When Can You Stop Advertising?

One of the most common questions a new advertiser will ask  is, “How long do I need to advertise before everyone knows us?”

when can you stop advertising? never

photo by olly/dpc

To answer, advertising people like to tell the story of the day McDonald’s decided to stop advertising.

For one day, the story goes, McDonald’s pulled everything — radio, TV, print, you name it. They’d been relentlessly marketing their products for decades, and assumed they’d could take a day off and save a few dollars.

The punch line, of course, is that store traffic count and sales dropped immediately. McDonald’s executives were so shaken by this that they resumed marketing the very next day, and haven’t stopped since.

Here’s the problem: as much as I like the story, I have no idea if it’s true, and have never been able to locate its source. If you can point me in the right direction, leave a comment below.

Because I don’t trust that story, I don’t tell it when someone asks how long they need to advertise. I tell another one.

[bctt tweet=”The day you stop advertising is the day that your customers begin to forget about you.”]

The story I tell is one I believe because I witnessed it. It happened in 2008, when I was still selling radio advertising for 1190 KEX in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.

At the time, Paramount Equity Mortgage was one of my biggest clients. They’d been running radio ads relentlessly on KEX, and many other radio stations, for three solid years. They’d been on the air every single week of the year during that time.

During that time, their creative approach never varied.

They’d used the same spokesman — Hayes Barnard — the entire time. They’d used the same jingle. There’s always been just one call to action — Barnard ended every commercial by telling listeners to “call 503-718-one thousand”.

There was solid evidence that the campaign was working extremely well (this was before the real estate crash) — the company was spending an enormous amount of money with me, and paying their bills on time. As a salesperson on commission, I paid attention to that stuff.

After three years of relentless marketing, many KEX listeners could recite the Paramount Equity phone number from memory if you woke them from a sound sleep.

But not everybody.

One day, Chris Brown,  our commercial Traffic Director, received a voice mail from a KEX Radio listener. He forwarded it to me, and I was so startled that I wrote the whole message down verbatim. I’ve changed the listener’s name and number, but otherwise this is a word-for-word transcript:

Good morning Chris, my name is Bob Johnson. This morning on my drive in, approximately 5:15am on 1190, I heard a commercial… I believe it was for, Paramount Equity, it was a mortgage company advertising loans… mortgage loans. I was unable to write down the phone number and would certainly like to contact these people. I do not have a contact number. If you could get that number to me, my number is 503-555-1212. I’m very interested in the product and if it would work for me. Appreciate your help.

I called the listener back and gave him Paramount’s number: “503-718-one thousand”. We chatted for a while, and I asked him if he was a regular KEX listener. He told me he’d been listening for years, tuned in almost every day, and was a member of the Mark & Dave Cult (our afternoon show listener club at the time).

What amazed me about this is that over the past few years, he must have heard Paramount’s commercials – and phone number – hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. That phone number should have been tattooed on his brain.

And yet, the day he finally decided to refinance, he needed to be reminded one more time.

Not everyone forgets that quickly. A strong campaign will get into many consumers’ heads — Nike and Chevrolet and Budweiser have a semi-permanent place in millions of mental hard drives.

But Nike, Chevrolet and Budweiser know that “semi” always comes before “permanent”. Awareness, once achieved, must be maintained. The day you stop advertising is the day that your customers begin to forget about you.

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