Do you make these common mistakes in advertising?

By Bruce Goldman
SCORE Counselor

Mistake #1: Expecting your advertising to do too much
Advertisers with budgets too limited for large space units or lots of airings of commercials often feel a compulsion to tell everything in the limited amount of space or air time they have, Any expectation that customers will pay attention to every word of it – even any word of it – is, to say the least, unrealistic. Just because a brand is telling all, that doesn't mean that its audience, bombarded by some 1,800 sales messages a day, is waiting out there, ready to hang on every word. Consumers have their own lives and their own wants and needs, and your encyclopedic sales pitch isn't one of them.

What's more, the clutter of words – whether in wall-to-wall small type, fast-paced announce track, or endless-scroll About Us on a website – severely reduces the chances of any prospect wanting to look at any of it.

Another unrealistic expectation is that your advertising will close the sale in and of itself. True, it can for catalog and infomercial sellers, but at much higher cost than a local Richmond advertiser can, or should, afford.

What effective advertising can do is build traffic. Anything after that – how that traffic converts to sales – is up to your follow-up, your sales process, your customer service, the atmospherics of your store and other non-advertising factors under your control.

Common advertising mistake #2: Expecting your advertising to do too little.
Ask most local advertisers what they expect their advertising to accomplish, and chances are they'll say, "Build awareness." But awareness isn't everything; the real question is, awareness of what?

You, along with every sentient adult with sight and hearing intact from Goochland to Petersburg, are probably aware of Joel Bieber, the king of obnoxious, irritating, ambulance-chasing advertising.

Now, how many of you would hire Joel Bieber as their attorney?

I rest my case.

Common advertising mistake #3: Letting media sales reps be your media planners.
A media planner is paid by an advertising agency to create the most cost-effective mix of buys from different media to help clients achieve their marketing objectives. This usually involves selecting different media mixes – each tailored to the demographics and, where possible, psychographics of a specific advertiser's audience, and all usually involving more than one specific medium.

A media rep is paid by a newspaper or cable system or radio or television station to sell that medium's perishable inventory of advertising space or time.

Do we see a possible conflict of interest here?

At best, a media rep, no matter how well intended, can't sell you the multi-media schedule you probably need.This will give your message much too narrow exposure. Even if you let reps from different media sell you time or space , your campaign will be hopelessly fragmented and uncoordinated.

At worst, media reps will be trying to push the space or air time nobody else wanted to buy. And if they don't let slip that radio or television air time pricing is negotiable, you could end up paying full rate-card rates for distress merchandise.

Common advertising mistake #4: Saving hundreds of dollars to waste hundreds of thousands.
It almost never fails. The one place that local advertisers – not just in Richmond, but in every market – look to pinch pennies is in production. Those are often the wrong pennies to pinch.

The tip of the iceberg

Production as a part of the total ad budget is like the tip of the iceberg.

To begin with, at five to ten percent of the total, it's usually the smallest part of the ad budget.

It's also the only part that's visible to consumers.

So aiming cost-cutting efforts at production exclusively can hurt in two ways. First, by diverting your scrutiny from the other 90 to 95 percent of the budget, where a little waste can cost more than all the production line

items combined. And second, the visible advertising you end up with as a result of being penny wise and pound foolish about production will negate the ten-to-twenty-times-larger investment in media.

Production quality = perceived brand quality

With the exceptions discussed below, cheap production results in cheap-looking ads and commercials. And cheap-looking ads and commercials send out the message that the product or service you're advertising is cheap and tacky.

If you're advertising, say, a dollar store, it's okay if consumers think you're cheap. But for anything not lurking at the bottom of the Risk Reduction scale, it can be disastrous.

Back in the days when smoking was still allowed on airliners, ground crews had instructions about scrupulously removing all cigarette butts and ashes from the seat ashtrays during all aircraft turnarounds, no matter how short. This was because consumer research had shown that when passengers board a plane and see butts in the ashtrays, next thing you know they're going to worry that a wing will fall off.

