Best TV Ads Are Often the Simplest

Oct 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Adam Armbruster

Special to TelevisionWeek

“If I could just tell when my TV advertising is working, I’d be thrilled!”

That is a wish expressed by many clients today. To this point I always give the agency the same response: “If you can’t tell when your TV ad plan is working, how can your customer?”

Wendy’s Hamburgers did not have to wonder whether its 1985 TV campaign called “Where’s the Beef?” was working-its skyrocketing sales told company executives quite clearly that it was.

Any TV media plan that is designed properly will work, and any media plan that is poorly developed misses every time. There’s no “getting lucky” in TV marketing.

So here are some proven methods to ensure that the client is thrilled after beginning your relationship:

  • Prepare a SWOT analysis.

    In the very first meeting with the client, come up with a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analysis together.

    It’s an ancient practice, but it’s also regularly ignored by most clients I meet. Often business owners have no idea what their direct competitor’s ads are saying to their customers in the same market. It seems as though over time they begin to devalue the impact that their competition is having on the marketplace. Whether it’s due to hubris or just a busy schedule, there is no excuse for not looking around the business playing field every day.

    Let’s say you are the client. Begin by listing your top three competitors in the order of impact on your business and what they are saying to your customer right now. Not just which media they use, but what they are offering, in detail. Then write a six-word competitive positioning statement for each. For example: “Competitor No. 1: Bigger store, great displays, poor pricing.”

  • Devise an effective counterposition.

    This is the “play” you will perform against the competitor. It could be a pricing play, a selection play, a convenience play or any other advantage that you have over a competitor. Choosing the right play does take some marketing experience, but a little common sense goes a long way.

  • State and record clear goals for the campaign.

    Some clients want their advertising to accomplish all sorts of goals, as if they can keep adding responsibilities to the ads instead of to their staff.

    But don’t be tempted to go along with the client; be realistic by choosing one specific success metric to provide you both with a true measuring stick for the campaign. Metrics can include, but should not be limited to, store traffic, sales, market share, profitability, brand development index, etc.

  • Build the marketing campaign “house” from the bottom up.

    The campaign message should include the key elements for an effective retail message: a clear business identification (ever see a TV ad only to wonder aloud, “Who was that for?”); a clear merchandise impression (“What are you selling me?”); a bold positioning statement (“Why are you better?”), a sense of urgency; a “tiebreaker” (“Why you? Why right now?”); and an understandable locator Web site (“How do I find you?”). Clients who miss just one of these key elements are the same clients who wish they could tell when their TV advertising is working.

  • Ensure the proper frequency.

    I often read articles by media pros that recommend a three-time minimum frequency for a campaign. I’ll argue here that this is far below the required “burn rate” of a message against a targeted audience. In addition, it’s irresponsible to even suggest a “normal” frequency target, as all product purchase cycles are different.

    Recently a large bedding client of mine was airing its commercials with a frequency of three times per calendar month in a TV campaign that was designed by its old ad agency.

    After I did my due diligence on the targeted mattress buyer, I reported that the bedding purchase was made only once every seven years and that the bulk of bedding purchases were made over just a three-day period each week. That created a very short buying window of 72 hours for bedding buyers to see, understand and be motivated by the commercial and then locate a store.

    That’s asking a lot for a campaign that was averaging less than one-time frequency per week. We quickly redesigned the TV campaign and created sales increases in the low double digits with the same net client budget, thereby increasing profitability (our chosen success metric).

    By the way, all consumer products have a unique buying window and the figures are very predictable. This helps you to focus a campaign on the key buying days of the customer. This in itself artificially increases the experienced frequency of the client’s message.

  • Create effective results, not creative advertising.

    Funny ads are great for the nationals that have the money to burn and have so many corporate initiatives that no one is really paying attention to the ad campaign results anyway. But for the local and regional clients who are giving up real profit dollars directly from their business/personal profit statements, it’s real cash and they can’t afford to spend 90 percent of their TV message amusing potential customers.

    I suggest a ratio of three parts selling to one part entertainment in a TV commercial script. The trash cans of the retail industry are lined with terribly funny TV ads that had that exact same effect on sales: terrible. Get regional clients to motivate a purchase decision for their product and leave the entertaining commercials to the beer companies.

  • Finally, keep the TV campaign creative simple. As one of my favorite clients likes to say: “Hey, my TV ads have to compete with the crying baby, the ringing cellphone, the snoring grandparent and the barking dog, all in the living room with the TV. I keep my ads simple so they get it!”

    Just like the old Wendy’s TV ad.

    Adam Armbruster is a partner in the retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers and Co. in Red Bank, N.J.