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The Basics

Let’s accept that advertising cannot sell or manipulate the consumer. It can’t create a “Buy!” or “Don’t Buy!” attitude … individuals decide for themselves what product they want and when and where they will purchase it. What advertising does is to inform and persuade and also to reinforce a decision which has already been made.

Basically, there are two types of adverts: Those that ask for a reaction on the part of the reader, and those that don’t. Forget the beautiful, glossy adverts placed in magazines by national advertisers … those have a specific task which advertising agency staff can motivate in equally glossy terms. It’s not for us, the small to medium business. Your ads are there to move product off your shelves or to have customers calling on you for service. NOTHING ELSE.

The general advert – no response required: Whether it’s a newspaper advert or a brochure, including your address and telephone number is not the same as asking for a reaction. It merely implies you want the prospect to visit or telephone — WHEN HE OR SHE IS READY! Let’s assume a local store runs a widget ad in the local newspaper every week. Let’s also assume this ad is pretty effective: it clearly states why people should buy their widgets from them, what the benefits are; the illustration is spot on; the whole layout is just dandy. There, at the bottom, is the business name, address and telephone number. All nice and neat and legible, the best-looking widget ad in the publication. If you were in the market for a widget RIGHT NOW, and scan through the newspaper to seek out suppliers, the chances are you’d telephone or visit the store.

Maybe you’ve noticed the advert before, so you remember the store’s name. Perhaps you already know where the store is located. Whatever the background, it means that YOU have decided you’re ready to buy a widget RIGHT NOW, and that the advert was in the right place at the right time. Does that make it a successful advert? Yes — provided the only role the advertiser is happy to play in the whole buying decision process is that of keeping you informed about his business as a possible supply source.

Think about it … all that’s been achieved is providing you with a choice, that the store is the best place for your widget purchase. Granted, that’s a success on it’s own, but the advertiser has no idea how many placements it took to achieve that. In other words, what it cost him to get you, and others like you, into the store.

The response-type advertisement: Let’s take the same widget advert, but this time you’ve decided you’ll be buying a widget only in three months’ time. Okay, so the ad is still doing it’s job out there, reminding you of the store. But time is an enemy – you could change your mind and spend the money on something else instead. Or an opposition supplier comes out with an improved widget. Perhaps a competitor opens a store somewhere more convenient for you. Why is the advertiser taking the risk of losing you as a customer and getting stuck with stock — especially outmoded stock?

Same ad, but with one difference: this time, there’s a response mechanism, urging you not to delay. An attractive discount or fixed, attractive price … provided you buy before the end of the month. Right, now you’re wondering whether you shouldn’t postpone the purchase of something else you had in mind and get the widget right away! They’re offering easy terms? Well, you want a widget and that way you can get it now …. it’s sure to have increased in price by the time you planned on buying. A FREE widget accessory? Now we’re talking!

What has now been put into practice is here is the response advertisement, where a sales message is taken one step further to help readers make up their minds – a gentle push, let’s say. By asking us to bring along the advert in order to qualify for the special offer would make it possible for the advertiser to measure response, thereby determining costs of sales or testing offers and headlines. Such an offer need not always be a costly special; an information leaflet that can be obtained by telephoning or returning a coupon can be very effective. It gives an advertiser a chance to tell far more than he could in an advert.

There will obviously always be messages which do not suit a response call. Neither can you have different offers every week. Still, always look carefully at what you’re saying, to see whether a response mechanism would work or increase its effectiveness. Nine times out of ten, it will.

If the response advert does not suit you and you prefer placing your usual format, then at least be fair and accept that the effect of the “standard” type of advert is not measurable unless you question every prospect who enters your business. It also makes it difficult to measure the effectiveness of the medium you used to convey the message.

Another advertising question frequently raised is: “Can I afford not to be there?” This situation arises when a competitor is especially active in advertising. That can make your business appear almost dull by comparison. Still, it shouldn’t be the sole reason for buying newspaper space and filling it with words and pictures just to compete. Who’s to say the competition is being really effective with their campaign?

A similar situation is the case where there is more than one of the same franchise type in the area, e.g., a motor dealer. They compete against each other as well with their natural opposition. In a case like that, advertising to the broad public is necessary to remind them of your location as a purchase alternative. The advertising challenge is to convince prospective buyers that it’s how you sell the product that counts. Concentrate instead on making your sales outlet appear more dynamic than a similar franchise in the area.

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