Our First Print Ad (aka The Mistake)

Let Me Tell You a Little Story

The photo above is of a framed copy of the first magazine advertisement we ran for Home Inventory. It hangs on the wall in my office and is probably the most expensive piece of wall art we’ll ever own. It even has a name, The Fifty Six Hundred Dollar Mistake (or just The Mistake for short), derived from how much we paid for its two-month run in Macworld magazine last year.

The Mistake serves as a reminder of how easy it is to waste money on advertising. The sales boost we were able to attribute to this ad amounted to a few hundred dollars, at best, leaving us with a loss of over five grand. I like art, but a small company like ours simply cannot afford to own too many Mistakes.

Lacking the finances to hire a professional to develop a marketing strategy and design our ads, my wife and I handle it all ourselves. The fact that we’re not very good at it hasn’t stopped us from trying and we actually felt pretty proud of ourselves after we submitted the final version of the ad for publication. We had never created a print ad before and were flying high on a sense of accomplishment. Then we showed it to my mom.

Instead of receiving the obligatory, “Oh, how nice.”, I had expected, Mom took all of thirty seconds to eviscerate our first foray into print advertising. Making good use of her ability to completely trash something without sounding mean, my mother informed us that our ad didn’t stand out visually on the page, wasn’t clear on what the product actually was, and was just plain boring. The ad may not have been clear, but my mother’s opinion of it conjured a very realistic vision of five thousand six hundred dollars being set ablaze.

And Your Point Is…

You may have read some of the news stories about the decline in ad spending over past few years. If not, you have no doubt noticed many magazines have become noticeably slimmer, with some on the verge of becoming little more than glorified pamphlets. As advertising slows, ad sales reps have set their sights on smaller targets, like us. Unfortunately, many media outlets have not tailored their offerings to fit smaller companies with financial restrictions that often dictate a do-it-yourself approach to marketing and advertising.

It is to the benefit of all parties involved that an ad be effective. A successful ad means potential customers that might be interested in our product are now aware of it, which translates into higher sales, which in turn means we keep buying ad space. We don’t have the resources to play around with and tweak an ad that isn’t working. If it doesn’t deliver, we’re gone as an advertiser.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for media outlets that would take away some of the fear smaller companies have with advertising and help make their ads successful:

Be The Home Depot

If you’re a homeowner in the US, no doubt you are already familiar with The Home Depot. For those who are not, The Home Depot is a large chain of stores that sells tools and other home improvement goods to the general public. They emphasize the do-it-yourself approach to home improvement and offer free classes on everything from tiling to building a deck that serve as a mechanism to convince the wary, would-be do-it-yourselfers that they can, in fact, do it themselves.

Media outlets should take a page from The Home Depot and offer a quarterly or even monthly webinar on how to design an effective ad. I’m not talking about designing the ad for the customer, but giving some basic tips on creating an ad people will pay attention to. Help us do-it-yourselfers feel more confident about the idea of creating an ad.

A Different Kind of Paid Review

No, I’m not talking about paying for product reviews (that’s just sleazy). Instead, media outlets should offer a service where potential advertisers can pay to have their ads reviewed by professionals. A simple, half-hour to one hour consultation with a critique of the ad and some suggestions for improving it is all that is needed. There is one crucial element to this, though: the consultant must understand the audience the media outlet serves and be honest with potential advertisers about how well their offerings fit with that audience.

Brand Building is for Companies with More Money

I cannot tell you how many times an ad sales rep has tried to feed me the line about advertising being more about building brand recognition than direct sales. They like to tell me how repetition will keep our name in people’s minds, which will translate to higher sales in some distant future. That’s all fine and good, but I’m more interested in making the mortgage payment. Home Inventory sells for $15.00 a copy, so we have to sell a lot of software each month to make that happen. For us, an ad must deliver almost immediate results and at least break even within a few weeks for it to be worthwhile. Anything less puts us at risk. If you are going to try to solicit us to advertise with you, you must understand this above all else.

Sensible Online Pricing Schemes

As an advertiser, I absolutely hate the pay per impression pricing model and generally avoid advertising on sites that use it. If I buy 100,000 impressions, how many individuals will see the ad and over what period of time? How many of those impressions are wasted, being shown over and over again to the same people who aren’t interested in what I have to sell? It’s an absolutely meaningless metric. Personally, I prefer the pay per click model, that way both the advertiser and the media outlet have some skin in the game. Barring that, being able to buy a spot on website for a fixed period of time at a flat rate is workable.

Embrace the Concept of a Demo

We offer a free, fully-featured trial version of Home Inventory that anyone can download from our website. This lets potential customers try out our software, risk-free, to see if they like it before they spend their hard-earned money. It would nice if ad venues did something similar to build a sense of confidence that they can deliver an audience interested in my products. Maybe it’s a free display ad for a month in the back of a magazine, a free banner ad that runs for a few days, or deep discounts on the first ad buy. Some limitations are certainly reasonable, such as the amount of trial ad space available (that means a waiting list, but so what) and restricting these offers to companies that haven’t advertised with the media outlet in the past three years or so. Show us you can bring the numbers and we will keep renewing our ad buys.

One Last Bit of News

It’s been over a year since our first print ad and we’ve finally decided to give print another time. Perhaps foolishly, my wife and I created the ad ourselves, but this time it passed the Mom test with flying colors. Take a look for it when the October issue of Mac Life hits the newsstands this week and let me know what you think.