Don’t Bother Me — I’m Advertising!

InSource Extinct Dodo Bird
We’ve probably all heard about advertising campaigns that became famous (or infamous) because they attracted a lot of attention, but didn’t increase sales for the companies buying the ads. Both the ancient, but clever, Alka-Seltzer commercials from the late ’60s and early ’70s (e.g., “‘at’s a spicy meatball!” or “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!“) and the more recent Taco Bell ads with the talking chihuahua fall into that category. In fact, sales of both products went down during the periods when their respective commercials were broadcast. While the failure of both campaigns has provided plenty of argument fodder for marketing professionals, the conventional wisdom is that both campaigns were a waste of money. But it’s just as easy to err in the other direction…

Now, I’m not a marketing professional, but I’ve learned a few things, mostly from watching other people’s failures. This month’s tale comes from something I observed in the late 1980s. A consumer electronics company, which had trouble getting shelf space, decided to buy it. So they bought a chain of California electronics superstores. The principals of the electronics company, who had reputations as sharp businessmen (I was slightly acquainted with them), nonetheless found the retailer had hidden financial troubles. Their immediate reaction was to cut the retailer’s expenses in hopes of recovering their investment.

One of the first things to go was advertising. The retailer had newspaper and TV ads, both of which were eliminated. The TV ads were memorable, in the tradition of crazy, over-the-top electronics store ads going back to “Madman” Muntz. (The retailer’s commercials were supposedly the model for Nicolas Cage’s in Peggy Sue Got Married.)

Bad idea! Their competitors continued advertising and the retailer’s fortunes continued dwindling. Eventually, the retailer started newspaper advertising again, but it was too late. The chain shut its doors, and the investors took a bath (and lost the shelf space). The lesson was obvious; by dropping advertising, the retailer disappeared from the public eye, while its competitors stayed visible.

The Taco Bell and Alka-Seltzer (can’t have one without the other?) campaigns may have been failures, but imagine what might have happened to sales if they stopped advertising altogether.

TV and newspaper advertising is no longer so important, but the lesson still applies. Nowadays, your firm’s visibility is much more tied to your business website, your Facebook business page, your LinkedIn company page, even your Pinterest boards. Developing and maintaining your Internet presence is more than a way to generate leads, convert prospects, or make sales. It’s the online, public face of your business. What happened to the retailer was that they hid their face, while their competitors did not. So the moral of my story is simple: Don’t disappear, maintain your web presence. (Psst! We can help.)

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