Reflect your environment to market more effectively

You probably wouldn’t walk into a board meeting wearing cut-offs and a grimy T-shirt. Nor would you sport your Sunday best while trying to dig up a stump. So why would your company develop and place advertising that completely ignores its surroundings?


It amazes me that companies will invest a small fortune in developing advertising and marketing materials, and then drop them into an environment where they create conflict or behave inappropriately. Is it because the companies are completely unaware of that environment? Or is it a form of arrogance that insists the message is so good that it will work anywhere and anytime?


While waiting for a medical appointment, I spotted a great example on the back cover of the large-print edition of Reader’s Digest magazine. A national company purchased the pricey back-cover space to promote its medical alarm (similar to the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” folks). Given the demographics of the magazine — especially in its large-print version — it’s a brilliant media buy that’s well worth the extra money.


Before I explain where the advertiser fell short, please allow me to describe the magazine itself. It reprints those familiar Reader’s Digest stories using well-spaced-out 14- and 16-point type in a traditional serif typeface, placed in two columns divided by a rule. The magazine’s graphic design team clearly understands the audience’s visual challenges, and they’ve done a bang-up job of reaching out to them.


The advertiser? Not so much. Their unusually busy ad packs hundreds of words of copy using 10-point sans serif type, several levels of headlines and subheadings, a couple of separate pitches set off to the side, and a distracting photo of a semi-celebrity endorser from a cancelled cable TV show.


I love long copy and recognize its value in direct response advertising. It tends to be far more effective than short copy at delivering and completing a sales pitch. But if your audience’s eyes are so bad that they’ve chosen to read a magazine with giant-size type, you don’t want to run an ad that will either give them a headache or be completely illegible. What makes it even worse is that the copy isn’t particularly well-thought-out and could have been a heck of a lot shorter.


Somewhere along the way, someone at the advertiser should have stopped and remembered that they were advertising in a publication for people with impaired vision. And that’s the underlying problem. Far too often, the creation of an ad or other communications tactic is completely divorced from the decision about how and where it will run. The “how” and the “where” become separate factors.


That explains why so many ads and other marketing messages simply seem to be awkward or out of place. You’ll scroll through a humorous website, and up will pop a banner ad that’s deadly serious — or vice versa. You’ll read a trade magazine, and an ad will stop you in its tracks; not because it’s attention-getting, but because its approach is jarringly inappropriate for its surroundings. Or you’ll spot an outdoor billboard in an ironic location — a restaurant pitch towering over a roadside sewage treatment plant (or a competitor), for example.


In other cases, money trumps the opportunity to make a bigger impact. An advertiser reasons that she already has an ad, so why not use it again? The environment and audience for which the ad was created might be markedly different from the current situation. Investing in an approach that’s designed for the current environment and audience will result in an ad that’s more likely to connect with the reader and get the desired results.


You choose your wardrobe based on the setting and situation, so that you’re always assured of making the right impression. Your company’s marketing efforts deserve at least as much consideration. Consideration of media and environment should be every bit as integral to the approach as the cleverness of the headline and the beauty of the design.

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