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November 30, 2005
Slaying the Dinosaur

There is a dinosaur alive and well in today's advanced world of advertising and marketing.

The dinosaur is...call it what you will, image advertising, general advertising, brand advertising.

It is the advertising model that I was taught back in the 70s and applied to everything. The model is that GRPs drive awareness and awareness drives sales. Still a great model when applied to a consumable product like toothpaste. But there are dinosaur agencies and clients wrongly applying this proven model. I call them dinosaurs because they are living in the past and should have been dead long ago. The existence of the "dinosaurs" is particularly surprising in today’s marketing world where advertising for many clients should and can be measurable.

But what is an example of wrong application?

Here is a true story, bogused up a bit to protect the guilty and spiffed up to make it a more enjoyable read.

A number of years ago we had a client, the XYZ Computer Training Center Company. People would come to their learning centers to be taught a range of computer-related subjects, e.g., HTML, Excel, and Word. They absolutely insisted on running awareness advertising.

"Gotta make people aware of XYZ...and feel good about XYZ if they are going to buy," said the President.

We tried to dissuade him using every imaginable argument. After all, we knew he was a direct marketer and using the "dinosaur" model would waste a lot of money creating awareness that wouldn’t be acted upon. He just hadn't figured it out yet.

It looked like we had lost the argument. No reasoning could save the day.

But inspiration hit and I said, "Jerry, I went searching for an XYZ last night…I went to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the hardware store. If I can't find the products, how can all the consumers who we will make aware of the product find them?"

He looked at me startled and asked, "Have you forgotten that we are computer training centers, not products sold in the store?"

I said, "Seriously, then how do I buy XYZ?"

He was perplexed as he said, "You pick up the phone and...".

I cut him off and said, "Pick up the phone?!? Do you mean that when a commercial or print ad runs you want people to pick up the phone and call?

"Of course," he nearly shouted.

"Then, you are a direct marketer," I said calmly. "Direct marketers want people to respond, whether it be by phone, mail or web. This is what we call measurable advertising -- Advertising that allows you to track the cost of each ad; determine the number of sales made; and measure your cost per sale."

"Direct marketers drive sales...awareness is a by-product (which will drive more sales)."

I explained the model: The old way of doing it, used by "dinosaur" marketers, uses a GRP-based model to build awareness and, in theory, drive sales. But today’s direct marketers do the exact opposite – they decide which advertising media to use based on which one provides the most cost-efficient response rate. GRPs are a by-product of that calculation, but they don't drive it. The result, for all marketers, is an improved – and measurable – ROI.

But, there are other types of companies that are also direct marketers. True! But that, too, is the subject for another day.

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Brent Kuhn knows how to get a response out of consumers. He's the president and co-founder of BKV, one of the largest direct response agencies in America. He's boosted sales for brands like Sara Lee, Dirt Devil, and Bally health clubs. Brett is currently working on a book based on his 30 years of experience in the industry.
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