Wanamaker Was Wrong

I am soooo tired of seeing that Wanamaker quote about wasted advertising. Saw it twice yesterday (on a Sunday). Seems like every speaker at every marketing conference has to use it in his or her presentation.

It’s not just that it’s overused. It’s that Wanamaker was wrong.

First of all, if Wanamaker knew that half of his advertising was wasted, then he’d have to know which half. Otherwise, how did he know it was half, and not 80%, or 20%?

Or maybe 100% of it was wasted.

After all, no one deceives themselves into thinking they have an impact on sales — without any proof — like ad agencies do. (I’m not telling anybody anything they don’t already know. The CEO of creative boutique Droga5 believes that “all agency rhetoric blows — including ours.” He said it, not me.)

Oh sure, advertisers have measurement techniques to show that sales go up after an ad (or campaign) runs. But those techniques never seem to take into account things like competitors going out of business or raising prices, refund checks being sent out by the IRS, weather, or any other factors that just might have caused the increase in sales instead of some advertising effort.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that none of Wanamaker’s advertising was wasted. He might have thought that advertising that influenced consumers’ brand perceptions, likelihood to buy, and/or their likelihood to switch or not switch providers — but didn’t influence their immediate purchase decision — was wasted.

Any way you look at it, Wanamaker was wrong. So please: Stop quoting him in every one of your presentations, articles, and blog posts. He won’t mind, really he won’t. He’s been dead for 87 years. Maybe there’s a more recent quote you can cite. Like something David Ogilvy said 50 years ago.

9 thoughts on “Wanamaker Was Wrong

  1. I’ve always thought that 99% of the insurance I buy is wasted, I just don’t know which 99%. Wait a second, I do know. It’s the days that I don’t get in an accident, my house doesn’t burn down, I don’t get sick, and I don’t die. Is today one of those days? I guess I won’t really know for sure until tomorrow.

    Same goes for advertising.

  2. I think it matters what the advertising is trying to accomplish (a point I saw you make over on the Market Insights blog recently, and agree with). Advertising is good at making people aware of your offering. The problem is that if you’re a bank or credit union, regardless of awareness, people don’t really give a damn. Total and utter indifference. So if you’re looking at advertising with the goal (or at least a secret hope) of purchase action, unless you’ve got a great rate to make your commodity stand out in the oh-so-commoditized banking industry, you’re probably looking at 100% wasted advertising.

  3. @Ron You are guest writing for other blogs? It would be awesome if you posted a brief blurb here with link to the location when you do so, so that we can all go read it!

  4. This article really made me think – not so much about the specific topic (which I do agree with you on by the way), but more how something can so easily become a sort of “marketing buzzword” or favorite insertion into marketing presentations. Not sure if you have seen it but there is this advert for Dove soap which I swear 50% of the marketing presentations in the last 18 months have included (this relates to Australia, not sure if it’s seen in the USA). Suddenly it becomes accepted fact because it’s been said too many times, yet no one ever really stops to think if it makes sense!

    Thanks again for the article

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