The Seven Reasons Why Your Advertising Isn’t Working

Over the past 25+ years, our partners have helped launch, grow and revitalize some of the best companies out there. Along the way, we’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. In our experience, there are seven root causes of ineffective advertising. Most companies suffer from at least one if not all seven.

1. You Don’t Have The Heart To Do What’s Necessary To Develop Successful Advertising

Creating a really successful advertising program today is not for the faint of heart or the impatient. It takes both time and money and most importantly, it requires an organization to boldly stand for something its customers want and need that its competitors are unable or unwilling to champion. In other words, to have a successful marketing campaign you and your company must be driven to look, say and do things brazenly different than anyone else in your category.

The truth is most organizations simply don’t have the stones to truly differentiate themselves. They don’t like the spotlight. They can’t handle the inevitable criticisms. They won’t commit to the higher standards necessary to make their advertising, customer relations and products and services truly world class. When it boils down to it, only a handful of companies and leaders have what it takes to become legendary companies and leaders. Because when it comes down to it, being different is just too hard and makes people too uncomfortable when it’s so much easier to just be like everyone else.

If you want to leave a lasting legacy and create a business that stands the test of time, we’d love to collaborate with you. If not, we can refer you to some other agencies that will be more than happy to take your money and create short-term one-offs that look and sound like everyone else.

2. You And/Or Your Agency Believe(s) People Want To Actually Have A Relationship With Your Brand


"Any marketers who believe they’re having a conversation (with brand’s fans on Facebook) are delusional."

      - Nate Elliott, VP/Analyst, Forrester Research

If anyone promises you new customer acquisitions and increased brand loyalty by helping your brand “engage”, “interact” and “have a dialogue” with people - run. They’re spouting complete and utter nonsense that’s simply not correlated by human nature.

Think about it. People have a hard enough time maintaining relationships with people, much less brands. For all the hype and promise about two-way conversations and deep, interactive experiences, the numbers just don’t add up and the results have not panned out. Research has shown KPIs such as likes and shares have absolutely no correlation to sales. There simply aren’t enough people whose lives are so empty and meaningless they’re seeking out relationships with soft drinks, toothpastes and software companies.

The smarter thing to do is assume no one wants to have a relationship with your brand and work with an agency that feels the same way. When you recognize that all advertising and marketing is an unwanted interruption – and it all is – you realize the best way to make it work is to make damn sure your rude interruption is worth it. Executing great creative work is not only good for business, we believe it's a moral imperative. In other words, all your brand experiences - social media ads, traditional ads, point of sale, email, direct mail, guerrilla, environmental branding, branded apps – absolutely must strive to be more interesting, entertaining, delightful, rewarding, and meaningful than the medium in which it appears.

That’s a tall freaking order. And it’s the high standard that you and your agency should shoot for with every single piece of communication you have. Most agencies won’t commit to a high standard like this because they can’t. They’re built for churning out tons of small, annoying messages and useless tactics not long ideas - big, effective ideas integrated and propagated across every device, channel and physical space your customers visit that can be perpetually refreshed year after year. Much less ones that actually surprise, entertain, inform and are welcomed by those they interrupt.

3. You’re Missing Critical Information About Your Customers And/Or Competitors

Know Your Competitors

Identifying and understanding your real competitors is critical if you want to successfully differentiate and position your company against them. You need to study their strengths, their weaknesses and understand which ones are real threats and real opportunities. You need to figure out why people choose them over you. You need to understand your competitors’ unique positions in the market so that you can truly differentiate yourself from them. But most of all you need to identify their Achilles heels - the things your customers really that they are unwilling or unable to do that you can and will.

Doing so will allow you to capitalize on their successes and failures while guarding against any threats they may pose. A good competitive analysis will detail your competitors’:

  • Strategic positioning

  • Brand personality

  • Audience personas

  • Strengths and weaknesses

  • Geographic influence

  • Messaging and communications tactics

To find out more about how we can help you find the competitive  intelligence you need to grow your business, click here.

Understand Your Customers

It’s not enough to know who your customers are, where they live and what they like. You need to do the appropriate research to find out that one thing they want and need that only your brand can satisfy. However, knowing what your customers want and need is useless unless you can leverage that knowledge to inspire them to take the action you want. That’s the difference between an insight and an actionable insight. Most agencies and research firms are really good at gathering the data but lousy at uncovering true insights that can be turned into effective creative messaging and corporate actions.

To find out how we uncover customer insights you can use to dramatically grow your business, click here.

Your Company

You may know exactly where you want your company to go but you’ll never be able to map out a plan on how to get there until you first truly understand who and where you are. Self-analysis is hard and you’re going to need to hire an objective third-party to help you with this one. The most effective and efficient way to develop a Brand Platform is through a combination of Stakeholder Surveys, one-on-one interviews, customer research, competitive analysis and a Brand Workshop.

Our Stakeholder Survey goes to all key decision-makers in your organization. The questions are customized for your business and are divided into the following sections to help us determine where there’s friction and alignment in thought:

Company Perceptions

  • Product/Services - benefits/weaknesses

  • Defining Success - what success looks like/how much should it cost

  • Communications - what's working/what's not/what’s missing

  • Elevator Pitch – what you tell people your company does


  • Identification – Who They Are

  • Perceived Strengths & Weaknesses


  • Who They Are: Demographics/Psychographics

  • Perceived Wants & Needs

  • Media - how do customers find out about you

The surveys are followed-up by one-on-one interviews with different employees to corroborate or clear up our survey findings.

