Advertising – Alternatives to Print

Advertising is the time-honoured way to reach new customers, and it’s almost always worth including in your marketing mix alongside other tactics. Last time we looked at print advertising: but there are alternatives – starting with TV and radio.

If you run a small business you might think you can’t afford TV or radio, and you’re probably right … unless you check out the ad rates for local radio stations.

This is a relatively inexpensive way of reaching people, provided you can handle it properly. Of course, if no-one is listening to your ad, it’s an expensive luxury. The good news: broadcast delivers high impact for a captive audience. Most commercial radio stations cover a tightly targeted audience – usually a geographically limited area, sometimes a group with narrowly defined interests (classical music, sport, reggae). It can sometimes be difficult to approach that kind of consumer so precisely for so little outlay.

Radio is conventionally good for reaching a consumer audience. It’s also surprisingly good for business messages, particularly those directed at the kind of business person who will be listening while in their car en route to meetings or on the commuter trail. Conveniently, this tends to happen during the day, at times when the stations don’t apply a premium to their airtime rates.

Broadcast pros and cons

Production costs for commercial radio advertisements are relatively inexpensive – you may be able to record it yourself, or the local radio station may give you a hand as part of the deal. Airtime slots are cheaper than for TV, and it’s often possible to negotiate some good discounts – especially at less favoured times of the day.

Lead times for booking ads tend to be relatively short, often only a day or so, which can provide an advertiser with a lot of flexibility for opportunistic campaigns.

And local radio is a pretty good alternative to TV for creating moods or images that would be pricey to achieve visually. It feels like a one-to-one medium, with the advertisement’s voice speaking directly to the listener. The human voice is a powerful selling aid in this environment, conveying emotion and authority or humour and charm. Add the local or specific-interest content, and you should be able to produce a highly personal experience for the listener.

The downside: there’s no rewind on radio or TV. Commercials have to work first time around. You’re only on air for a few seconds at a time, and you’re sharing the ad break with several other advertisers: the auditory clutter can be high and exposure to your message will be fleeting. And a radio ad can be a terrible way to put over detailed information like your phone number.

Watch the audience, too. In general business leaders and high-spending consumers tend not to use local radio and TV (with the exception perhaps of some housewives, who might fall into one or both of those hot target groups).

Many listeners dislike ads and may change stations to avoid commercials. It’s also important to understand how the audience fluctuates during the day, with radio peaks around breakfast and drive-home time and TV probably strongest in the evening. The station will probably charge you more for slots at those times, but in any case you probably don’t want to be featured with the 5am weather report or the 11.55 bedtime message.

Al fresco advertising

Outdoor advertising – which basically means posters – works on frequency. The ad stays in the same place for a while, typically a month at minimum, so people who pass it regularly will see the same message a number of times.

The ad is particularly strong if the location is relevant – “only 200m to the store entrance’, for example, or a “buy our cut-price copier paper” message on a site facing a large office block. And it has a captive audience – the passer-by can’t switch it off.

They can however pass it by without a glance. Because target consumers are typically moving, a poster ad will get only 2-3 seconds of a reader’s time at best; it’s tricky to design an effective message that hits home in two seconds. So invest in clever design – the minimum of words, bold colours, in-your-face graphics, simple backgrounds. Messages must be simple, direct and easily understood. And location is everything with poster sites, a fact that will be reflected in the rates for the best ones.

Because of this, outdoor advertising is typically used to reinforce or remind the consumer of the advertising messages communicated through other media. Posters can be an effective support medium, reminding the audience of other forms of advertising for the same product or service.

The good news is that posters aren’t the only way to get your message into the open air. The “outdoor” classification includes benches, posters, bus stops, bike racks, and other street furniture. You’ll find some good deals on poster advertising in cinemas, theatres, swimming pools and the like.

And check out advertising rates on buses, taxicabs and trains; they can be surprisingly cheap – you can have a panel on a London Underground stairway or escalator from around £80 a month.

The key questions for any advertiser:

What’s the advertisement for? The clearer and easier to measure your objective, the more effective your advertising will be. Examples include:

  • To create direct sales
  • To build brand or company image
  • To communicate specific messages e.g. product recalls, sales dates etc
  • To counter negative publicity/competitor activity

The objective should also be feasible. For example, it is easier to get people to change brands than to change such consuming habits as buying new product categories.

Who are you trying to reach? Without knowing the audience, it is difficult to choose an appropriate medium or a message for advertising. Where would people who are in the market for this product or service tend to go for their information?

What do you want the audience to do next? You might want them to write a cheque and put it in the mail right now. But that might be unreasonable; you might have to give too much information in the advertisement to make them willing to purchase, for instance. So set your sights a bit lower: encourage them to get in touch, call a number, fill in a form, email you, visit the website …
Advertise …

… But not necessarily in the obvious places. Try these:

  • Supermarket grocery carts
  • Bus shelters
  • Park benches
  • Swimming pools and leisure centres
  • Local theatres
  • Buses, trams, trains
  • Cinema and bus tickets

How to increase your ad’s pulling power

The best copywriting for ads is all about knowing who your prospects are, what they need, and how you (or your product) will give it to them.
And as with most written material your ad should have a title, a beginning, a middle and an end.

Title: You have a split second to grab their attention and hold it. That’s what the headline is for – to arouse their curiosity, get their attention, lure them in, get them to want to spend time reading your ad.

The best headlines often attract readers on the basis of who they are (“Drivers …”)
or what their needs or interests are (“Music lovers …”)

Beginning: The next most important part of your copy is the opening. It needs to be powerful enough to confirm the reader’s interest and make them want to read on. The minute your copy becomes boring, inappropriate, ugly or braggish, your reader will switch off.

Middle: The key here is to make each paragraph flow on to the next, identifying more and more benefits and brand values that your prospect can relate to. Remember that advertising is salesmanship in print: as a rule, the more you tell, the more you sell. And specifics sell. For instance, 49 is more believable than 50.

Identify with them (“We know that running your own business is tough …”) and show the solution (“Simplified bills … no separate charging … everything you need is in the box …”). Proof is good: cite testimonials, offer a guarantee. That can lower the barriers to doing business with you.

Articulate your USP (you do have a USP, don’t you?) and shout it from the rooftops (“Next-day delivery or it’s FREE”).

Free information, such as a pack or catalogue, can make you sound reasonable and unpushy. Give it an interesting title (“56 ways to save money on your mobile”) and you’ll be offering value.

Ending: The ad must have a climax and a call to action. Make an offer (a time-limited discount is the classic) and emphasise the urgency. Make it easy to respond to the ad – freephone numbers, freepost coupons, extra discount for email or web enquiries (because they’re cheaper for you).
Don’t forget to include a reference number to make it easier for you to measure response and run tests using different ads and different media. Make the reader aware that they should quote the reference number when they get in touch – maybe by offering a lucky-dip prize.

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