In my time of guiding over 2,400 advertising campaigns, I’ve learned a simple but powerful truth: “Repetition builds recall, and recall drives decisions.” How repetition is achieved is a matter that confounds many business people and sales people alike.
Indian Yogi and Spiritual Guru Paramahansa Yogananda once said, “It is better to say just one phrase repeating it vigorously from low to high or high to whisper and lastly from a whisper to mental affirmations until one feels what he is saying, i.e., repeating a phrase with varying depth of soul-feeling until one realizes the meaning of his utterance in every fiber of his being.”
Yogananda was certainly talking about the benefits of repeating an affirmative mantra, not advertisements, right? Hold on! Let’s define “mantra”:
mantra |ˈmantrə, ˈmän-| (noun), A statement uttered repetitiously to aid in concentration and considered capable of creating transformation.
Good advertisements are nothing more than statements uttered repetitiously with the aim to inform a prospective customer base and influence action.
When Yogananda says repeating a phrase vigorously helps one realize the meaning, he’s applying the advertising principal that repetition reinforces. As youngsters, we learn the alphabet, because someone was kind enough to repeat the letters to us over and over again. Adults were even thoughtful enough to include a little musical branding to help insure our recall. If our guardians were to recite to us the profound gift of the alphabet only once, it truly wouldn’t be a gift. It would be a waste of both the parents’ time and the children’s time.
Many advertisers attempt to influence sales with a message that is compelling, different, and that evokes the right emotion that identifies with their customers’ needs, but too often, there is simply not enough repetition behind it.
To get at the core of effective advertising placement, we need to discern the two types of advertising. Now, there is an array of forms of advertising. There’s email, TV, radio social media, outdoor signage, direct mail, directory listings, etc. But I’m talking about the two ways to implement advertising across all spectrums:
1. Promotional spike advertising
2. Recall awareness advertising.
First to Promotional spike advertising. Spike advertisments employ special events, sales, and short-term offers. Most often, these categories include restaurants, retailers, car dealerships, grocery stores, or any business that offers a finite price for a limited amount of time. A few examples of promotional spike advertisements would be the “Cash for Clunkers” campaign. From July 24, 2009, until Aug. 24 2009, American vehicle owners could participate in the Car Allowance Rebate System, which allowed them to receive $3,500 to $4,500 on their trades, provided they met basic criteria, and the money could be put toward newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles. The rules were simple: Act within this window of time, and you’ll be able to enjoy the benefit of a better deal on your trade.
Another example would be the McDonald’s Monopoly campaign. For a limited time, once a year, McDonald’s rolls out an incentive that leads to many prizes for their customers. McDonald’s uses promotional spike advertisements often, but only when they have a strong level of recall awareness advertising in place. You’ll only ever see a “McRib is back” campaign, or “The shamrock shake returns” commercial alongside other recall-based ads from McDonald’s that repetitiously keep that brand and the slogan “I’m lovin’ it” in the front of our minds.
Having a base level of recall is essential before attempting to engage in promotional spike advertising. Why? Because promotional spike advertising by itself often lacks the longevity, continuity, or repetition to effectively drive recall and in turn drive decisions.
A great example of how promotional spike advertising fails without a strong base of recall occurred during the 2006 Super Bowl. That year, the Seattle Seahawks lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers on ABC in front of an estimated television audience of 90.6 million viewers, or just over 30 percent of the United States population at the time. The Super Bowl is the one time of the year when people don’t flip past the commercials or zone out. The viewers are actively vested in the ads. It’s the one time a year when advertisers can shine! That’s why Magnolia Pictures bought a 30 second ad for an estimated $2.6 million for their major motion picture “The Worlds Fastest Indian,” starring Anthony Hopkins as a motorcycle builder that beats the land speed record. It’s a pretty good flick. The problem is I’m one of the few who watched it, and I didn’t get around to it until 2010. This box office disaster only managed to gross a paltry $5.13 Million at box office. The cost to make the film plus the cost of the ineffective advertisement resulted in a horrible loss for the studio. If we’re really generous and say that half of those ticket sales came from that Super Bowl ad, this means that ad managed to influence less than .3 percent of the millions of people who were exposed to the $2.6 million ad.
Magnolia Films was banking on a bigger fraction of the 90.6 million viewers to react to the message. But they didn’t.
Because this commercial lacked the type of repetition required to drive recall and in turn drive decisions. It aired one time. I call this the “Super Bowl Mistake.” In fact, the Super Bowl ad schedule is a revolving grave yard of failed brands that thought they could drive decisions without a an established base of recall or required repetition, brands like Computers.com, PS Cleaner, and many others that obviously weren’t familiar with Yogananda’s advice about “repeating a phrase until one realizes the meaning of his utterance in every fiber of his being.”
There are many successful brands that command the formidable Super Bowl audience, brands such as Budweiser and Bridgestone Tires, but these brands all have a strong level of recall awareness in place with the core NFL football audience before they engage in promotional spike advertising. Follow their lead with your business. Avoid buying the limited-time offer ad schedule, the “game of the week,” or the 90-day ad package that ad reps often schlep.
Let’s take a look at another form of competition. The re-election rate for incumbent U.S. congressional office holders over the past 10 years ranges between 83 and 96 percent. Why is this? Surely with all of the corrupt and bad politicians out there, there must be more than 4 to 17 percent of the challengers who could do a better job! The fact is, many of the challengers who run against incumbent office holders are probably better suited to hold office. But, because of the dynamics of recall, we never vote for them. There may be a bear lurking at the back of that cave. Think about it: The present office holder has years to shake everyone’s hand, kiss every baby, sign scores of bills, and put their names on hundreds of press releases. These incumbents are building a strong level of recall awareness before they attempt to engage in promotional spike advertising during the primary or general elections. Essentially, the challengers, unless they have a modicum of established name recognition, are left to make the “Super Bowl Mistake.”
How then, should we engage in recall advertising? First, I recommend you do research on your market and the advertising mediums available to you. Find the medium that commands the largest segment of your target and prospective customer base.
Check references of existing advertisers – listen, view, or read to find out who they are. See what they have to say about the local medium they’re using; don’t just make a decision by what the ad rep says. Also, check your ad rep’s credentials. If they’re worth their salt, they will be a strong ally for your business for a long time.
Next, avoid the “spray and pray” approach. Many small business owners make the large mistake of buying several small campaigns on varying media and, in essence, fail to drive enough recognition on any one medium.
It’s much better to communicate a single message 500 times to 500 people than it is to communicate a single message a few times to 50,000 people. The few-times-to-50,000-people scenario is essentially a smaller version of the “Super Bowl Mistake.” Rather, take a laser-focused approach and communicate with the segment of your prospective consumer base that you can afford to speak with repetitiously. If you do not have a budget to talk to 80 percent of the segment of your market, scale down your budget and speak to 60 percent, 40 percent, 20 percent or 5 percent.
Whatever you do, do not cease the dialogue, even with that 5 percent. Sustain that communication with that segment of your existing and prospective customer base for the duration of time you’re in business. When that conversation with that 5 percent has garnered a “return on investment,” that is when you take a step forward and talk to a larger percentage of your market, and that is how some of America’s best businesses managed to grow in the face of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.