1 of 12 Causes of Advertising Failure: The Desire for Instant Gratification

causes-of-advertising-failureOriginally published 9-22-2015. Updated 8-14-2020

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: advertising is an investment, not an expense. In the first of our 12-part series on causes of advertising failure, we’ll delve into the marketers desire for instant gratification, and why it’s an unfortunate approach when it comes to your business.

We get it, advertising, especially as a small business can be a pill. You don’t have a large budget, and chances are you don’t have the time to really sit down, study your books and create a solid budget. We understand. Yet, regardless of these roadblocks, the bottom line is, that if you want your business to succeed, you’ll must allocate dollars to advertising. Viewing your advertising as a long-term investment will make an important difference in your advertising efforts. Advertising is not about instant gratification. If all you can see is the money, you’ll discover quickly that the amount you make probably isn’t worth the amount you’ve spent. However, if you can look past the advertising bill, to the much bigger picture: building the long-term future of your brand, as well as the short-term gain of sales, you’ll realize that advertising is worth every dime and minute spent.

advertising-in-uncertain-timesWhat Is This Desire for Instant Gratification?

Look, we’re all human; it’s normal to want instant gratification. We get it in so many arenas of our lives (TV, food, retail) that it’s only natural to want it in our business ventures as well. But with marketing, you have to understand that things are rarely instant. While you may not see a prompt return on your investments, it doesn’t mean they aren’t working.

As humans, we’re hardwired to want things and want them now. This desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment is called instant gratification, and it’s a dynamic force. The desire for instant gratification is the opposite of what we’ve been taught which is deferred gratification, or patience. And as we know, this is usually considered a virtue. The skill of giving preference to long-term goals over more immediate results, despite the innate desire to have what we want, when we want it, can produce incredible rewards.

Take, For Example…

Take yourself out of your marketing shoes for a second. You’re now a consumer who’s shopping for a new car. You’re hearing advertising on the radio that is creating incredible urgency with their calls-to-action — ONE DAY ONLY, BIGGEST SALE OF THE YEAR, DON’T MISS THIS — insisting that you respond immediately. The chances are high that you’ll forget this ad directly following the expiration of the offer. Ads like this are of little to no use in establishing an identity for this automotive company. And if you’re just beginning your search or are not in the market today, you, as the consumer will likely ignore their pleas.

It’s important as a marketer to realize that getting business exposure and building brand awareness is part of what you are paying for. Sure, promoting a sale is always welcome, but there will be consumers who see or hear your advertising that may not be in the market for a new car at the time. However, if you have a compelling ad that, instead of only urging people to BUY NOW, explains why your vehicles are  superior than the competition, consumers will likely remember you in the future. It’s important to remember that even if you don’t instantly get the sale, your increased brand awareness, and exposure through the advertisement will, in the long run, pay off.

It's our experience that the most successful marketing campaigns contain a blend of both an awareness brand-building campaign and periodic action campaigns. The former tells your story, creates trust in the marketing place, builds relationships with consumers and establishes an important foundation to your brand's perception and top-of-mind awareness. The latter should be done sparingly, unless your value proposition is price, and is effective for driving sales during key times of the year when it is strategic to do so. To cut price or offer bold incentives in an effort to entice shoppers looking for a deal BEFORE you've positioned your brand in the marketplace and built a solid foundation is to put the cart before the horse. It cheapens your brand and can hurt you in the long run. 

Variables That Affect Your Advertising Success

Understanding and mastering the many variables that affect your advertising success will help you to create a stronger and more effective marketing plan. Here are a few things to consider:

The Right Audience

You can market and market till you’re blue in the face, but if you’re not reaching the right people, you’ll never get any results. Identifying your target audience is one of the first steps in creating a successful advertising plan and the right audience is often reached through your creative message. Once you know who you’re trying to reach, you can then figure out how to find them. For example, is advertising on the most popular radio station in your town the best way to reach your desired audience? Sure, they may attract a larger listening audience than other stations but if the majority of their listeners are Millennials and you’re targeting affluent Gen Xer’s, you may want to reconsider.


This is another big one. In the same manner in which instant gratification doesn’t seem to have a place in advertising, running your ad once, and never again, will not get you the returns you expected. Knowing why frequency is important for your advertising will save you lots of headaches down the road. As a media company, we’re no stranger to these conversations: business owners wondering why their one radio campaign didn’t seem to deliver the expected ROI. Not seeing instant results, they conclude that this type of advertising isn’t working for them. Unfortunately, that’s just not how advertising works. Intuitively we know that repetition, or frequency, is the foundation of any learning process, and it’s no different for consumers learning about a product or service. Remaining top-of-mind amongst today's heavily brand-driven society will help develop and strengthen your brand awareness in the short and long-term.

Consistent Calls-to-Action

Keeping your call-to-action clear, and consistent across all of your marketing channels will allow consumers to begin to learn and trust your brand. Additionally, if you’re new to the market and trying to establish your brand, keep your CTA simple. Impactful calls-to-action explain to your audience what the consumer is going to get, not what they have to do. One of the most common mistakes is using passive or weak language. For example, instead of simply saying “Begin Your Free Trial” you can say “Start Your Free Trial Today!” Actionable language is compelling and not to mention insights a sense of immediacy.

Strong Creative

Crafting strong and compelling creative is not easy. If you've been doing your ads yourself, that's good...until it isn't. Good is the enemy of great. Chances are you are missing important aspects of creating ads that work the way you would like. Consider enlisting professionals to do the job. Professional graphic designers can create professional, out-of-the-box magazine ads that may be just what you need to grab consumer attention. Experienced graphic designers are also familiar with best practices for using typeface, complimenting colors, spacing, and font size to create engaging creative and can be well worth the investment. Professional radio copywriters and producers, frankly, know their craft better than you do. They are experts at helping you tell your story in a memorable and compelling way. It may be time to let go of the reins and let the experts take over. 


Being able to track where your customers came from, how they heard of you, or what brought them into the store/to your website is vital information. You also have to consider major changes to the buyer’s journey. Now, someone may hear your ad on the radio and go talk to a friend or colleague about your brand, then they can visit your website, after that they might see what you’re posting on social media and after all of that, then they’ll pick up the phone or walk into your store. Isn’t the radio ad what started this whole interaction? How are you going to track this information? In the end, tracking your ROI all boils down to the goals and objectives you want to achieve. Set specific and measurable goals before creating any campaign and absolutely use historical information as a baseline of improvement.

Avoid The “See What Sticks Method”

You’ve probably seen advertising tactics that seem to throw everything at you in hopes that something will stick. On the other side, having a blueprint of what will resonate with your demographic will save you a lot of time and money. If you’re a strong marketer, you take pride in getting results, and probably think twice about taking blind stabs with your advertising. Before you roll out a new campaign, you’ve already tested it and have a good understanding of why you’re doing it, and how to build brand awareness around it.

You’ve invested a significant amount of your already limited time, money and energy into an advertising campaign. While suppressing your need for instant gratification, know that you’re investing in your future.  and the more consistently, and strategically you can do this, the more rewards you can and will reap. Think about what it is you can do today to impact your bottom line a year from now?

Next month, we'll be updating our second post in this series “2 of 12 Causes of Advertising Failure: Big Reach, Small Budget.” 

The 12 Causes of Advertising Failure courtesy of Roy H. Williams , author of The Wizard of Ads & Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads. 

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