The high cost of "free" production

Media know of advertisers' aversion to paying legitimate production expenses, so from the Times Dispatch to Style Weekly, from all over the AM and FM radio dial, from over-the-air television stations to Comcast Cable, their reps offer either free or very cheap creative, design and production as sales incentives.

What you get isn't worth whatever you pay for it, for several reasons

First, the media are interested in selling their product, not yours. So once you've bought, their vested interest is in getting something into print or on the air with a bare minimum of time and effort on your behalf. So for content, they're going to ask you for a laundry list of sales points that they can string together as ad copy, with no time for thought to strategy, audience or competition.

With print, you'll have the same designer laying out your ad as the one who lays out all the others, and it'll look it; your ad will blend into the background without being noticed.

With station-produced radio, the emphasis is not on making your commercial stand out, but on making it fit into the station's overall sound. They'll use the same voices they use for everything else – with instructions to read it to time in as few takes as possible. If they use background music, it'll be like the music they play in their programs. The room tone will be the same, and so will the frequency equalization. So again, you blend into the background.

With cable-system-produced television, you'll pay $750 or so. A two-man crew with a handheld camera and a minimal light kit will roll up to your door, they'll spend an hour or so shooting B-roll, show-the-factory, footage, and maybe an hour or two editing it back at their studio. Thanks to advances in technology, you'll no longer end up with green or purplish skin tones, but you will end up with a commercial that looks and sounds like all the others they've done from the same template and therefore blends into the background.

And when your advertising blends into the background, you've thrown away 90 to 95 percent of your budget on media expopsure nobody notices. But hey, you saved 5% on production.

What's a low-budget advertiser to do?

The average national 30-second tv commercial costs about $350,000 to produce. No local advertiser in his or her right minds has that kind of money to spend on production. The way to do low-budget television that works is not to do big-budget commercials with all kinds of corners visibly cut.

Instead, you need a simple idea – usually one scene, minimal camera moves, minimal copy and one strong, simple message that uniquely fits your marketing strategy and your target audience's wants and needs – and can be stated cleanly and single-mindedly.

There are plenty of people who can do this, and do it well, for your business. They're called advertising professionals, not media sales reps.

Here are two television commercials which were done that way – one for a thrift store and one for a florist. Each cost about one-and-a-half times the price of a Comcast special. The florist spot ran a total of 12 times over two days one one channel and brought in 185 percent of the previous year's Valentine's Day sales.

Now that's the way to save advertising money.

Common advertising mistake #5: Spreading yourself too thin
When advertisers have small budgets that must go a long way over time, they tend to spread out the buy evenly. All too often, evenly means thinly.

Advertising too thinly is like walking around with a combover hairstyle; more scalp than hair shows through.

Combover media can be damaging in print or online, fatal in broadcast, and extremely wasteful in all media. But there are ways to get far more effectiveness for the same number of dollars – or possibly fewer of them.

The threshold effect…
People won't respond to your advertising if they don't notice it. And without a certain minimum presence, they won't notice it among the 1800 sales messages they're bombarded with each day.

One-shots generally don't get above people's threshold of attention.

(The famous Apple "1984" television commercial, which people still remember 26 years after it ran only once on the Super Bowl, is an exception. So if you've got $3 mlllion or so for 30 seconds of Super Bowl air time, plus another million or two for production and hiring Ridley Scott to direct, go for it.)

The first time someone's exposed to an ad or commercial, the reaction is that something in the background has changed. On second exposure, they might check to see what that something is. If you're lucky and you've done your ad right, on the third exposure, they'll start paying serious attention to it.

How high the threshold of attention is varies by medium.

In Innsbrook Today or the Henrico Citizen, readers who notice your ad can go back and re-read it (though, on the average, at most only 4.6% of the audience will). Same (though to a smaller extent for a medium where exposure is measured in seconds rather than minutes) for online ads.

With broadcast, that threshold's much higher. Radio, and to an increasing extent television, are the media you turn on while you're doing something else – eating, falling asleep, driving, getting dressed, working, etc. The chances of getting anyone's attention for anything plummet when that attention's divided.

Persistence of memory
The good news is, once your message gets people's attention, they remember it for several days.

