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Sometimes Itís the Message, Not the Medium

An article today in Adweek entitled "Is the End Near for Display Ads?"questioned the staying power of Web display ads in the cooling economy. A point was made that all Web ads were "eminently ignorable and rarely moved one to laugh or cry". Wow, if that were the judgement as to whether an ad makes the grade or not a lot more than online display ads would be cut from budgets.

Let’s take the first part of that comment that online ads are ignorable. As a person who spends a good portion of my day online, I would say that I disagree with that as a wholesale judgement, but do agree that it totally depends, as it would in any other ad venue, on what you are viewing. It could be boring, but it could be very engaging. If the ad is boring offline, placing it online isn’t going to improve its charisma.

As to the other critique that Web ads "rarely moved one to laugh or cry", I would say that the majority of all advertising online or off falls into this category. Very little advertising online or off has these powers, so it is hardly fair to say that Web ad budgets should be cut for this reason.

Another criticism was that Web display ads are in a low impact environment. I would raise the question compared to what? TV ads that can be TIVO’ed out by the viewer. Traditional print ads can certainly be paged over and tons of junk mail gets tossed out.

I think that if someone finds advertising interruptive, reprehensible and ignorable offline they could view it the same way online. But let’s say that someone likes a particular fragrance ad and they see it again online. There’s probably a good chance that they won’t suddenly change their mind and dislike the ad just because they saw it online. In fact it might be the added repetition that gets the customers to click over to their favorite online cosmetics and beauty site or department store site to purchase the fragrance.

It all comes back to relevance. If I spend most of my day in my car or on the phone, you need to be spending some money to reach me with radio, mobile or outdoor advertising and maybe print, if I take time to skim a paper before or after work. However, if I spend a good portion of my work time or free time online, if you have an ad that interests me, you might get my attention.

3:28 pm cst 

Start-Up Dont's

A friend of mine recently shared with me a list called Gil Maurer's Rules by the Former President of the Hearst Magazine Division. Although Maurer's rules were intended for magazine publishers, several have to be faced by most start-ups.

Maurer's Four Cardinal Don'ts:
1. Don't fall in love with your own idea. It won't fall in love with you! People who want to start magazines are almost always too enthusiastic about their idea. It's great to be enthusiastic, but don't extrapolate beyond realistic limits.

2. Don't think you can succeed with a me-too idea. The marketplace is massively indifferent. Try to say something entirely new; failing that you will say something old, but say it in an entirely new way. If you can't pass that test, save your money and your effort.

3. Don't focus on too small an audience. You'll never get more than a small percentage of the people you go after. A small percentage of a small universe is really small - and seldom viable.

4. Don't let Hope triumph over Experience. Nine out of ten - no, make that 99 out of 100- startups are undercapitalized. Would-be publishers unrealistically project financial independence faster than it possibly can arrive. That's not all bad. It places an automatic governor on when to quit. Deep pockets often mean staying with a losing project too long. It's tough to pull the plug. But give yourself a fair chance. It will cost twice what you projected.

In reflecting on the above rules, the first one is the most difficult for a business owner, particularly a new one, to accept for a couple of reasons. 1) Many would argue that if you can't be enthusiastic about your own business, then who else is going to be. 2) While on the other hand, many, if not most, people are not objective judges of their own ideas, so they have difficulty seeing the "bounds of realistic limits". But if you've done the research and know you have a winning idea, then by all means, be enthusiatic. Be wildly enthusiastic!

The second part of the second rule is the real message. Many businesses are me-too businesses, but how an owner distinguishes his or her business from the competition is what really counts. And, if you're not doing that, Maurer's advice to "save your money and your effort" is probably sound advice.

His third rule: don't focus on too small an audience is perhaps the best of the four rules. It's a rule that even large businesses can be guilty of ignoring. Your business may market to only one target because it is what you've always done. But in today's global economy there's no reason not to look for other markets and widen you audience. And the best reason is this: your market today may not be your market tomorrow.

The cost of doing business is usually more than you planned on. It really is amazing how many businesses open their doors and think customers will come pouring in. For a fortunate few it does happen, but everyone else has to go beyond simply offering a selection of merchandise or a service. You have to tell other people about what you're selling and what you do. You have to make your phone ring. You have to bring people to your website. That's where business communication in all of its many forms comes into play.

I was lucky to have started my career with a small AAAA advertising and public relations agency. I had the opportunity to work on ad campaigns and press releases and to get an excellent feel for how they both worked together for clients in local, regional, national and international markets. As someone who has applied my journalism degree and creativity to the world of public relations and advertising, I still respect my roots and the value of news as well as the engaging feature story that captures reader interest. Media offers great opportunities to "tell your story" for free, but it's not in the business of building your brand. And that is something that many businesses sooner or later have to face.

6:25 pm cst 

Marketing in a Down Economy

Today, Ad Age reported that ad spending will be down over the next six months especially advertising on broadcast television and in national newspapers and magazines. However, the same article states that advertising online, on cable TV and mobile advertising are likely to attract more of marketers' money.

What this means for advertisers more than anything else is that you need to really know your customers. If they have read and responded to your print advertising you will want to think twice before cutting out print media and instead scale back somewhat on frequency or size of your ads. You may even entertain the idea of different publications which also reach your market but at a lower overall cost.

If you've built your brand with a successful television campaign, that campaign will definitely be noticed by cable viewers. At one time many cable television commercials were truly low budget and so bad that you had to talk about how bad they were and the same good have been said for much of the programming, but today that's just not the case.

Now, the primary problem that I see as a cable TV viewer is that the same commercials run again and again to the point that you just wish you could see something new. But that kind of repetition is what broadcast buyers wish they could afford. I think that advertisers who place some of their budget into cable for the first time will receive a welcoming response from viewers.

As for online advertising there's every reason to do more whether or not your ad budget has been severely cut. In all likelihood more of your customers are online and more accept online advertising.

What seems like a short time ago, there was much controversy over the interruptive nature of online advertising and the negative feelings that it may or may not cause for the advertiser. Now, who isn't over that? Online advertising and PR are pursued not only for their affordability, but also because they work.

So what if no one clicked or only a low number clicked. That's really no different from readers flipping through a newspaper and seeing your logo and images, but not really reading your copy or tearing out your ad. If you've advertised in the right places and created messages and graphics that related to your customer you've probably made a good impression.

The more good impressions you make and the more relevant your ad is to the customer that you want to reach, the more likely that potential customer will click when they are in the market for what you offer.

So, we have tougher economic times and tighter budgets...that just means that the better creative and the better media buys will shine through, because there will be less of that other thing we always talk about...clutter.

3:04 pm cst 

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