More money is wasted on advertising then any other business function. That is not to say businesses shouldn’t advertise but rather people should understand how advertising works. There are many ways to characterize ads but for our purposes let’s make it simple and separate advertising into two distinct approaches: saturation and emotional.
One of the things I’ve learned over a long career is that business folk invariably take their lead from the wrong sources. Small and medium size businesses look to the mega corporations to learn their tricks and adopt their attitudes when they have little in common – advertising being no exception. Since our clients are mostly medium or small size companies we try to help put some of these issues into perspective.
If you’re big enough and have the money available there are all kinds of marketing initiatives you can invest in, but if you have a limited marketing budget you need to be smart about how and on what you spend your advertising dollars. And the most effective and cost efficient place to spend those dollars is on your website. Yes you need to attract people to your site but if once they arrive they find it lacks intriguing, engaging content then you’ve wasted your money. So what tactical approach should you take to deliver your marketing message?
The first approach is saturation advertising like you see on television. Anyone who has spent an evening sitting in front of the TV set is familiar with what I am talking about: the constant repetition of the same commercials over and over until the ads become an unwelcome irritation. The fact is no matter what you do to avoid commercials they eventually seep into your head. Even fast forwarding through commercials on a recorded program has an effect. Saturation advertising depends on repetition not quality, which is why some of the worst and/or stupidest commercials can still be effective.
There are some great commercials on television that do engage the audience with an entertaining, memorable, marketing message that enhances the brand and generates leads, but when push comes to shove, television advertising is all about repetition not quality.
Does Saturation Advertising Work?
Does saturation advertising work? The short answer is yes it does, at least for a television audience it does. Most people believe that it works on others but not on them, a phenomenon, psychologists call the Third Party Effect. The fact is, repeating something automatically makes it appear more believable.
The majority of people will respond that they don’t pay attention to commercials, but inattention does not protect you from the influence of repeated messaging. In fact bad commercials work better if the audience isn’t really paying attention, and fail when the audience is actually listening carefully. Careful attention brings to light all a message’s conceptual, technical and performance issues.
Will Saturation Advertising Work For You?
But saturation advertising is expensive because it relies on huge media buys in order to get the required number of repetitions needed to worm its way into an audience’s collective consciousness. It’s a messaging tactic that depends on deep pockets and that rules it out for most companies. Advertising that depends on constant repetition just won’t work on the Web unless it’s merely to supplement an existing extensive integrated television and print campaign.
Just as an aside, the music industry uses the same tactic. The constant repetition of a song even of inferior quality but with minimum rhythmic value and a repetitive catchy chorus can become a hit if heard often enough on the radio or on television in a music video. And like most saturation advertising it’s controlled by whoever has the most money available to purchase audience access. The same holds true for political advertising. Politicians can get away with the most incredible nonsense if they raised enough money to drown-out their opposition.
The Web is a different communication environment compared to television. Where television and the Web converge is with programming: your website is not an advertisement, or at least it shouldn’t be if you want it to be effective; your website is the equivalent of the program not the commercial, and that is why the key to success is the ability to turn advertising into content, and content into a memorable experience. You need to engage your audience with the same kind of techniques and messaging that is used in the programs you watch and not in the commercials you try to ignore.
If You Don’t Establish Your Brand, You Won’t Have a Meaningful, Memorable Message
If you can’t saturate the market with your brand then you have to find a better, more cost effective way to influence your audience. I use the word brand instead of product or service because that is where you have to start – you have to think ‘brand’ not product/service. What we’re talking about here is advertising intended to promote and grow your company within the context of a long term marketing strategy rather than a promotional ad intended to let your audience know about a particular sale or promotional event. Companies that stick exclusively to a promotional format are basically teaching their customers to only purchase goods and services when there’s a sale, and that’s a tough way to make money on a long-term basis.
We all know how popular the Google AdWords program is and we all know how expensive it can get in order to gain access to the keywords that trigger your ad placement. The Google system is basically relying on the same principle as television advertising: big audiences and lots of placements equals lots of leads.
The problem in addition to the continual expense is that even if you attract a large initial audience, that audience will not stick around long enough to get your brand story if that story is not at least as interesting and entertaining as the television programs they watch. And even if that audience manages to stick around a while, if your site isn’t interesting enough, they will never come back and that reduces your chances of being remembered. Unlike television where the audience is captive to the commercials, a Web audience is not. Unlike television where the experience is generally a compromised group decision, Web viewing is not.
For most Web-based businesses their website is their best and potentially most effective advertising venue, but people only go to websites that interest them, and they will leave in an instant if a website doesn’t engage, inform, and entertain them.
“People forget what you say, but they remember how you made them feel.” – Warren Beatty
Everyone likes to think of him or herself as a rational, intelligent human being, but in truth, we are all motivated by the same hardwired emotional triggers. Our brains are marvelous, malleable organs that absorb information without us even knowing it; they process information, massage it, and produce instinctive responses to external stimuli. Our survival and dominance as a species depends on this ability. Our brains are not cameras that just record input; they are interpretive instruments that produce gut-instinct. As a consequence, successful long-term marketing strategies depend on an emotional brand association with basic Maslowian needs.
No matter who you are or what you do your competitors will undercut your price, add new and better features, or come up with superior alternative solutions. The business world is littered with the corpses of once proud companies that owned their market until someone came along with something better, or cheaper, or just different. No one wants a Polaroid camera when digital cameras are all the rage. Once proud Kodak has been humbled and downsized considerably because they saw themselves as a film company and cameras as merely a way to sell more film rather than tools of human creativity. Products and services come and go, but brands are forever, and brands are defined by their emotional appeal.
Coming up with the right brand message can be tricky. We know the motivational triggers that people respond to, so the objective is to find the right trigger for your company’s strategic vision and to frame it in terms that your target audience will accept. Knowing that your audience sees itself as rationally motivated is not an impediment to emotional motivational triggering. It is all a matter of framing the brand and providing the right context and subtext in your advertising and messaging initiatives, and most importantly on your website.
A Final Word
A company without emotional subtext is a company without soul, and it’s one that will eventually be superseded by those who understand the importance of brand and how emotional advertising works.