long-range strategies because we've seen what works and what doesn't work. The average Production Director handles more commercials per day than the average full size agency handles in one month and the average Amateur Ad Maker handles in a year. This is the message we must deliver: Don't Confuse Cheap With Efficient!

The primary goal of advertising is to reduce the cost of selling. The reason a lot of advertising doesn't work is that it is being done by people with absolutely no knowledge of how advertising works. If the client's commercial doesn't make the right impression, tell a believable story, convey important user benefits, build top of mind awareness, establish preference in the mind of the consumer, ask for the order when appropriate and keep existing customers happy with their previous choices, and do it all in sixty seconds or less, then you've got problems. Someone who just graduated from advertising school and has a new computer with a laser printer and a copy of David Oglivy's biography is not the answer. You get what you pay for.