The Secret's Out

What's The Buzz

By G. David Doran

Just because you run a small business doesn't mean you can't use some of the cutting-edge marketing techniques employed by larger companies. We asked Bradley Johnson, technology editor and columnist for Advertising Age, a weekly magazine covering the advertising industry, to clue us in on some of the strategies--aside from relationship marketing--the industry giants use to snare the attention of media-savvy consumers.

  • Unbundling media. In the past, companies used large, established ad agencies to both create the ads and buy the media that would get the message out to consumers. Now advertisers can choose to use smaller, more creative agencies that don't have media-purchasing capabilities; these firms will create the ads, then link up with a media-buying firm to complete the process. The result is often hipper, smarter, more youthful ads that are more likely to take risks to sell the product. "Not surprisingly, the larger ad agencies don't like this idea," says Johnson. "They want to sell the full services of their agency."
  • Branding. Brand messages tell you something about what the brand stands for but nothing about a product, like Apple Computer's iconoclastic "Think Different" TV and print ad campaign, which uses great thinkers (and noncomputer users) like Albert Einstein to suggest that the company designs its products for users who think out of the box. This type of ad works best when the company name is already familiar to the public.

Product messages, on the other hand, tell you about a product and give little or no information about the advertiser. Dell Computer's print ads, which offer nothing but product specifications and a toll-free number, are a good example. In this case, Dell, a direct marketer of PCs, doesn't have the name recognition of Apple, so it must sell the product instead of the name. The ideal ad, according to Johnson, is one that blends both brand and product messages. In general, only larger companies have the budget to produce separate brand and product ads.

  • Integrated marketing. Sending consumers a coherent advertising message requires a unified approach to all your communications. TV and print ads and direct mail should all look like they came from the same company, even if you work with different agencies. All three types of ads should refer customers to the company's Web site, where they will see similar messages with the same logo and graphics. Integrated marketing is becoming increasingly necessary to reach consumers who are bombarded with media messages.

On the Internet:

  • Direct response banners. Banner ads are supposed to attract customers to a company's Web site, but the relatively low response rate indicates that people are reluctant to click on them. Why? Because clicking through a banner ad takes customers out of the Web site they were looking at, forcing them to backtrack to their point of origin. Direct response banners, on the other hand, allow customers to learn about a company without leaving the Web page they're viewing. These banners also allow customers to fill out forms for e-commerce, contests and requests for more information. According to Johnson, this concept is relatively new, so there isn't a lot of data on its attractiveness to consumers, but it seems to address the low-response problem of current banner ads.
  • Product placement on the Web. Nearly every movie made in the United States in the past 10 years has used a brand-name product as "set dressing," and now this subtle marketing technique has reached the Internet. In 1997, Oldsmobile made a deal with NBC to feature its Intrigue model on the network's Web site, which was promoting a show called "The Pretender." By linking their product to the content of NBC's Web site, Oldsmobile received just as much (or possibly more) attention as it would have if it had paid for commercial airtime during the show, at a much lower cost.

Contact Sources

Advertising Age,,

Marketing1to1/Peppers and Rogers Group,

Pat Daly, c/o DHL Worldwide Express, (415) 802-4789,

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This article was originally published in the May 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Secret's Out.

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