More Answers to "What Sticks" Author

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BART CLEVELAND: Marc Brownstein previously addressed Greg Stuart’s (co-author of “What Sticks”) question to Marc, Noelle and myself about WHY marketers don’t ask their agencies the following:

“How do you know for sure the ad campaign you developed will work?”

“How do know if or what parts of it fail?”

“What will we do about it if it does?”

Here are my thoughts on those questions.

Mr. Stuart states that most marketers he and his co-writer have encountered don’t ask those questions. That is curious because my clients ask me those questions continually. In fact, I’ve heard those questions throughout my career.

That said I’d like to address the other three questions.

Q 1: “How do you know for sure the ad campaign you developed will work?”

Our industry has developed many sophisticated answers to this question. I think to both cover our posteriors and placate client doubt, but the truth is there is only one-way to know “for sure”: Run the ads.

I’m not saying that we who do the ads are blind to what will and won’t work but asking if we know “for sure” is like asking NASA how they know “for sure” that the space shuttle isn’t going to blow up. An educated guess based on in-depth research is as good as it gets when dealing with space travel and human emotion.

Q2: “How do we know if or what parts of it fail?”

Fortunately today we have measurement devices to judge results quickly. But how accurate those measurements are depends upon what is being measured. Sales increases are easy to measure but what about brand image? Not so easy in the short run. The irony here is that many times when results such as sales increases begin to become evident the credit isn’t given to the advertising. Ever notice that? You can measure effectiveness but with varying degrees of accuracy.

Another thing to consider is what to be on the look out for. It is not our science that has created the most successful ad campaigns in history; it is attentiveness. Let’s say an ad makes an emotional connection with the consumer. Examine the history of the most successful ad campaigns. Most started in a very limited way. The Chick-fil-a cows campaign is a perfect example. That campaign started as nothing more than an outdoor board assignment. The immortal Absolut campaign was a single ad that got approved with no campaign in mind. The key to the success of these campaigns was that the agency and marketer were paying attention. When something good happened they maximized the opportunity. The rest is history.

Q3: “What will we do if it does [fail]?”

Many agencies get fired when a campaign fails. Maybe we should be fired but what’s bad for an agency can be far worse for a marketer. Many marketers have been saved through a dark period by an agency that was part of their DNA strand. Some marketers still see their agency as a partner and they benefit from that approach. Sadly many marketers have delegated the status of ad agencies to that of a vendor and they ultimately suffer the consequences of that type of relationship.

I think “What Sticks” is a testament of we are actually getting better at knowing what works. According to Mr. Stuart and his co-author Rex Briggs, 37% of advertising dollars is wasted every year due to “flawed advertising.” So we’ve moved the needle. The old Wanamaker quote that he didn’t know which half of his money was being wasted is now 13% less.
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