Have you ever run an ad that just didn’t work?
Watch the video version here:
Whatever the next step was supposed to be in your sales process, it just didn’t happen. People were supposed to come in, call on the phone, make an appointment, buy something on retail shelf… It just didn’t happen.
If you’ve been in marketing for any amount of time, or if you’ve run a business for any amount of time, I already know the answer to that question: it’s definitely happened to you.
And you know what? That’s okay. It happens to the best of us.
But usually, when an ad fails, there’s a reason why.
When we think about why that ad didn’t work, there are typically three reasons:
- Something was missing.
- There was a “people problem.”
- And… sometimes they just don’t work.
In this post, we’re going to go through each of those categories and discuss some of the reasons why that ad didn’t work.
Failed Ads Are Often Missing A Critical Piece
There are a number of things that could be missing in a failed ad. The most common missing element is the call to action. I see ads all the time that don’t have any sort of call to action. It’s just a logo or a picture of the owner or something like that, maybe a phone number and website, and perhaps a slogan or tagline or something else that’s trying to be catchy. But there’s nothing telling the people seeing the ad or hearing the ad what they need to do next.
It’s the marketing equivalent of standing on a street corner begging for money without even putting the obligatory “God Bless You” on the sign.
You’ve got to remember that the brain is wired to be lazy. You can never underestimate the laziness of the human brain when it comes to marketing, and I’ll talk to you more about that in just a little bit. Now, alongside the call to action, a lot of times an ad will fail because there’s no reason to act now.
People just say, “oh, that’s a good idea. I want to do that sometime.” But there’s no reason to act now. We’ve got to remember that people don’t want to change and they’ll put it off. You’ve got to motivate them to act.
So let me give you an example of these two principles working hand in hand:
You can say “Call now (that’s the call to action) to get 10% off. Limited time only.”
That, all of a sudden, has turned something that just says, “hi, I’m here and I want your money,” into, “This, Mr. Consumer, Mrs. Consumer, Mr. or Mrs. Business Owner, this is what you need to do next and here’s why.”
Another reason that an ad can fail is, there’s no real point. Here are three critical ingredients for an ad to work: You’ve got to have a headline with a benefit and an offer.
I know that when we think of headlines, we think of something printed. Maybe a newspaper ad or a direct mail piece, something like that. But a headline can be used in a radio or TV spot, on the Internet, or anywhere at all. And you need to have that “headline” to get people to pay attention to the rest of your ad.
Some failed ads are missing a USP. That’s a “unique selling proposition,” and I’m sure you’ve probably heard of that before. I like to think of a USP as answering a question:
“Why would I pick you over any and all competitors or make no choice at all?”
So if you take all of those components that I’ve just shown you here, that is how you start building an effective ad.
Why The Human Brain Rejects An Ad
Another reason as can fail is that that ad is boring. You’ve got to remember that your audience, the people you’re talking to, or the people reading your ad, the people seeing your ad, they have emotions and they decide to buy based on their emotions. They don’t at first make a logical decision. They actually buy first on emotion.
Now, do you remember when I had mentioned that the brain is wired to be lazy? Well, that’s because the brain uses so much energy that it has to try to preserve energy. The way it does that is by making decisions in a three step process by using three different parts of the brain. The first part of the brain is the root brain. It goes by other names, but that’s what I call it, the root brain. And that is fight or flight very primal sense. The root brain is also what controls your breathing, pulse, and the things you don’t think about. So the root brain analyzes whatever decision it has to make to make sure that if you’re in danger, it can react instantly.
If you’re not in danger, then it kicks it over to the limbic system, which is where the emotions live. And this is primarily what I’m talking about not having a boring ad. The limbic system, it thinks to itself, “am I having a feeling about this?” Because if there’s no feeling generated, that means that you don’t care. And if you don’t care, the limbic system is not going to kick it up to the neocortex.
The neocortex is the decision brain, where the logic, skepticism, and critical thinking are located. So you’ve got to address each of those three parts of the brain in your ad and you’ve got to make sure that you’re pulling on some kind of emotion.
Now I see a lot of ads these days that are trying to be funny, but I want you to remember that that’s not the only solution. There are a whole range of emotions that you can play on, and a sense of humor is great but it’s not your only solution… and it may not be your best solution.
Some Failed Ads Have a “People Problem”
So let’s move on from something being missing in the ad to there being a “people problem.” And there are only two kinds of people problems.
One is that the right people didn’t see or hear your ad. You’ve got to target your ad because you want to make sure that the right people are looking or listening where you’re communicating. So often, I see ads that are kind of “come one, come all.” There is no targeting and that’s going to make the ad less effective.
Sometimes, you can see that the advertiser did target the ad, but those people weren’t there because there was a targeting mismatch. So for example, if you’ve got a product that’s targeted at college age females, you don’t run it in the Wall Street Journal. They’re not reading that newspaper and that’s going to be a mismatch.
So you’ve got to make sure that you’re targeting your ad, and make sure that the targeting is hitting the people that you want to target.
The other “people problem” happens when the right people didn’t know they were the right people. And what I mean by that is basically you didn’t do a good enough job speaking their language. You’ve got to make sure that you’re speaking the language of the audience and oftentimes you will see this problem in the trades or home services advertising. They’ll start using language that is specific to their business without realizing that not everyone knows what they’re talking about.
Additionally, you want to make sure that you’re speaking to an issue that your audience has. That could be a benefit that they want, or a problem that they don’t want. Make sure that you’re addressing one of those two issues that your target audience has.
Some Ads Just Don’t Work, and That’s Okay.
Finally, sometimes ads just don’t work because they don’t work. You’ve got to remember that marketing is a science. That consists of not being right all the time. You can’t expect to hit the bullseye the first time you shoot an arrow, or to hit the bullseye every time when you’ve practiced for a long time. Marketing is the business of getting it right or wrong, and from there you take the results, feed the winners, and starve the losers.
How To Reduce The Chances Of Your Next Ad Failing
If you found this information helpful, I’ve got a checklist for you that you’re really going to love.
It’s a free download and it’s going to help you analyze an ad that you’re either getting ready to run or an ad that you’re running right now and you’re not all that happy with the results.
This checklist will help you assess every element we talked about, and a few more we didn’t.
Download the checklist by requesting it here: