How to waste good money on advertising

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”.
John Wanamaker (1838-1922)

This famous quote implies that wastefulness in advertising is a problem. But in reality, wastefulness is the point of advertising and the reason why it’s so successful.

“Flowers are just weeds with an advertising budget.”
Rory Sutherland

The thing is, much as we might think we’re not affected by advertising, we are. It works in many ways and probably the least obvious one is that we instinctively trust brands that advertise. That’s because the mere act of advertising communicates confidence. It demonstrates that the brand has a reputation at stake. A reputation that it cares about. Plus, whatever else the advertising says, we also know that it must be a socially acceptable product – because other people will be aware of it too.

You don’t need to read the ad to get a lot of important subliminal meaning from it.

Advertising is a form of what Behavioural Economists and Psychologists call ‘costly signaling.’ Consider the peacock. Darwin wrestled with the question of what possible evolutionary gain could come from the peacock’s extravagant plumage. He claimed, “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail makes me sick”. It seems like a complete waste of resources. But it is the waste that proves the quality. When it comes to courtship the male peacock knows how to advertise itself.

Advertising also removes fear. It takes away the anxiety of wasting your money on something that might be no good, or that will damage your social prospects.

But, post-Covid aren’t consumers going to be motivated by more down to earth, and empathetic marketing rather than extravagant peacock-like displays? Perhaps so, but remember advertising isn’t just about big-budget media, TV spots and cinema ads. It can also include your branding and messaging at any point in the customer journey whether B2B or B2C.

Customers need beacons of trust more now than ever. They need to know that brands have confidence about the future. They need great branding to help navigate new channels to market and unfamiliar product categories.
And they need great packaging and point of sale to help make quick, confident decisions. With less noise in your market, this also may be the best time to connect with your customers.

So, don’t be afraid to invest in ‘advertising’. It ‘wastes’ your money so your customers don’t have to.