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What's Going Wrong With Advertising?
By Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.
© 2003, Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.

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The economy is roaring back into recovery with a better than 7% increase in GDP. Which means the Advertising Industry must be doing great! Right? To find out, all you have to do is look at a recent issue of Advertising Age (October 28, 2003), and read: "The North American market... has started to show muted growth."

Wow! There it is, right in the industry tabloid, the "Growth" word, that single sound we've been starving to hear! But then there's the word "Muted" attached to it. At first, it sounds vaguely positive, until you consider similar words with which you could interchange it: "Stifled," "Gagged," and "Strangled." Perhaps Ad Age is simply being discrete about reporting the real truth...

...that there is NO GROWTH in the ad market. Yes, we're still stuck in the same slump we've been in since 1999 – two years before the rest of the economy took a nosedive. The same slump industry experts have declared, "the worst advertising recession since the Great Depression."

On the other hand, you may have heard some predictions for growth in 2004 – don't believe them – no expert truly believes anything is going to change next year. All the predictions you've heard are based on the hope and prayer that an increase in advertising during the Summer Olympics and the 2004 Elections will stimulate the entire industry. Unfortunately, neither of these events have anything to do with market expansion, repeat business or long-term contracts. As a prediction, it's rubbish, but for the tabloids, there's nothing else positive to report.

So what IS the problem? Why isn't the Ad Industry keeping up with the rest of the economy? Is it the war? Is it a residual effect of the recession? No. The problem runs much deeper than that. And, like a cancer, the cure isn't simple either.

The reason companies aren't buying ads is for the same reason people stopped buying Yugo automobiles. THEY DON'T WORK! And, as a result, advertisers across the country have lost their belief in the power of advertising. The problem with the our industry is simple: as media account reps we have been Too Busy Selling Space -- when we Should Be Selling Advertising!

That's right! We should be selling quality ads that increase business for our advertisers.

It's really no different than what the successful restauranteur knows... that the cheapest item on the menu must taste every bit as good as the most expensive -- because if it doesn't -- it will destroy their reputation.

In the same way, if you are selling ad space without making certain that a topnotch ad fills that space then you are foolishly risking -- if not damaging -- your reputation. Because if the ad doesn't work to bring your client business, it won't be the ad that gets the blame, but the media in which it ran.

Part of the problem is that many people have the mistaken impression that advertising is an art form and whether or not it works is a matter of chance... just hit-or-miss. That couldn't be further from the truth! Advertising is an established discipline that works when it follows proven principles. Unfortunately, few people know this and the current state of our industry is a reflection of that.

How deep is the problem? Some market analysts have estimated that as many as 85% of all ads fail. 85%! With a failure rate that high you're going to have customers that come and go. Mostly Going! Your reps will be constantly scrambling to find new advertisers. And, you can measure your relationships with clients in months instead of years. In short, you're working too hard!

Here's the GOOD NEWS: it doesn't have to be this way... ADVERTISING CAN WORK! It's not too difficult to find examples of the 15% of advertising that works. Think about some of the ads that moved you to try a new product or service, and you'll see advertisers who know and understand the principles of effective advertising. Those principles aren't secrets. Anyone can learn them and profit by using them. You can make a big step toward restoring our industry by empowering your account reps with training in the knowledge of effective advertising. And, even if the slump continues for the rest of the industry, you will enjoy a prosperous new year!

Robert Wilson is an advertising consultant and speaker, contact him at www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.

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