Advertising waste - how to eliminate it

By Tom Dougherty


Stop the madness

Advertising waste and John Wanamaker go hand in hand. The great department store innovator once said that he was sure that 50% of his advertising dollars were wasted. But he could not figure out which 50%.

Today’s advertisers are facing the same dilemmas because traditional media venues like newspapers, magazines, network TV, and radio are becoming less effective each day. Advertisers spend more dollars to make up for the drop off in subscribed readership and prime-time viewers.

Media is in decline and is part of advertising waste

Across the globe, the readership of daily newspapers is declining. Even bastions of business, like The Wall Street Journal, are seeing a decrease in readership. Even the old stand-by, Yellow Pages, is basically an app. Let’s face facts. Advertising waste is everywhere. The interruptive media messages that build consumer product brands are becoming less effective.

Reach and frequency, the traditional ad media formula, are being replaced by reach and frequency, frequency, and frequency. Marketers are saying their messages a lot more often. A sea change is happening and brands that want to win need to catch the wave and change.

They are lying to you

Your ad agency won’t tell you this because it makes its revenue on an old and outdated model. Placing media is a service and should be priced as such. It should not be a profit center. Ad agencies see everything in terms of their own outdated business model. Your model, to paraphrase Bob Dylan “is rapidly chang’in.”

Grab market share from your competitors and find your way through the maze of increasingly inefficient media models. But ad agencies thrive on advertising waste.

If the Internet and social media is your new best friend, is the buying Adwords on Google paying off for you? If you are like the rest of us, you do it because you feel you must. But its inefficiencies and hierarchical matrix (paying the most gets you better position) means that, unless you are in on the first page, you might just as well not play at all.

The drop-off in effectiveness from the first page to the second page is a chasm that makes the Grand Canyon look like a wrinkle rather than a deep ravine.

Find the way to win

So, how do you navigate this advertising waste quagmire? How do you find ways to excite new customers? How do you decide which media venue is right for your brand?

Knowing exactly who you are for helps a great deal. Clarity and focus are the premier allies in becoming a winning brand. But that means your brand strategy must make some very hard decisions. It means you eliminating advertising waste.

Cable TV offers some focused choices because the markets are much more segmented (and therefore more efficient). Gone are the days when your commercial on the BIG THREE reached everybody.

advertising wasteGeneric brands that offend no one will go the way of LIFE Magazine. It was fun to read LIFE. But there were always choices that better reflected our individual lifestyles. Magazine advertising dried up because the market evolved towards more efficiency. (Read ways in which you can find important differences for your product or service here.)

The Super Bowl is a prime example of advertising waste

If you’re considering advertising during the Super Bowl, you are burning dollars. That airing is fertile ground for advertising waste. It offers no efficiencies when it comes to your target market. From a branding perspective, such choices reflect a lack of due diligence and speak directly to advertising waste.

You must put a stake in the ground. Remember that being for a specific customer means not being for others.

For example, our own Stealing Share brand is only for aggressive companies that want to win and embrace change. Traditional companies that look to defend turf rather than grab it are not for us. And we are not for them. Your brand must recognize your customer if you expect that customer to recognize you.

Clarity and focus

Targeting the right audience means seeing your brand beyond just the category you are in (like banking) or the service you provide (like cellular phones). Or the result you deliver (like high-speed internet connections). Today, these are all generic categories. The market sees such products and services as simple commodities.

advertising wasteThe most effective means of eliminating advertising waste is segmenting your brand by customer precepts or beliefs rather than by category or benefit. Why is this so? Because your prospective customer, who already owns a cell phone (for example), is filtering out all of the commercial messages because the need for that service is already sated.

The community of advertising agencies preaches that the only way to get past these filters is to entertain them. That’s pretty much a crapshoot. That approach fails more often than it succeeds. If the recipe for successful entertainment were understood, Hollywood would never have a flop. TV networks would never create a new series let alone cancel one.

The answer to cutting advertising waste

The way to get through the clutter starts with your brand. Not with your marketing message. Your spotlessly defined prospect must see the message as about them and not about you. If so, they pay attention and notice, even when they are not in the market to buy. The same spotlessly defined prospect will self-identify the right medium for that message as well.

Reach will then become more important than frequency. If you don’t know your customer as well as you should, we can help make everyone a hero. Even your ad agency.


Here are some other articles about advertising:

Advertising failures

Advertising strategy

 Advertising during Covid-19

Advertising waste