The Three Sacred Cows of Advertising

Rarely do ad campaigns for small business work as well as they should.

You can blame the three sacred cows of advertising: Demographic Targeting, Gross Rating Points, and Media Mix. It's time for these cows to die.

(1) Demographic Targeting

Each and every day, ten thousand advertising people ask ten thousand business owners, “Who is your customer?” and the business owners reply, “Blah, blah, blah.” Then the ad rep says, “What a coincidence! That’s exactly who we reach!" The business owner then buys the advertising because he wants to “target” the right people.

This is precisely how most advertising is bought and sold.
(Don’t be embarrassed that you’ve done it, cause I’ve done it, too.)

Unfortunately, this business owner has been asked a largely irrelevant question and has replied with an equally irrelevant answer. What the business owner has done is known as “overtargeting,” and it’s what invariably happens when advertising is approached from the perspective of pure logic.

Here’s why the perfectly logical approach so often fails: We’ll assume the business owner decides his target is a woman between twenty-five and fifty-four years of age. Do we assume that the woman has no siblings? Has she no mate, children, or boyfriend? Does she utterly lack co-workers and associates, neighbours and friends? Is she influenced by no one at all?

Overtargeting comes from the mistaken assumption that people make decisions in a vacuum. The really important question to answer is this: “Why would a person choose to do business with you at all?”

The best ads are those that impress someone - anyone - deeply. Are you ensuring that your ads make a deep impression, or are you satisfied in knowing that you’re boring the socks off all the “right” people?

2. Media Mix

Media mix tells us that the same people, who see your newspaper ads, will hear your radio ads and notice your billboards. Media mix further assumes that the customer will recognise all these as having come from the same advertiser. Yet rarely is one of these fragmented campaigns connected in the mind of the customer.

There’s a lot of truth in the religion of media mix, but it is a truth inappropriate for the small business owner.

What’s good for the big corporate giants can be poisonous to the independent business owner.

The idea of media mix assumes that your advertising budget is adequate to do a good job on each part of the mix. Proctor & Gamble, Coke, Pepsi, Ford, and the other big boys are able to accomplish a media mix without being forced to compromise any part of it. They can mix radio, television, newspaper, magazines, and skywriting without having to do anything halfway.

Is this true of your company? 

Do you have this kind of budget?

If not, I recommend that you do one thing well rather than two things badly.

You may be able to do two things well, but our firm has never worked with a company that could do three things well. But then our firm has never worked with anyone who had more than a couple of million dollars to spend on advertising.

(3) Gross Rating Points

Advertising schedules should be proposed and considered according to their reach and frequency. That’s how advertising works. Advertisers who buy gross rating points will nearly always reach too many people with too little frequency.

When a media buyer buys one hundred gross rating points, what has he done? Does he reach 100 percent of the city one time each? Fifty percent of the city twice? Twenty-five percent of the city four times? Ten percent ten times, or a single percent one hundred times? It’s almost impossible to say. Yet each of these schedules will look exactly the same in terms of gross rating points.

Which is better?
(1) A schedule that reaches 100 percent of the city and persuades them 10% of the way? 
(2) A schedule that reaches 10 percent of the city and persuades them 100 percent of the way? 

Both schedules provide exactly the same number of gross rating points and cost the same amount of money. The only difference is that the second plan works and the first one doesn’t. Successful advertising is the result of good writing and strong frequency.

Are you buying too much reach and too little frequency with your ad budget? Have you bought into the myth of “media mix”? Are your ads under producing due to fragmented placement and poor scheduling?

By simply rearranging your current media schedules, you could dramatically increase the effectiveness of your ad budget. But only if you are first saying something that is relevant to the listener.

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