Once that’s done, we schedule our proprietary Brand Enlightenment Workshop with key team members. During the workshop we compare and contrast your team’s answers with each other as well as consumer, competitive and secondary research. This helps us identify gaps in perception versus reality, company direction, priorities, etc. The net deliverable is consensus on a Brand Platform that will help you achieve realistic goals for the market you’re in with the budget you have. To learn more about our Brand Enlightenment Workshop and Report click here.

4. Your Product Or Service Is Inferior

This is a hard one. Most agencies and consultants are terrified to tell the emperor he has no clothes. And for good reasons. Agencies and consultants are fired every day for less provocative findings. Most companies don’t want to hear there’s a problem with what they’re making or how they’re serving their customers. It’s much easier for everyone to blame the marketing or sales.

CMOs and agencies are changed every 24 months until the company’s problems are too big to fix and they’re shuttered or purchased for pennies on the dollar by a stronger competitor.

As the legendary Bill Bernbach said,

Nothing will make a bad product fail faster than a great advertising campaign. It will get more people to know it's bad.”

5. Your Brand Strategy Is Wrong

Successful strategies only happen when both agency and client collaborate. Both must really understand and gain consensus on your business, your objectives, your vision, your strengths and your limitations. Once all these are understood and agreed upon, they must be compared to and aligned with what your customers really want and need from you that your competitors are unable or unwilling to fulfill. 

Sounds easy enough. It’s not. A great brand strategy is really an overall business strategy. It should answer why you're in business and drive everything you do. Based on the brand strategy, you'll also need a great creative strategy - one that details how you'll demonstrate and message business purpose. To find out how we can help you develop the right strategic platform for your brand, call or email us for a free consultation.

6. Your Integrated Marketing Communications Plan Is Flawed Or Non-Existent

Having a detailed and effective Integrated Marketing Communications Plan (IMC Plan) is a must. A good IMC Plan will sit in a 12-month calendar and contains:

  • An Overarching Strategic Brief

  • Media Plan With All Paid, Earned & Owned Channels + Insertion Dates

  • Creative Presentation Dates + Deadlines

  • Production Schedules & Budgets For Each Tactic

Having a well thought-out IMC Plan allows both you and your agency to track and see campaign development progress at a glance. It should be reviewed every quarter and revised to adapt to market and business changes/opportunities.

Not having an effective IMC Plan will ultimately lead to lots of small ideas delivered to lots of small audiences via lots of small tactics and technologies which add up to small returns – if any.  We politely call this ginormous waste of time, money and effort multimediocrity.

NOTE: One of the biggest mistakes we're seeing today over and over again is media plans failing to optimize media mix. Most clients are spending way too heavily on short-term, direct response on and offline tactics. 

Offline (traditional) advertising is best at generating demand. Online is best at fulfilling demand. According to the Advertising Research Foundation, the optimal media mix for maximizing advertising effectiveness for most businesses is 78% traditional and 22% online. For targeting Millennials the ratio is only slightly different with 71% traditional and 29% online. The average business places 72% of its advertising on online media – almost the direct opposite of what they should be doing to maximize growth. For companies that do not sell directly to customers/consumers through an e-commerce site, the above ratios should logically be even more skewed towards offline media like TV, radio, in-store POS, print, etc. This is because offline channels are more efficient and effective at generating awareness and demand while online channels are better at converting those who are aware of and are ready to purchase a particular brand/product. A $1 million dollar study by Ebiquity confirms research by the ARF and Bass-Ehrenberg Institute that TV - believe it or not - is the most efficient channel delivering "almost twice the sales uplift relative to media spend than Search and Radio, and five times more sales uplift relative to media spend than Out-of-Home, Online Video and Online Display Media." (This, of course, will change over time as online channels are willing to prove their reach and effectiveness compared to offline channels – right now, they’re not willing to be audited by an impartial party to allow a fair comparison can be made.)

7. Your Creative Work Is Irrelevant And/Or Uninteresting

The last thing in the world you want your advertising to be is safe. Unless of course, you like annoying your customers and wasting your money.

The simple reason is this. Humans are hardwired for novelty and surprise. Creative advertising has the power to elicit both. Research has proven unequivocally that people pay more attention to creative ads (B2B or B2C), recall them better and talk about them more. Companies who utilize them spend less on media and sell more. According to research conducted by Peter Field for the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), creative ads are 11 times more efficient at selling stuff than other ads. What’s more, consumers have more positive feelings about companies and their products that utilize more creative advertising.*

         If Highly Creative Work Is So Much Better Why Don't You See More Of It?

Developing legendary creative is hard work. Only a very small percentage of agencies - digital or traditional - have the strategic, creative and production chops to make the kind of advertising people actually pay attention to and like. Because most shops can’t do it, they’re the first ones to tell you how risky it is and why you shouldn't do it.

So instead of listening to them, take a chance with us. To find out how we can create impossible to ignore and hard to forget advertising your customers will actually like, click here.

*The Case For Creativity, James Hurman

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