Q: I read your response last week about overnight radio advertising and it got me to thinking. While I have two ads that I know work time and again, others seem hit or miss. What might I be doing wrong?

Compton, Calif.

A: It is really impossible to say without seeing the ads. However, generally speaking, there are some common mistakes that many small businesspeople tend to make when it comes to advertising. I call these “The Seven Deadly Sins of Advertising:”

1. Not properly targeting the market. You have to know exactly whom you are trying to reach and where to reach them. Too many small businesses have a vague notion of whom their customers are (age, income level, schooling, etc.) Without really knowing your customers, how can you ever expect to find the right media source with which to target them?

Are you customers affluent, or not? Young or old? Educated or uneducated? Knowing the answers to questions like these will help you pinpoint what they listen to, watch, and read, and thereby know where to advertise. This is a basic necessity for any advertiser, and that is why failing to properly target your customers is the First Deadly Sin.

2. Not having a large enough budget. Yes, there are ways to advertise on the cheap, and some are effective. But know this too: Media outlets that are cheaper are cheaper for a reason. Less people read/listen to/watch them. If you are going to run an ad campaign then, try to spend enough to make it worth your while.

3. Creating a bad ad. Sure, its great to have some funny ad, but if it either 1) doesn’t cause people to remember the name of your business, or 2) doesn’t compel them to buy your service or product now, it’s a bad ad, despite the yucks. You want your ad to be memorable and persuasive, not funny but forgettable.

4. Wasting valuable space. If a column in the newspaper or a minute of airtime on the radio runs $100, then every word counts. But too many small business advertisers though waste valuable time and space on unnecessary words. Phrases like “locally owned and operated,” does nothing and means nothing to most consumers. One famous advertising wag once stated that the best ad he ever saw read “farm fresh eggs available today.” No wasted words there. The ad conveyed a feeling (“farm fresh”) the type of product (eggs), and a reason to buy them NOW (they are here, and presumably, fresh today only.)

5. Lack of consistency and repetition. As noted last week, when it comes to advertising, repetition is the key. Running a consistent ad time after time builds brand awareness. Even if someone vaguely notices your ad for months, it still might be registering. When he later needs what you offer, the name of your business will be triggered — that is, if your ad has been consistent and repetitive.

6. Bad headlines. “Donate that car or truck” the local ad reads. Big deal. Who cares? How many times have we seen that? If you want people to notice your ad, you better grab their attention quick. “Man bites dog!” or “Amazing pill guaranteed
to improve your sex life!” or “The lazy man’s way to riches” are the sorts of headlines you should strive for.

7. No call to action. The best way to remember what a good ad looks like is the AIDA moniker: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. First you grab their attention, then you get them interested in what you are selling. Next, you create a desire on their part for what you are selling, and finally, you offer a call to action.

Too may ads fail to give potential customers a reason to act now. That is why expiring coupons, sales that are ending, or a free offer for calling now are so effective. They get the customer to act, and that’s the whole idea. Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Advertising, and you know you are headed in the right direction.

Today’s Tip:
 Remember, far and away, the proven top two words when it comes to capturing people’s interest in an ad are “SALE” and “FREE.”

The Seven Deadly Sins of Advertising

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