Media fragmentation is accelerating. Mass media is losing its mass. The Grammy Awards and Winter Olympics were once regarded by advertisers as vast oceans of interested viewers. This year America yawned and ignored these events completely; too much to do, too little time.

To advertise effectively today, you must abandon the old-school idea of "reaching the masses." The famous ad man Morris Hite, who was known for his good-ol'-boy approach to advertising, said it best when he quipped, "There is no such thing as national advertising. All advertising is local and personal. It's one man or woman reading one newspaper in the kitchen or watching TV in the den."

The key to effective advertising today is to focus on the individual.

Here are some low-cost ways to do it:

  • Door-hangers on doorknobs. If your target is geographically defined, such as a day care or grocery store, print a specific offer on door-hangers and place them on doorknobs in your area. This method will produce results in direct proportion to the strength of your offer. For example: "Professional day care for your little ones" is less likely to trigger people's interest in your day care than "Put your little ones in the care of someone you trust. Our professional day care services are available Monday through Friday." "Big enough to serve you, small enough to know you," is less likely to create new shoppers than "Let us wash your car for free while you shop. 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Saturday at Super Foods."
  • Flyers under windshield wipers. If you need to reach the drivers of pickup trucks, what better way than to send your doorknob-hanging team into parking lots with flyers to put under windshield wipers? Yes, they may get run out of the mall parking lot by that security guard in the golf cart, and don't be surprised if some lonely soul with nothing better to do calls you to complain, but the results are definitely worth it.
  • Purchased word-of-mouth. Hire someone to be a walking ad and ride up and down in the elevators of tall buildings, stand at bus stops, wait at train stations, hang around in coffee shops and strike up conversations with strangers. "Have you tried that new deli over on 4th street? It's awesome." Sounds nuts, I know, but it works.
  • Virtual showroom. Build a website to serve as a virtual showroom. It's one of the best advertisements there is. Use it when people call to ask details about your company, your products or your services. "Are you sitting in front of a computer? Good." Most people will be, or can easily walk across the room to one. "Now go to Blahblah.com. Yeah, that's me, there on the right. Now click the button that says 'Equipment.' See that second photo?..." Think of this website as a place where you sit down to talk with interested prospects. Make sure the virtual showroom is equipped with all the same tools and props as your physical showroom. You'll be shocked what it does for the conversion rate of inquiries.
  • Nighttime silhouettes. You've probably never seen one, but that's all the more reason you should do it. Nobody else in your town has seen one either. First, locate a windowless wall at least three stories tall in a part of town that has lots of traffic at night, especially foot traffic. Then arrange with the owner of that building--and the building across the street--to let you install a logo projector. They're unbelievably effective. And in the long run, cheap. In some situations you can even use an old slide projector to achieve the desired effect.
  • T-shirts and vests. My rather successful little ad firm, with its 41 offices worldwide, was launched in 1980 with a t-shirt advertising a telephone thought-for-the-day on an answering machine. "Take a Break in Your Day. Dial Daybreak. 258-7700." I could only afford one such printed t-shirt. I wore it a lot.
  • Hand stamps. Someone I know recently attended a ticketed event that required a hand-stamp for readmission. The hand-stamp was a delightful little mini-ad for one of the sponsors. Can you imagine a better advertising vehicle for creating personal identification with a brand? There's something about looking down at your own hand and seeing a brand image that's part of you for the evening and knowing that the image has value. You're having fun, the brand is there, and it's part of you. The ink might wash off, but the impression it makes on the mind doesn't fade so quickly.
  • Publicity stunt. Nothing is quite so powerful as a publicity stunt that seizes the public's attention. But be careful; nothing is quite so pathetic as a thinly disguised grab at free advertising. Going for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records requires a lot of work, but holding a world record has tremendous value. One fellow recently dropped a golf ball at the edge of Mongolia, then whacked it 1,234 miles all the way to the other side. The journey required 12,170 swings of the club, 90 days and 510 lost balls. He was interviewed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Today Show, CNN, CNN International, CTV, ESPN Cold Pizza, and PGA Tour Sunday. Articles were published about him in The New York Times, the Times of London, and the AP issued a worldwide story about the exploit. Outside Magazine featured him as one of the 25 Coolest People Now, the Men's Journal put him in their Hall of Fame, National Public Radio interviewed him, and several European radio networks jumped on the bandwagon. Not a bad ROI on a 90-day investment, wouldn't you agree?
  • Self-publish a book. Nothing screams "expert" quite so loudly as a book written about a subject. You simply can't imagine the power of your name on the cover of a book. It's an advertisement for your company that'll last forever. So write a book that proves you're an expert, get an ISBN number, register it with the Library of Congress, pay a printer to print your book, then sell it on Amazon.com. You might only sell a few copies online, but the copies you give away in your town will make you a fortune. You won't make money on the book. You'll make it because of the book.
  • Spray-painted signs. In the early 1970s "Hamp Baker says Drive with Care" was spray-painted on car hoods salvaged from crumpled automobiles, then those hoods were tied with bailing wire to barbed-wire fences along roadsides here and there. Nobody in Oklahoma knew who Hamp Baker was, but his name was soon a household word. When he later ran for public office, he won by a landslide.

You may have noticed that each of the items on this list requires a certain amount of creative energy. There's no salesman you can call to place your order for these highly effective methods of advertising, but if you're willing to spend a little time to make a lot of money, pick two or three action items from the list above, then get to work.

And prepare to be amazed.