Advertising 101: How to Build a Successful Campaign

pedestrians walking crosswalk in Times Square in front of large billboard ads

Print and digital. Online, or in a magazine. Billboard, radio, and Superbowl halftime show. The average person sees up to 10,000 ads per day – advertisements are such a common part of modern life that we’re not consciously aware of how many we see and hear.

Where does one begin in planning an advertising strategy? With so many options for how and where and when to advertise, it can seem overwhelming. We’ve broken down the steps to planning your next advertising campaign.

Start with a Strategy

Even though it seems obvious, it’s worth asking yourself what you’re hoping to gain from an advertising campaign. Take time to define your objective, target audience, and goal(s) for the campaign. Do you want to reach a new audience? Boost sales? Differentiate yourself from the competition? Advertising can happen for any number of reasons: to increase brand awareness, gain new customers, promote sales, introduce a new product, or set yourself apart from your competition. Having a clear idea of what you hope to gain will impact your decisions moving forward. Set a goal that is clear and trackable: saying you want more sales isn’t clear enough to provide actionable steps, but setting a goal of increasing sales by 10% in the next 6 months brings focus and direction to your decisions.

Once you have a clear goal of what you want to accomplish, you can define your target audience. Ideally, your campaign will be part of an established marketing plan and support your ongoing marketing efforts. Advertising is an extension of marketing; marketing provides the vision and big picture, and advertising is a way to communicate that vision to your audience. Regardless of company size, if you don’t have a well-defined sense of customer demographics, your advertising will lack focus and you will not see the results you hope to achieve. If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, it will be challenging to effectively gain their attention.

After you’ve determined your goal and target audience, it’s time to figure out where and when to advertise. There are many options to choose from but that also gives you a greater opportunity to reach your ideal customers. This is why knowing who you’re trying to reach is so important. Advertising is handled differently across individual platforms and knowing why you’re advertising and who your target audience is will impact how and where you advertise. Marketing to a Gen Z audience will look far different than advertising a product to an older consumer, for instance. As tempting as it can be to diversify your advertising, focus first on reaching your target audience. Rather than spreading yourself too thin across all advertising channels, concentrate your efforts on the platforms where your audience spends their time.

Choose Your Medium

While there are a dizzying number of advertising options, they can be distilled into several categories.

Print ads: these are the traditional type of advertising and include newspaper and magazine ads, postcard mailings, flyers, posters, bulletins, and restaurant menus. Other print advertisements, often called ‘Out of Home’ ads, are larger-than-life versions including billboards, subway ads, turnpike booths, etc.

Online/Digital ads: these include TV ads, display and banner ads, radio ads, sponsored social media content, email ads, paid search ads, and mobile ads. As of October 2020, there were almost 4.66 billion active internet users (59% of the global population) – and 91% of those users were on mobile devices (source). If you’re not advertising online, you are missing out on a HUGE opportunity because the internet offers you the chance to connect with over half of the global population.

Other ads: company merchandise, retail advertising, branded vehicles, and other out-of-the-box options are also worth considering as part of an advertising strategy.

Word of mouth: although it is not considered traditional marketing, it can be one of the most credible and highly successful forms of advertising. Negative word-of-mouth reviews can be detrimental to a business, but if the reviews are positive it can add a strong boost to your advertising efforts. Happy customers can be one of the best forms of advertising.

Craft Your Message

Unlike some marketing avenues, you have total control over the message of your advertisements. When you pay for an advertisement, you get to choose how your product is promoted; the only thing you cannot control is how it will be perceived. This is why it’s important to know who you’re speaking to. Advertising is essentially a one-sided conversation with potential or existing customers, and it gives you the opportunity to communicate who you are and what you offer. Regardless of the demographic you’re trying to reach, the image you project to the world has an impact on your bottom line.

In order to be successful, advertising must be memorable: either through repetition or a highly creative ad campaign. You want to avoid being memorable for the wrong reasons, however. A poorly planned or badly timed campaign can cause more harm than good, and it’s important to think through how the messaging will land with your customers. In 2018, Heineken released their ”Sometimes Lighter is Better” ad. It was intended to highlight their light beer in a playful way, but created backlash instead because of racist overtones. Heineken eventually issued an apology and removed the ad, but not until they were called out for using questionable language to promote their product. It’s important to understand your customers and use language that is non-offensive and actually resonates with them.

Some of the most memorable advertising campaigns are those that appeal to the viewer’s emotions. Whether funny or sweet, nostalgic or risqué, advertising that engages the viewer is inherently more memorable. It goes beyond catchy slogans, however. A well-crafted advertisement has the power to change the way an entire product or industry is perceived. Today, diamond rings are nearly synonymous with engagement and marriage… but it wasn’t always that way. Diamonds haven’t been rare since the late 19th century when large diamond mines were discovered in South Africa, and this caused a problem for DeBeers, the company who owned majority stock. They responded to this issue by hiring an ad agency that created a connection between commitment and a diamond ring. Each of their ads since the 1940’s has contained the line “A Diamond is Forever”, and today diamonds are by far the most popular stone for engagement and wedding rings. DeBeers not only appealed to the softer emotions of love and commitment, but made it seem as if everyone worth knowing owned a diamond wedding ring, appealing to people’s desire to be “in” and in-the-know.

Advertising, especially when it’s focused on promoting your company image, can say a lot about who you are as a company. It doesn’t have to be complicated, though. When Absolut vodka first came onto the international market in 1979, they were virtually unknown outside of Sweden and had only sold about 10,000 bottles. Today, Absolut is one of the top brands of vodka and can be found worldwide. What made the difference? The longest-running advertising campaign on record. “Bottles in the Wild” lasted for 25 years and featured over 1500 variations of the Absolut bottle. It was a simple concept, but the execution was creative, interesting and highly memorable.

And Finally…

As with so many aspects of modern life, advertising is a constantly evolving concept. We’ve gone from newspaper ads to radio spots to postcard mailings to online banner ads to advertising that integrates AI. All that to say, advertising moves fast! Be open and flexible in your advertising, because what worked last year may not have the same impact today, and sometimes the best solution for your current campaign is something that didn’t exist five years ago.

The benefits of running a successful advertising campaign can have a hugely positive impact on your business. Advertising allows you to educate customers about your product, services and company, distinguish yourself from the competition, increase brand attraction, promote new products, attract new customers and retain existing ones.

It should go without saying but keep your advertising honest. Everything from being intentionally deceptive to making the fine print difficult to understand can land you in a mess of trouble. If you aren’t the very best, don’t claim to be; it’s better to find and focus on the strengths of your business than make a claim that proves to be fraudulent. If you aren’t sure where your advertising lands, the Federal Trade Commission provides good resources concerning advertising best practices.

With so many variables and options to choose from, planning and executing a successful advertising campaign can feel overwhelming. Barolin + Spencer has over 30 years of experience in all things advertising and we’re here to help you succeed. Reach out if you’d like to hear more about how we can help.

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