When Can You Stop Advertising?

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

To answer, advertising people like to tell the story of the day McDonald’s decided to stop. 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 figured they’d earned the right to take the day off and save a few bucks.

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

Disclosure time: 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.

But on December 31, 2008, I got a true story of my own.

Paramount Equity Mortgage has been running radio ads on 1190 KEX in Portland for more than three years. They’ve been on the air every week of the year during that time. Although the offers have changed as the mortgage business has changed, the basics have been remarkably consistent.

For more than three years, they’ve used the same spokesman — Hayes Barnard. They’ve used the same jingle. There’s always been just one call to action — “call 503-718-one thousand”.  After three years of this, many KEX listeners could probably recite that number from memory if you woke them from a sound sleep.

But not everybody.

On December 31, Chris Brown, in our commercial traffic department, received a voice mail from a KEX radio listener. I’ve changed the listener’s name and number, but otherwise this is a verbatim 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.  I asked him if he was a regular KEX listener, and he said he’s been listening for years, tunes in almost every day, and is a member of the Mark & Dave Cult (our afternoon show listener club).

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. He should have been able to recite that phone number in his sleep.

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 —  Les Schwab and Fred Meyer and McDonald’s have a semi-permanent place in millions of mental hard drives.

But Les Schwab, Fred Meyer, and McDonald’s know that “semi” always comes before “permanent”. The day you stop advertising is the day that your customers begin to forget about you.


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