7 of 12 Causes of Advertising Failure: Obedience to Unwritten Rules

Obedience to Unwritten Rules- Originally posted 11/2/2015 - Updated on 6/16/21

Welcome back to our 12-part series on causes of advertising failure. We’ve reached lucky number seven — obedience to unwritten rules. If you’re new to the series, make sure to check out the six previous advertising failures in the links below, found at the end of this article.

Typically, many business owners have an idea of what an ad should sound or look like. And for whatever reason, they stay incredibly loyal, or obedient, to that “rule”. They may stick with a tried and true method that seems to work for them, or perhaps have flirted with techniques they’ve seen others in their industry try.

The downside is this: playing by these unwritten rules can severely limit your creativity and effectiveness. So throw out the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Just because it’s been done, doesn’t mean it’s the best or most effective way of advertising your brand.

The Writing Isn’t On The Wall

It’s human nature to stick with what you know, and what you’re comfortable with. And many advertisers tend to fall victim to this as well — following invisible rules they’ve been dutifully abiding throughout their career.

Take for example, a favorite advertising misconception that many business owners are loyal to — attention grabbing ads that don’t hit the mark. So, you’ve run some appealing ads that your clients and prospects are sure to find riveting and more importantly, they’ll remember it. But you’re finding that you still have mediocre sales as a result of this campaign. Yes, you’ve read Advertising Failure #1 - The Desire for Instant Gratification, and you know better than to expect phenomenal results instantly. But it’s been a solid few months running this campaign, dominating the airwaves, and you’ve got little to show for it. So what gives?

You may have the best sounding, or most inviting ad in the market, but are consumers getting it? Do they actually understand what you are trying to say, and what you do exactly? Even if you have a great ad, if your audience isn’t resonating with it, or if they don’t understand what you’re trying to convey, then you’ve invested time, resources, and money into a failed effort.

The writing isn’t on the wall — to have a successful marketing campaign you need to really understand your core demographic and speak to their needs. Be open to trying new and innovative techniques, or inventing your own method to this madness. Advertising is much more than just an appealing ad. That’s not enough to convince your audience to try your products and services. With infinite messages to divide their attention, you have to make sure that your message and call-to-action is compelling enough to make them want to not only hear, but listen to what you have to say.

Follow Best Practices and Intuition

Just like snowflakes, no two companies are identical. For that reason, there is no “one-size-fits all marketing strategy” for your downloading pleasure. Instead, it’s best to find a happy marriage between advertising best practices and your own intuition. You should know your customers better than any of us writing these articles. Finding those unique techniques that work (and those that don’t) come from talking to your customers and understanding what really lands with them.

Some advertising best practices we always think customers should follow include:

  • Be human — write and talk the way people talk

  • Choose one strong message, and tailor to your audience and medium of advertising

  • Make a simple offer that calls for an immediate response (CTA)

  • Radio is considered “theatre of the mind” — paint a picture so people can visualize your story

  • Make use of silence, have listeners silently talk back

  • Avoid use of jargon

  • Pique listener’s interest in the introduction

While these are strong guidelines that have been time-tested, we cannot stress enough the importance of taking these methods and applying them to your own marketing strategy. There’s a fine line between abiding by best practices, and being obedient to unwritten rules. It’s important to remember what rules are real (and proven effective) and those that are make believe.

What Does It Take?

Generally speaking, you’ve got anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds to tell your story on radio and elicit a response. Your copy has got to trigger an emotion in the listener. Whether it’s happiness, nostalgia, a fear of missing out, or the desire to act on a guilty pleasure, your radio spot needs to be unique in order to stand out from the masses and deliver a return on your investment.  

For some inspiration, take a look at The 2015 Radio Mercury award winners. In 1992, The Radio Mercury Awards were established to “encourage and reward the development of effective and creative radio commercials”. In describing the 2015 winners, Erica Farber, president and CEO of The Radio Advertising Bureau explained, “The 2015 winners all exemplify our mission of recognizing and rewarding the best creative storytellers who engage consumers, help build brands, and keep the spirit of creative radio writing alive. ‘Mandroid’ and all of this year’s winners were inspiring and creative, and continue to meet and exceed the high bar that we set”.

Go Your Own Way

The reason the above winners were recognized is because they knew the industry standard, and decided to blow that baseline out of the water. Just because an advertising technique is a standard in your industry, or you’re seeing your competitors doing it, doesn’t mean you need to follow suit. In fact, that might be exactly why you should not do the same thing.

You need to be unique with your advertising; you should not be afraid to try new things. While it’s always a good idea to follow best practices, and listen to the experts like your marketing partners, be open to non-traditional and out of the box approaches that will set you apart from your competition vying for consumer attention.

In this busy and noisy world of competing media, you need to make sure your advertising is relevant, compelling, and breaks free from the clutter. Radio advertising in particular is intimate, personal and is part of many consumer’s everyday life. But not all ads are created equal – some are great, some are mediocre, and some are just plain bad. How will yours stack up?

Be sure to check back next week when we continue our series of advertising failures with #8: Lake Week Schedules.

New to this series? Catch up by checking out failures 1-6 below!

  1. The Desire for Instant Gratification

  2. Big Reach, Small Budget

  3. Business Owner Knows Best

  4. Unsubstantiated Claims

  5. Improper Use of Passive Media

  6. Creating Ads Instead of Campaigns

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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