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PART II: 5 Advertising Mistakes Retailers Make

Recently I had a meeting with an accountant who does turnarounds. He attempts to save companies that are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy by nursing them back to health.

I asked him whether some company owners put their ego ahead of the survival of their company. He said that was usually his biggest problem. Funny, I said, that is also a huge problem we encounter when we are doing advertising for retailers.

Even though some can barely speak clearly, retailers take to the airwaves to hock their wares. Do they do it because they think they can deliver the message better than any other form of advertising?

We have a saying in advertising,

If you haven’t got anything to say, sing it. If you can’t sing it, get the client to say it.

We do this to cater to the client’s ego. Why, because sometimes the client’s ego is more important than business results.

Of course there are exceptions to this, it isn’t a rule, more like a guideline. I remember when Wendy’s had an advertising problem. We had just hit a home run with the “Where’s the beef” old lady. Nothing the agency, DFS, in New York could do could test anything near it. The Agency was fired. The Marketing guy at Wendy’s was gone. As a short term fall back, Dave Thomas was recruited to do some promotional commercials. Twenty years later he was still doing them.

How was he successful? He had personality. He reminded everyone of a favourite uncle, not someone hawking his own wares. He was committed in a non-authorative way. His credibility came from his commitment and ownership. As time went on we learned more about him and got to like him as his public personality developed.

That’s a far cry from retailers screaming out about some deal that they are offering.

The best way to build a retail business is to understand your competitive set; understand your business’s advantage and develop intrusive, provocative and clear advertising that communicates that strategy. What agency is going to tell the owner, their client,  to get off the air? That’s the hard part.

Retailers may know too much about their businesses to understand what is really compelling to their customers.  Glimpses can be deceiving.  We like to speak with customers for a fairer assessment of strengths and weaknesses.  That takes some work.

And we also believe that a customer saying how great a retailer is provides a much stronger message than the retailer saying it themselves.  Think of it.  If I tell you how great I am, you are skeptical (although I have no idea why).  Whereas if a disinterested third party says I am great, maybe even my wife will believe it.

But for most retailers, getting out there and telling the prospects yourself is not only the lazy, cheap way to do it. It is also one of the weakest. The retailer should ask themselves – what’s more important, you being recognized or your sales and revenue going up?

Unless the retailer has a particular talent or uniqueness. Stay away! This can only lead to problems. And it is the second common mistake retailers make.

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