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Martin Wales

[December 2, 2002]

Customer Catcher

By Martin Wales

Profiting With PR Power, Part V:
When Advertising Doesn’t Work

Advertising can eat up a marketing budget. Now, some wonder if it's working and why they bother. They may be onto something. As we move into Part V of our PR series, if you're one of those questioning your advertising's effectiveness, you'll want to hear what Al Ries claimed about advertising during my interview with him.

Al Ries was named one of the 100 most influential PR people of the Century by PR Week Magazine and is best known as the co-author with Jack Trout of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and Positioning. His latest book is The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, which he co-wrote with his daughter, Laura Ries. The title of his book hints at his views while surprisingly enough, he ran an ad agency for 26 years.

Companies want to use advertising to go in new directions and launch new products or line extensions of existing brands. Al offers that, "In this day and age, advertising - there's too much of it. It's too expensive. It's just impossible today, I think, to launch a major brand with advertising. You have to launch it with PR." To further his point he adds, "Matter of fact, you shouldn't use advertising at all because the media doesn't want to write about a new product if you're going to advertise it. The advertising stamps out your PR. Much better to launch a brand with PR only. Then, after it's established, use advertising."

PR: The First Line Of Offence
In my columns, I often recommend PR as a first line of offence for your marketing because it can be more affordable and effective than a traditional advertising strategy. Al was even more emphatic about it in his philosophy, stating, "The only thing you can do with advertising is reinforce what already exists in the mind. If you're going to introduce a new brand, and people have never heard of it, why would they read an advertisement about a brand they've never heard of?"

He continues, "Advertising has a problem. Advertising has no credibility. Just because you read it in an ad, doesn't mean that you believe it." This makes sense. We all know the advertiser has paid for the space and makes superlative claims to entice us to buy. Why wouldn't they? To demonstrate, Al presented an example using Arthur Anderson. "They get in trouble. They run a full-page ad in the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, etc., etc. Do people change their minds about Arthur Anderson? I don't think so."

PR conversely is the use of third-party sources to tell your story. Not just the media but it could be almost any third party. Why does PR have credibility? Al responds, "It's not you saying you're terrific. It's somebody else saying you're terrific. When the media says…when The Wall Street Journal says…this is a terrific product, people say, "Yeah, this must be a terrific product. I'm not saying everybody believes everything they read. But, in general, people tend to believe what they read and not to believe what they see or read in an advertisement."

Much of this argument is based on prospects already holding beliefs and hearing others speak of your product or service, possibly satisfied or unsatisfied customers. If your product or service has been in the market longer, the more likely this is.

A Question Of Credibility
If you're new or just launching your product (Al used 'product' and 'brand' somewhat interchangeably) you have an opportunity to educate but it remains more believable coming through PR sources than expensive advertising campaigns. "The more complicated the product or service is, the more the PR, the credibility of the PR, is helpful," added Al.

"A lot of businesses are buying things that they have no way of really analyzing if it's good or bad, so they tend to count on what they read about these products in the pages of the business press and the trade magazine and so forth. In business to business, you really need PR."

"In the high-tech area in particular, companies or brands were built by PR not by advertising. Microsoft has received more PR than any other company in the world according to one researcher. Ask any person if they can tell you what was in the last Microsoft ad. Most people haven't the vaguest idea what the ads are talking about. The brand itself was built by very, very powerful PR."

Al's thinking hit home when he informed me, "Even when they launched the Xbox, it had 60% brand recognition before they ran the first ad, with PR only. That's the future. MS Xbox may have even run the advertising too soon."

Then Al made one of those simple but amazingly powerful points that we should remember before implementing our PR or advertising programs, "As long as the media is willing to write about your product, why waste your money telling the same message with advertising?" If you remember one thing from this article, it should be this question.

When Does Advertising Come Into Play?
So, when and where do we use advertising? Surely, thousands of companies can't be that wasteful of their marketing budgets? Al proposes, "Understand the role and function of advertising and the role and function of PR, then you'll use them in the right places. Advertising tends to protect a brand, whereas PR tends to build a brand."

Al's analogy was logically presented. "Basically, advertising should be used to defend the brand. McDonalds spends half a billion dollars a year on advertising. Guess what? Their sales have not increased. The same-store sales over the past 5 years have been relatively flat. You can say on the one hand that's $500 million wasted a year or you can say the thing that money does is keep Wendy's and Burger King from stealing their business."

"We're saying that each function has a role to play. You should use PR to launch a brand. You should use advertising to maintain a brand, once a brand is launched by PR. When a brand gets established, it has limited PR potential. But when a brand is new, when it's fresh, it has enormous PR potential. Look at the high-tech field. Look at the PR that Blackberry got, that Palm received, Windows and even Lotus Notes. Lotus Notes was an incredible PR success."

"If you have a high-tech brand today, what is the PR potential? If a new brand has no PR potential, then it's probably not going to be successful. Why? Because it's not going to be written about." If your brand has been out there a while you may face the opposite challenge that, "Once a brand gets built, you have no more PR potential. Nobody wants to write about Coca Cola. What's new about that?"

Al's comments initially seemed biased toward PR over advertising but he continually stressed that they each had a useful role but companies were confused about when and how each was appropriate and most effective. Get his complete thesis in his book, The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR. I recommend it, as a source for sound and practical advice to keep in mind when formulating your strategic plan for the most powerful combination of your PR and advertising.

Martin Wales, The Customer Catcher™, helps technology companies generate easy, profitable sales by "Skipping the Selling and Getting to the Sales™." Learn more from the audiotape series, Profit from PR Power: How to Successfully Sell Any Technology Using Affordable, Effective & Powerful Media Promotion. Hear PR pros reveal their step-by-step systems for building brand awareness, using affordable strategies and tactics. E-mail us today at info@customercatcher.com with "PR Power" in the subject line for your special TMC-subscriber, limited-time offer.

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