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Million-Dollar Mistakes: 10 Advertising Blunders to Avoid

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For any company, $1 million is a lot to lose. Companies with $100 million in revenue may spend as much as $10 million on advertising, so they need to spend it wisely. Advertising can be the biggest expenditure after salaries and benefits — as much as 5% to 10% of a company's budget.

Even if yours isn't a $100 million company, you don't want to waste your hard-earned advertising dollars. Nor do you want to put out the wrong message because you've failed to craft an ad that appeals to potential customers.

When you watch out for these 10 common advertising gaffes, you'll get the most marketing bang for your buck.

Mistake #1: Not understanding your target audience.

When determining an advertising plan, consider everyone who might purchase the product. A product for kids might focus on parents and grandparents as well as children; they all influence the purchase decision.

Once you've decided who you're targeting, consider how. What will best motivate a consumer to respond to your ads? Research services like Nielsen (for television) and Arbitron (for radio) can help you unearth this type of information. Competitive media reports can also allow you to see where your competitors are advertising.

Mistake #2: Delivering the wrong message.

You can usually best appeal to your target market by clearly stating the benefits of the product and making sure those benefits are relevant to that target audience's needs or "hot buttons." Certain types of ads, such as those for weight loss, hair restoration, and skin-care products, demand "before" and "after" shots to give the product credibility, show results, and deliver a positive message about the company's belief in its product and what it can do for the consumer.

Mistake #3: Not running ads often enough.

You'll generally need three exposures to build awareness and motivate someone to respond to an ad. If you spread your advertising over too many different types of media, your intended audience might not get those three exposures.

Based on your budget, focus on the highest-performing media for your type of product; this will allow your target audience to see the ad enough times to build awareness. Research services like MRI can help you with this. They survey 26,000 consumers every year. You give them information, and they give you research tailored to your needs, such as data on the television networks and shows your target audience watches with the highest frequency.

Mistake #4: Utilizing the wrong media to reach your target prospects.

Seniors still don't use the Internet as much as younger people do. So if you have a senior product, focusing your marketing efforts on the Internet might not be a good idea. If you're trying to reach a niche audience, TV or radio might not be the best fit, since they reach a mass audience. Consider a specialty print publication like a trade journal or a local-interest publication to more effectively reach potential customers.

Mistake #5: Choosing award-winning over results-getting.

Creative people in some ad agencies can be more concerned about an ad's concept or look than they are with whether it will actually sell. Be careful of a creative team that tries to sell you on advertising that doesn't feel right to you. An ad can be cool or "artsy," look beautiful, or be hilarious, but if it doesn't generate results, it's of no benefit to you.

Mistake #6: Not focusing on the consumer's needs.

It should go without saying that an ad must convince consumers that the product or service will meet their needs. Some companies still try to dictate what they feel their ads need to communicate, often because they are too close to their products or services.

If you feel too involved in the production of an ad, you can take the ad to a focus group. Even when you know who might buy your product, you may not know how to get them to buy it. Outsiders' opinions can be invaluable, especially those of experts who understand how to communicate more effectively with the consumer in question.

Mistake #7: Not developing a complete advertising campaign.

One ad probably won't thoroughly inform your prospects. A single ad may work for a while but will stop being effective as the consumer stops paying attention. You may need to develop a campaign to communicate a complete message. Also, another ad or a series of ads can help you capture attention you weren't able to get with a single ad. Usually a campaign consists of several ads over the course of the year that appeal to people through different strategies.

Mistake #8: Not understanding the seasonality of various products and services.

Consider the peak times of year for your product or services when you're developing an advertising campaign. Products or services that change consumers' lives or images will benefit from advertising near the first of the year, as people make (and try to keep) resolutions.

TV viewing itself is seasonal. When the weather is bad, people watch more TV, and response to advertisements tends to be better, whereas when the weather is better, people watch less TV. In April, we all have to pay taxes, so people generally spend less money on consumer goods. Even products that sell well all year long may do better at some times than others, so you should cut back a little when it's slower and beef up advertising during peak times.

Mistake #9: Not incorporating your website into your advertising program.

An increasingly large percentage of consumers are going to websites to make their purchases, so you must have a strong website and include its address in all of your advertising. One advertiser who had a website for a high-end product hesitated to promote the site for a year, thinking the company's telemarketing program was superior. When they finally advertised the site, sales increased 15% virtually overnight!

Mistake #10: Copying a competitor's advertising approach.

Strive to be original, and it will pay off. By copying a competitor's ad, you may just be building further awareness for your competitor. You need to be innovative in your advertising approach to differentiate your business from theirs if you want to gain the advantage. The Aflac duck and the GEICO gecko are examples of ways companies were able to gain top-of-mind awareness with effective uses of humor. If another company were to use a goose or lizard in its ads, consumers would still likely think of the originals.

Make a Million Bucks, Not a Million Mistakes

Lots of careful research, planning, and hard work go into developing successful advertising. Your ads must be smart, creative, and well placed to reach your desired market and make them want what you sell. By avoiding these 10 common advertising errors, you can use your ad dollars more effectively, get more response to your ads, and rake in greater revenue.

About the Author

Peter Koeppel is founder and president of Koeppel Direct, a leader in direct-response television media buying, marketing, campaign management, and creative strategies. With more than 20 years of marketing and advertising experience, Peter has helped Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and entrepreneurs develop marketing campaigns to increase profits.

Peter is a Wharton M.B.A. and has improved media buying strategies and advertising for clients such as the Hair Club for Men, Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, Ben Hogan Golf, H.J. Heinz, and DIRECTV. For more information on his work, please visit or call 972-732-6110.
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