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John Foust: Use the right advertising tool

RALEIGH, NC — You may have heard the story about the man who asked the clerk at the hardware store for a wrench. “What kind of wrench?” the clerk asked. “Just show me what you’ve got,” the man replied. Not quite knowing what to do, the clerk pulled a socket wrench from the shelf. “I think I’ll try it,” the man said.

About an hour later, the man came back to the store and said, “This wrench didn’t work. Do you have a different kind?” The clerk put a crescent wrench on the counter, and the man said he would try that one.

After another hour passed, the man returned to the store and said, “This one didn’t work, either. Do you have a bigger one?” The clerk went to the last shelf and found the biggest pipe wrench in inventory. “How about this one?” he asked. The man broke into a big smile. “I know that one will work. I’m just going to use it as a hammer.”

Ridiculous, isn’t it? But how many times have we seen advertisers do something similar? They insist on using the wrong tool and then get frustrated when it doesn’t meet their expectations – even when their expectations are way off base.

Generally speaking, there are two types of advertising – image and response. Image advertising – or institutional advertising, as some people know it – is designed to give consumers a positive feeling about the advertiser. The car dealer that runs ads claiming to be “the friendly dealership” is presenting itself as a nice place to do business. There’s no specific call for action. The appeal is indirect: “If you like us enough, maybe you’ll decide to buy a car from us.”

While image advertising can pay big dividends, it’s a longer cycle. Powerful brands like Apple, FedEx and Coca-Cola didn’t win their market share overnight. Their overall growth has been gradual – not necessarily snail-paced, but step-by-step in an upward direction.

On the other hand, response advertising is designed to create urgency. “Buy now,” an ad might say, “because we’re having a sale”… or “because this offer expires on Saturday.” There is a faster payoff and results are easier to measure. When an advertiser has a sale, you’ll find out immediately if it’s a success. Either it works or it doesn’t.

Repetition often forms a strong bond between image and response advertising. A business that runs a strong image campaign – one that resonates with its target audience – will eventually make sales. And an advertiser who runs a lot of response ads – ads that get results – will establish a strong image in consumers’ minds.

Some of the best campaigns deliberately combine image and response. They project a carefully crafted image and ask for specific action – all at the same time. (“We’re the friendly car dealer. That’s why we’re offering you these weekend specials.”) If you take this approach, make sure it’s a consistent strategy, not a one-and-done experiment.

It’s all about using the right tool.

— John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information: [email protected]

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