What Happened to Mr. Wanamaker's Other 50%?

You know the quote about half the ad dollars being wasted - you just don't know which half. It's been attributed to everyone from Lord Leverhulme to John Wannamaker to Leo Burnett to David Ogilvy. It doesn't matter who said it or when, because the way ad bucks get invested hasn't changed enough to alter the significance of that statement. It's probably still true: Half our advertising dollars (maybe more in the 24/7 Internet-driven 21st Century) are wasted. But why?

You buy media based on what someone has identified as providing as much reach and frequency as you can afford, in a media vehicle that's ideal for "your" demographic. You pay for it, run the ad, and that's it. But what did you really get? You got the time or space you paid for - which presumably delivered some audience defined by the reach and frequency.

But you got no proof - not even a certifiable likelihood - that anyone actually read the ad. No guarantee the televiewer didn't zap the commercial. No warranty that the audience will remember it, or even think well of the advertised brand - let alone buy the product! I mean, once you run the ad, that's it, friend. There's no further obligation on the part of the media to ensure the brand's success. You'd think there must be more to it than that, otherwise you might be wasting your money. Right now, at a time when everyone is screaming for greater accountability - not to mention profitability - you'd think that there's got to be a better way!



But your ad agency insists it's a great ad, so they’re in favor of running it as far as the reach and frequency dollars can take it. Now there's an endorsement you can bet the farm on -- from an industry that has spent the past half-century dodging the accountability bullet. An industry that earns commissions based on the money you spend for media. No conflict-of-interest there! Why would they ever tell you not to run an ad?

But let's not be cynical or ungenerous. The quality of mercy should not be strained, even in this business. Let's assume it's a terrific ad; impactful, telling the brand story. Let's further say it's strategically on target. Still, wouldn't you feel better about how you were spending your money if there were some way to insert your brand into the media planning process? To go beyond standard "reach and frequency" thinking?

Think about it. Media planners and sales folks typically view a given media vehicle as a static entity, as inert as the Elgin Marbles. They know the age and weight of each piece (demographic segments); how many visitors might wander by (reach); how many may come back again (frequency), and are happy to leave it at that. But they overlook the reality that any given media vehicle - like any given brand - is vibrant, animated, a kind of life form. Both were created by humans. Both are nurtured by humans. Therefore both inevitably change as human values change.

But media planners haven’t been given the tools to deal with that, or worse, just ignore that fact. Planning by reach and frequency alone is flawed, because even the same numbers - in two different "ideal" vehicles - rarely produce the same results for the advertised brand. That's because the brand's values and the media vehicle's values may not be consonant - even when the numbers look right.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to maximize your brand's advertising effectiveness by aligning your brand's values with each given media vehicle's values? It's not even that difficult. Keep your target audience data. Keep your reach and frequency data. Just add a step that can accurately measure value dimensions that are typically left unexplored by traditional media research models.

You have nothing to lose but your uncertainty. And you just might find out what’s happening to that other 50%.

Robert Passikoff is founder of Brand Keys Inc. (New York), a brand and customer loyalty consultancy. He can be reached at 212-532-6028, x12, or

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