Commentary

"Advertising Is What Works"

Viral marketing is all the rage and has been so for some time. Everybody wants to do it. There are many good examples of successful viral marketing efforts. But one thing stands out. There are no good examples of companies who have successfully executed multiple winning viral marketing campaigns. Guerrilla marketing is another popular tactic. It can also be lower in out-of-pocket cost. But you get what you pay for. Yes, the results can be disproportionate to the investment, but this is a tactic that does not generally sustain a product by itself.

Too many times, new advertisers with small budgets and big expectations ask the agency to “do something out of the box.” Or, “we’d like you to do something really creative here.” This is like hitting a homerun in the bottom of the ninth when you are down by three runs and have the bases loaded with two out. Can it be done in the right situation? Sure. Should you bet the farm on it? Hardly.

What is the common thread among companies who hit homeruns with products? It’s advertising. Sure, there are many examples of products that have made it without advertising campaigns. But eventually, they either adopt advertising to sustain their market or die.

PR is a little like guerrilla marketing and a little like viral marketing. The investment is far less than advertising. But if you do it well and you do it consistently, over time it can usually yield long-term results, with some homeruns along the way. But it remains that advertising is the only marketing element that you can count on. You can exert control of your advertising strategies and spending levels. You can control every element and you can measure their success.

It’s easy to say that advertising is not the answer. Just look at all the money that the dot-coms (a word I have always hated) put into advertising before they went down. Just advertising per se does not do the trick. There is a tried-and-true methodology that has been honed by the packaged goods advertisers in the last 40 years. One that most dot-com management groups ignored. That of payout marketing.

With payout marketing, you must have specific goals in your product plan. You then launch a test market to find out the viability of your concept. You perform attitude, awareness, and usage research to verify potential related to customer lifetime value and long-term profitability.

You have to test and learn that your offering is viable relative to the payout model, or adjust the model and the product expectations accordingly. No payout, no rollout. There is not a single dot-com success that followed the model. Everybody was in such a hurry to spend his or her VC capital (including the VCs), that everyone ignored the rulebook.

Should you do viral marketing? Why not? Everyone needs a long shot in his or her portfolio. Guerrilla marketing against your core users? They will love it and love you for it. But just as you should not quit your day job when you buy a lottery ticket, don’t forget the most basic of all marketing programs. Plan your advertising carefully. Project your potential gains. Test your way towards success. Make adjustments that keep you in the black. And stay in business. Pretty simple, huh?

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