Why most advertising fails.


Consumers are predisposed to ignore advertising. On average, they are each exposed to 5,000 marketing messages per day. This is a massive quantity of information bombarding them all day long. So the only way for a person to avoid being completely overwhelmed is to block it all out. Not just some of it. All of it.

Sadly, this fact is almost always overlooked by 99% of marketers. Although a few savvy marketers have learned how to break through this mental barrier by applying a formula that’s incredibly simple.



Self restraint is in short supply. Corporate marketing departments always have a long list of product and/or service attributes they want to convey, but they are usually constrained by small budgets. So they almost always make the fatal mistake of attempting to cram in as much information into their ads as possible. Like a ship that gets overloaded and then sinks.
Any communication that lacks simplicity is totally ignored by most consumers. People just don’t have the time to read a lot of copy or listen to a long-winded sales pitch. Even when they do have the time,such as when sitting in an airport lounge, in their car at a stoplight or on the sofa watching television, they’d prefer to turn away.

The most common analogy of this, is the tennis ball scenario. It goes like this. If you throw one tennis ball at a person, they can catch it. If you throw three tennis balls at a person, they won’t catch any of them.

The most successful marketers with the strongest brands know this and live by it. Brands like Apple, Nike, Target and IBM always keep their communication singleminded. This is not the only reason they are successful, but it’s one very important component.


Standing out from everyone else is what every marketer wants. But truly standing out requires more courage than they can conjure up. That’s because standing out takes marketers out of their comfort zone. Despite what they say, they’d prefer to remain in the cozy company of their competitors, where everything is familiar.

It just comes down to human nature. As individuals, nobody wants to stand out as an oddball, weirdo or loner. So they run their marketing departments the same way they run their life. The truth is, brands need to stand out or they will fail.


This is the single most important component of true brand building. An entire book could be written outlining why corporate marketing departments fail to truly trust their agency partners. My experiences in the last 16 years in the business has taught me that there are two factors:

1. Ego. Corporate marketing people generally view their agency partners as vendors, who are only there to execute their own strategy. This deeply flawed mindset results in an antagonistic relationship and subsequently convoluted communication. Convoluted because agency and client engage in a tug-of-war struggle and end up with compromise.

2. Training. Most of the top marketing executives have MBA’s. Their higher education has conditioned their minds to believe that brand building starts with rational, quantitative data. That means companies take a scientific approach to marketing. The problem is, most consumer purchase decisions are not rational. They’re emotional. So quantitative data won't result in building a brand (no matter what research companies tell you). This is where business school programs have failed miserably.

Wherever you see a brand with high recognition and likeability, you’ll find a CMO who trusts his or her agency partner completely. This means they never dictate strategy or execution of branding initiatives. If there’s a disagreement, they give preference to the agency—the expert practioners. And they give their agency the freedom to dream big and take risks. Apple, Nike and IBM are three iconic brands that come to mind. These brands value intuitive emotional ideas and aren't guided by focus groups.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the future will look pretty much like it does today. Unless and until CMO’s stop and realize their agencies are expert practitioners, who deserve full trust, millions of dollars will continue to be wasted on rational, convoluted advertising that nobody cares about.