There are two ways to capture people's attention. One is through strong strategic and creative execution. The other is through more media weight and frequency. You may or may not be able to control for the first, but you can certainly control the second, once you know how.

Particularly in broadcast, you need to apply the right metric to what you're buying. Regardless of what the sales rep from WRVA or Lite 98 may tell you, that metric is not the number of spots you're buying. Audience numbers vary with daypart. So can audience demographics.

The measurement that media professionals use is Gross Rating Points (GRPs). This is an index. 100 GRPs means that over the time period being measured, everyone in the station's audience is exposed to your commercial an average of once. Of course, we know that if you have your head in the freezer and your feet in the oven, you're at a comfortable average temperature, and GRPs work the same way. A buy of 100 GRP means that some people in the audience will see or hear your commercial once, some twice, and some not at all.

So what you want to ask your friendly station sales rep is how many GRPs are in that wonderful buy. You want to end up with at least 125-150, and there are ways to do this without buying more air time.

The more spread out your media schedule, the fewer GRPs it delivers. And that's the key to getting more GRP weight for the same dollars.

Let's say your buy is 30 radio or television spots over one business week. Spread them out evenly Monday to Friday, and that's six exposures per day. Concentrate them into three consecutive days, and that's nearly double the weight per day (10 spots instead of six) – which means at least double the impact and getting over the attention threshold) – and no extra cost.

You can achieve similar concentration in print media.Instead of buying a full magazine page, buy two sqaure third-page units facing each other on consecutive pages. Or buy three square thirds in consecutive lower right-hand corners. In newspaper, you can break up your bigger space units into smaller ones and run several insertions in the same issue. This may actually save you money, because each smaller ad counts as a separate insertion and may qualify you sooner for frequency discounts.

Remember reading about persistence of memory? You can make that work for you too, by concentrating your advertising buy into the first days of the week. Run Monday through Wednesday, and consumers will remember your message through Friday or Saturday.

If you can't afford to advertise effectively, don't advertise
Running a media schedule that's too thin and spread out is worse for your business than running no advertising at all.

Either way, you're invisible to consumers. But when you don't run ads, you don't spend hard-earned money for the dubious privilege of being invisible.

Common advertising mistake #6: paying retail.
All media publish rate cards. But those rate cards are more like MSRP stickers on a new car's window than like prices in a supermarket.

Radio and television (including cable) rates have always been negotiable. This is because there's only so much commercial time per hour a station or channel can sell, and when the hour is gone, it's gone forever. Air time is not like space in a newspaper or magazine, both of which can always add or subtract pages to match advertising demand.

When buying broadcast time, it always makes sense to haggle. You could get lower rates per spot, or maybe bonus spots thrown in at no extra cost, for the same total media budget.

You can also take advantage of seasonal rate changes. Fourth quarter advertising is highly in demand. In addition to Christmas retail advertising, there are elections. (Virginia's scheduling of state elections in odd-numbered years raises the cost of almost any year's fourth-quarter advertising.) For first quarter, when advertising demand is at its lowest, rates drop accordingly.

Keeping in mind the highly perishable nature of air time. one bargaining tactic that many media-buying professionals use is to order and negotiate for air time as close to actual broadcast date as possible, when, for the broadcasters, it's sell it or lose it.

Now print media are negotiable, too
Print media have traditionally stuck with their rate-card rates. But the combination of declining readership (and, with it, advertising) in an Internet age and serious recession have given newspaper and magazine sales departments a new sense of flexibility. Even the Richmond Times Dispatch is now willing to negotiate rates.

Not every medium will be amenable to bargaining, and those that will may not be willing all the time. But it never hurts – and it often helps – to ask.

Common advertising mistake #7: Basing too many decisions on price alone.
There are times when saving money makes sense and times where obsessive cost-cutting becomes a counterproductive false economy. It's important to know which is which.

For example, "saving" a few hundred dollars to end up with ads and/or commercials that are visibly cheap costs you money in the end. It makes your product or service look cheap and your brand look sleazy, tacky and unreliable. Not the kind of message you want to send out to prospective customers.

