Make The Commitment

There is no magic bullet for advertising

Here’s a challenge for you: Take nine words, not ten or eleven words – just nine words.  In those words sum up your business, let people know you exist and move those people to action.  A logo, phone number, e-mail address those all count too.  Can you do it?

I just described the challenge for creating good billboard advertising.

I recently had coffee with a friend who excels with creating memorable billboards.  You may not know Karl Bastian by name, but if you are from the Traverse City area you know his work.  I just need to say, Maxbauer Market and you know what I’m talking about.

Yes, Karl is behind the billboard that proudly proclaims that Maxbauer’s has “Steaks bigger than an 8thstreet pothole.

Billboards must be easy to understand to someone driving past at 55-mph.

(And if you’re counting, there’s more than nine words on this board.  But I’m going to call “Maxbauer, specialty meat market and address” a logo and count it as one word.  Some may argue that it isn’t fair.  But I just did it.) Just remember a billboard needs to be easily understood by someone driving past at up to 75 mph with all those distractions – like the need to safely drive.

Karl is based out of Traverse City with PB&J Marketing, but he handles clients around the country.   While he does plenty of other advertising, he’s really good at billboards.  It’s a skill I admire.

But what struck me during my talk with Karl, was a discussion on why the Maxbauer ads work. Yes, the creative is really good and gets people talking.  But more important is commitment.  Maxbauer has been doing billboard advertising for years. The message changes but the look is always the same.

And that is the key for all advertising.  No, there is not magic bullet.  Are you willing to stick to a look and feel to your ads?  Are you willing to be consistently out in the public with your message?  Are you willing to commit a monthly budget to get that message out? Will you stick with it for years? 

Most of us have examples of commitment in our lives. It can be the commitment a soldier makes to selflessly serve our country. For me the example of commitment was the one my parents made to each other. The picture at the top of this blog was at their 25th wedding anniversary party. We had our family together back in 1969 to celebrate the event and I actually had a great crop of hair. My parents were committed in good and bad times. They never lived in the lap of luxury and it was never really easy for them. But we always felt the commitment they had for our family. While I turned out much better than my siblings, we were all solidly grounded in that commitment. (That will get my siblings riled up now.)

When it comes to advertising, most will agree with that commitment in theory. But when it comes to practice, they look at cutting their marketing budget at the first sign of a down month.  And if you have a downturn in the world economy, like in 2008, well that marketing budget is the first thing that gets tossed in the trashcan.  There are a variety of studies that say a recession is the perfect time to increase your advertising.  They say it helps recover quicker from a recession.

I’ve been a huge fan of consistency over the years.  I like to keep the same music, the same writing style, the same voice talent, similar visuals.  It builds familiarity with the product and with your brand.

An example of this is the ad I’ve used over the past seven years for the TC Patriot Game.  I change the photos every year and update the content.  But keep the same music, the same voice talent and the same style.

Typically a client will get tired of seeing his same ad running again and again.  He’s getting tired of it, about the same time the public is just starting to see the ad and pay attention to it.  The client is paying the bill for the ad and watching it much more closely than anyone else in the public.  Repetition is our friend.  We want people to see the ad again and again.  That’s where your commitment comes to play. Are you willing to stay with the ad?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should never change the ad.  There are times you will realize the ad is a dud.  It’s doing nothing and needs to be replaced. Absent of any clear sign that the ad is a failure, stay with it.  Give it time to work.

That same is true about the medium you use.  Any medium will work: radio, television, digital, print, direct mail, even advertising in bathrooms.  You probably won’t know if it’s working in a month.  Give it at least six months.  But be vigilant.  Pay attention to customer feedback.  Ask customers, family, employees and friends if they are getting response from the ad.  Survey your customers if you can.  But don’t ask if they saw your ad, ask what their media habits are like.   Since your customers are bombarded with thousands of ads every day, they probably have no idea where they were exposed to your message.

The main point is: be patient.  I know when you are up to your neck in alligators it can be tough to be patient.  Advertising is a long-game strategy.  You want to be one on the top when your customer is ready for your product or your service.   Advertising can give you top-of-mind awareness when the customer needs you. It pays dividends – there is a return on your investment. Be brave and keep with your commitment.

These guys get it. A billboard that is unsafe at any speed.

  • Jane

    So true Mike… good article!

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