When you look at the data, you find that much of the advertising that is done is not just mediocre – it is bad.

When I make this statement to my clients and students at the beginning of an engagement or course, they don’t believe me.

They can’t believe that companies – especially the big well-known ones – would spend so much money on a business activity that is not effective. They assume that high-paid marketing executives….

  1. Know how to create or approve effective ad content
  2. Are able to determine what is good and bad
  3. Have mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of their marketing communications.

Unfortunately, when you peel back the onion, you find that these assumptions are too often wrong.

The data

According to a recent study by Insights One as reported by Media Post’s Center for Media Research, “Americans Are Fed Up With Bad Ads (with) 87% of American adults 18 and over are putting their foot down on the number of irrelevant ads they are willing to see before they ignore a company completely.” This latest data is not a vote of confidence for ad performance.

CMO tenure is appallingly low

While the average tenure of CMOs has trended upward, an Ad Age study in 2006 pegged a Chief Marketing Officer’s time on the job at an appallingly low 23 months. It takes at least that long to figure out if their marketing campaigns are working. From the data, it appears they did not work very well. And the reasons for the upward trend since 2006 are not related to better ad content, but to the economic downturn and the increased complexity of marketing programs that incorporate social and digital media. In other words, these became good excuses for giving CMOs some slack.

Measuring ad performance is still wanting

In his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy (the adman that many claim is the model for the Don Draper character in Mad Men) quoted Stanley Resor, the head of J. Walter Thompsonfor 45 years as saying, “Every year we spend hundreds of millions of dollars of our clients’ money. At the end of it, what do we know?  Nothing.”

Not much has changed since then. Most marketing content is void of mechanisms for measuring performance. Just look at any ad in a magazine or commercial on TV. Few if any have any mechanism or code to attempt to measure the effectiveness of the communication. As an ad agency executive told me, “Our focus is on selling clients to hire and retain us – not on selling their products.”

Everyone has been talking about ad metrics for eons, but the direct and digital marketers seem to be the only ones that are incorporating performance metrics in any meaningful and comprehensive way.

What’s the solution?

During the Golden Age of advertising, there were a good number of people in the marketing business that knew what they were doing. Some of them had an innate understanding of the triggers that sell people, such as Shirley Polykoff and Bill Bernbach. Others, such as David OgilvyRosser Reeves and John Caples, developed a methodology and catalogued what works and what doesn’t.

To create advertising that sells, the following steps are bound to help.

  1. Read, copy, learn, and practice. It is surprising that so many involved in the marketing profession have not studied the concepts and techniques documented by the great masters. Marketers need to learn and implement what works, and avoid what doesn’t. Much of what works consistently is documented.
  2. Focus on the fundamentals. Once they learn them, marketers should focus on the fundamentals that are known to work, such as communicating unique benefits in the headline, or what Rosser Reeves called the Unique Selling Proposition. There are many more fundamental concepts. Here is a link to seven of them.
  3. Measure everything. Code all communications so that leads and sales can be traced to the advertising that prompted them. Yes, I know. Manufacturers will say that it is impossible to do this if you sell your products through distribution channels. It may be harder than trivial, but it is certainly not impossible. I know. I, and many of my clients, have done it, and it works. You will not get a 100% sample, but you don’t need that. All you need is a statistically significant sample.
  4. Apply what’s old to what’s new. The Internet, social media, and mobile technology are fairly new, but the fundamentals still apply. With more media channels than ever before, it is more critical to apply the fundamentals and the metrics so you can improve the content, repeat what works, and eliminate what doesn’t.
  5. Continual improvement. Based on measuring and learning, companies should strive to continually improve their marketing communications so that ads are continually better – not worse. Manufacturers from Japan even have a word for this concept – kaizen. It would help marketers to apply it to their work,
  6. Train top management. CEOs and Executive Vice Presidents need to learn enough about marketing to properly evaluation marketing programs and CMO performance. Too many CMOs are hired without being properly vetted, and too many are fired for political and other reasons. To hire and keep the good marketing talent, the people making the talent decisions need to know enough about marketing to make the proper evaluation.

Winning the future

In the increasingly complex world of marketing and business, two major things have to happen for more ads to be good than bad. Marketers have to do a better job of knowing what they are doing and selling their bosses that they know what they are doing. And, CEOs have to do a better job of understanding marketing and how important it is to the success of the business in order to properly hire, evaluate, and promote the marketers in their organization. When that happens I can retire.

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