Why Advertising Doesn't Work

You may think this headline is an odd statement coming from a person who heads an advertising agency. But read on and you will see what I mean. Advertising is the process of building brand-name awareness, or what is often referred to as “top of mind” awareness.

By exposing the public to your message over a period of months and years, they will become familiar with your brand or name and recall it in the future when they are in need of that product or service.

But in an online world — where six months ago is considered the “good old days” — can most advertisers afford the long-term commitment that advertising requires? And what about today's advertising agencies? Many seem to be more focused on creating art and entertainment than good marketing. We as advertising agencies need to remember something: We create ads to sell stuff! This seems somewhat simplistic on the surface, but this ideal is often lost in the creative shuffle.

Not too long ago, Nissan Motors produced a series of TV spots referred to as “Mr. K” after the founder. The spots were masterpieces of creativity. One featured GI Joe running off with Barbie; another had pigeons dive-bombing cars to the music of Kenny Loggins' theme from “Top Gun.” And there were several other equally creative and funny spots during the campaign. In total, Nissan invested about $200 million in “Mr. K.”

Several months into the campaign, however, the Nissan dealership owners of North America contacted corporate headquarters to inform it that the $200 million campaign had not improved dealer floor traffic. Not even by 1 percent. What could have gone wrong with such a popular and talked-about campaign?

Now think back to those spots. Tell me about the car. Was it fast? Did it come with some new features that only Nissan had? Was it fun to drive? How would owning it improve my life? None of these questions were answered. The spots were entertaining enough, but they gave me no reason to go to a Nissan dealer.

Direct response has the answer. If advertising is creating name awareness, what is direct response? Direct response is selling products or services to people who prior to the ad did not consider buying them. In good direct response, we give the viewers a reason to listen to us, using the tried-and-true problem/solution format. We then show them how they can own it, how it will improve their lives and, finally, give them a reason to act now.

And when direct response is done correctly, there is a bonus to the advertiser. It still builds top-of-mind awareness. Who hasn't heard of Anthony Robbins or Richard Simmons? These two individuals have become celebrities from direct response advertising. And how many products have become retail success stories from their direct response beginnings?

Unlike conventional advertising, direct response has the ability to create name-brand awareness and still generate sales almost immediately. And by the way, what's happening at Nissan today? Its newest spots specifically spell out which features of its cars are unique and then offer a lease deal with a limited-time offer. Too bad it took $200 million to figure it out.

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