You can’t buy certainty

"Guaranteed results" from advertising? You're better off with witty chat up lines...

You probably don’t know John Wanamaker, but he’s the Philadelphia department store owner who back in the 1880s coined the phrase; ‘Half my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half’.

It’s a quote that’s been referred to hundreds of times in my career – and I am immediately suspicious of anyone who says that they can prove it wrong. If there was a sure-fire way to guarantee advertising success, it would be up there with perpetual motion and immortality.

Sure, you can stack the deck in your favour – the right mix of art and science can drastically affect how well your marketing succeeds – but there are NO guarantees.

But mention DAX, VOD, Adsmart, YouTube or any other targeted delivery-based advertising – and the word ‘guaranteed’ crops up with the effect of sending normally rational people into a froth of excitement rarely seen since the Gold Rush.

The logic goes that if you can identify your target really accurately, they will be more likely to buy your product or service. I get that – why try and sell cars to people who are too young to drive etc? But if you don’t have what they really need, or don’t speak to them in a way that touches their heart, no amount of targeting will help. Put another way, don’t expect to ‘pull’ in the nightclub if you haven’t had a wash, and your opening lines are simply requests for sex.

Now, to extend that analogy – even if you concentrate all your efforts on targeting one person, you sharpen up your patter, and acquire some knowledge on their hobbies and habits before you pounce – you may still be disappointed when the DJ plays ‘Lady In Red’ at the end of the night.

The problem is, you’re not the only one looking for love – there’s a room full of other people with exactly the same idea. Oh, and the person you’ve got your sights on – they’re in an unbreakable long term loving relationship with someone so great, even you like them.

The sad truth is, the only certainty you’ll find at the nightclub we call Marketing is that the drinks are really expensive – so you’d better sharpen up your chat up lines…

Paul Carter