The Marketing Contrarian: The media merry-go-round

By JC Bourque | Sep 25, 2018

Before I moved to Colorado, I had a customer who owned several medium- to high-end auto dealerships. He had a curious method for evaluating the effectiveness of various advertising media -- specifically, newspaper, radio, and television. This was a while back when the Internet of Things only applied to one kind of thing, and that was a personal computer using a dial-up modem. The web wasn't a viable advertising medium at the time, and social media didn't exist.

Here's how he evaluated his advertising effectiveness:

  1. Decide how many vehicles he wants to sell in a particular month;
  2. Run the advertising plan for that month;
  3. If sales fall short of the goal, cancel the plan and try another medium;
  4. If sales exceed the goal, conclude that they could have been even higher, then cancel the plan and try another medium.

So, it would go something like this, every month:

Customer: "Radio isn't working. Let's try newspaper."

Next month: "Newspaper isn't working. Let's try TV."

Following month: "TV's not working. Let's try radio."

Needless to say, this was a lucrative account, because we made a lot of money producing new content all the time. Still, there are two reasons I wish he had allowed the advertising plans to percolate for a while:

First, because there's value in your prospect seeing your message repeatedly in the same place. It takes multiple impressions to make an ad message stick in the mind of your prospect. My client most likely would have had better results if he hadn't "changed horses" so often. Imagine that you're approaching the magic number of impressions with your ad, and then you pull it and start over somewhere else. That's a major waste of your investment in creating top-of-mind awareness.

Second, sooner or later any client will get frustrated with his marketing people if he's chronically frustrated with the results -- even if it's due to his own interference. When that happens, he'll fire his agency even if they had been trying to serve his best interests. Which is precisely what happened to me. And the next guy. And the next.

These days, there are an overwhelming number of media choices, and they are much more varied. The temptation to jump around is stronger than ever, especially since some of the digital options seem, at first glance, to be inexpensive. But those are subject to the same frequency dynamics, and the cost will add up before they start to pay off.

Marketing takes time. You'll get more out of it with a sustained program. Employ a strategy that you can afford to keep running -- even if it's a smaller program than you'd like. Then stick with it.

JC Bourque is a 40-year veteran of the marketing field and has produced work in real estate development, banking, public utilities, healthcare, direct marketing, automotive aftermarket, food and beverage, and many other sectors. He is a partner in the Denver firm Heppner + Bourque, specializing in manufacturing, technology and industrial marketing. We can be reached at 303/675-0105 or visit our website at