It's a Risky Business

by Sheila Millar

"The time has come when advertising has, in some hands, reached the status of a science... no other enterprise with comparable possibilities need involve so little risk."

These are the words of Claude Hopkins, the man who has been called "the father of modern advertising". It might be a disappointment to him if he were to realise that today, some seventy years after he wrote these words, advertising is still seen by the professionals as woefully hit-or-miss. There is much talk about "successful advertising campaigns" which makes us realise that there can also be unsuccessful campaigns! So what are the risks, and in the light that there are risks, is advertising still worth it?

The Economist (8th June 1996) quotes a Norwegian charity who recently won an award for an advertising campaign on which it spent NKr3m ($458,000). The article goes on to tell how the charity was to find that it had only drummed up half of that in donations as a result of the campaign! So to know whether an advertisement is working, you need first to be clear about what it is meant to do. Good advertising doesn't just inform, it sells!

Even when the results seem better, it is hard to prove what is achieved, for example, by the $243 billion that companies world-wide spent on advertising in 1995. Measuring the effectiveness of advertising is much harder than it might seem. Try this experiment..... walk into a room and ask the people there about advertising campaigns and see which ones they talk about. They might have a difficult time recalling any! However the important point of advertising is not so much that everyone recalls the ad as that the right people who will respond, see the ad! It is sobering to think of the millions of pounds being spent to tell people about products or services when it is difficult to know what the response will be to these ads. Maybe that's the risk!

Consider some of the giants of advertising such as Coca-Cola, who spend huge amounts of capital each year promoting their product. They know that advertising works otherwise they would not invest so much on television commercials, glossy magazine ads or entertainment and sporting events! Whether you be a bricklayer in London, a businessman in Japan or a nomadic tribesman in Egypt, you probably know the name "Coca-Cola"! For the advertisers, getting their name "out there", must surely be one of the main factors in their worldwide success. The moral of their story is that far beyond simply being a good drink, advertising has certainly brought them global recognition and advanced their sales.

Most of us are not about to spend millions upon advertising but the principles are the same for every size of business. One advertising specialist once said that half the money he spent on advertising was a waste but the trouble was, he didn't know which half! The key to good advertising whether on a large or small scale, is probably in careful planning. We need to consider our time, financial input and the people we wish to target coupled with a close monitoring of the response to these advertisements. For example, if you have advertised your driving school business in the local newspaper, you can monitor the results from the amount of enquiries you receive. You can then evaluate whether or not this is a worthwhile way to promote your business in the future! For all businesses then, after careful planning, anything which pertains to being a 'risk' will not be a mere "shot in the dark" but rather an exciting business manoeuvre which makes advertising and indeed business itself exciting and worth doing!

Return to Table of Contents