You get what you pay for
Another bad decision is going for that "bargain" air time a radio or television rep is offering you at super-cheap rates. There's a reason the station hasn't sold it yet. Maybe it's on a day or in a daypart when very few people are listening or watching. Maybe it's on a low-rated program. Maybe, despite the impressive number of airings, it's giving you inadequate audience weight. Or maybe it's a perfectly good buy for someone else, but one that just won't reach your specific target audience.

So before leaping at the great-looking deal, stop a minute, compare what's being offered with what you need, in terms of geography, demographics and psychographics. It may turn out that for you, that bargain air time is no bargain.

Common advertising mistake #8: Being everywhere.
Back before cable television, there was a media-buying tactic called roadblocking. This consisted of buying commercials at the same time on all three networks – this got you a 90% share of audience – and, if you wanted, on the independent channels as well, to get the remaining 10% of viewers watching them. As a result, your commercial would be everywhere at once, impossible for anyone watching television (as opposed to going to the refrigerator or the toilet) to miss.

That was then.

Today, there are literally hundreds of cable channels.

Even in smaller markets like Richmond, there are radio stations up and down the AM and FM dials.

There are websites and pay-per-click. There's social network and mobile marketing. And, yes, there are still the dying print media.

So today, roadblocking is impossible. The road's too wide, and it has too many lanes.But that doesn't stop advertisers from trying.

Sometimes it's because an advertiser feels it has to be everywhere. And sometimes it's because the advertiser just can't say no to all those great fire-sale media deals from all those persuasive sales reps.

Either way, the result's the same: Too many dollars spread around over too many media too thinly to get above anyone's threshold of attention. It's like losing bladder control while wearing a navy-blue suit: You feel warm and wet and nobody notices – and the dry-cleaning bill is very expensive.

But even if advertisers have the government-size budgets to roadblock, they should spend their money elsewhere, for one simple reason.

Your audience isn't everyone
In the late 1980s, Coca-Cola management scheduled a conference for the creative directors of all their advertising agencies around the world. One of the questions they asked was, "How do you define our target audience?"

"Everyone with a @$&^!#% mouth," the outspoken creative director of Mojo, their Australian agency,  replied.

But even by then, that had ceased to be true, even for brands as universal as Coke. Soft drink makers had learned that brand preferences got formed and locked in by the teen years, so except for annual attempts to reach everyone with air time on the Super Bowl, they targeted their media buying, and their message, to the youth market.

Throughout most of the previous century, advertising was able to segment audiences by gross demographic characteristics – gender, major age group, geography, education, income. Starting in the late '70s, agencies started segmenting psychographically, by values and lifestyles.This discovery spawned a host of special-interest magazines, many of which are still on newsstands today  Today, cable television targets geographically, demographically and psychographically as well. You can buy behavioral as well as demographic mailing lists. And, of course, online advertising can pinpoint prospects by the words they search and the sites they visit.

Be somewhere, not everywhere
Nobody can afford to be everywhere. Which is okay, because nobody has to be.

The key is to be in the right place, at the right time, where your message reaches the right people. And that's almost as easily done as said, provided you know your customer base. In some cases, this might be driven by your product(s); it doesn't take much guesswork to know who buys cribs and playpens, for example. In other cases, you can see, and strike up a brief acquaintance with, people who walk in your door. This is good business in any event, as is learning your audience.

If you maintain some sort of database or customer sign-in, go to and set up a quick, free online survey to ascertain your clientele's interests and media use. Better yet, take this information to a good, professional media buying service or ad agency – not a sales rep.

That way, you'll be in the right place at the right time to reach the right people  – for considerably less than you'd waste, and with considerably more return than, buying everywhere and reaching nobody with nothing.

As a copywriter and creative director in New York, Miami and Richmond, Bruce Goldman has won 414 international, national, regional, local and industry awards for advertising creativity and effectiveness. He's taught at the School of Visual Arts (New York) and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Mass Communications (Richmond), co-authored Lean Advertising (2003, Oaklea Press), and is a SCORE national online advertising/marketing counselor. Contact him at this address.