The 10 Most Common Mistakes In Marketing


I scribbled my original “Twelve Most Common Mistakes in Marketing” on a hotel bar napkin in Portland, OR in 1997, and then presented those mistakes to 800 people in a seminar the next day. The following year it became an important chapter in my first book, The Wizard of Ads. Happily, that book went on to become Business Book of the Year in 1998 and it launched a trilogy of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers.

Even though plenty of people still make the original 12 mistakes, I believe it’s time for an update, since a new group has emerged to become the 10 Most Common.

Inappropriate Use of Social Media

The whole world is on Facebook, but is that the right place for your product or service to be advertised? To get a clear idea of the kinds of offers that are working well on Facebook, go to the Success Stories page at Judging from that list, it would appear that Facebook works extremely well for getting people together socially, not so well for hard goods and services. (Hint: I think there may be a reason they call it “social” media.)

Overconfidence in the Value of Targeting

Jeffrey Eisenberg insightfully points out that “online customers are exactly the same people as offline customers, yet advertisers tend to think of them as an entirely different species.” For the same amount of money it costs you to reach five tightly targeted customers online, you can reach five customers who have that same profile Ð plus 127 of their friends — by using broadcast TV or radio. Do you want your brand to be the one people think of immediately and feel the best about when they finally need what you sell? (Hint No. 2: TV and radio are called “mass media” for a reason, too. They reach the masses.)

The Assumption That Every Message Is Relevant

Why does every advertiser believe their product or service category is intrinsically interesting? More than information, entertainment is the currency with which you can happily buy your prospective customer’s time and attention. But most ads have zero entertainment value.

Fear of Criticism

Most ads aren’t written to persuade. They’re written not to offend. But any message that has the power to move people will always move some of them in the wrong direction. When you’ve written a good ad, you must brace the advertiser for the negative backlash they will receive from people who are eager to be offended. The only alternative is to forever settle for ads that are mushy, mundane, and mediocre. Please don’t.

Measuring Ad Effectiveness Too Quickly

Its claim to “instantly and accurately measure every ad’s effectiveness” is part of what makes digital marketing so appealing to advertisers. But didn’t you say you want your brand to be the one people think of immediately and feel the best about when they finally need what you sell? This requires ongoing advertising and longer measurement cycles. You cannot hold every ad immediately accountable and expect to build a relationship with your customer.

Unsubstantiated Claims

Adjectives are the marks of an ad filled with empty rhetoric. Verbs are the marks of an ad that demonstrates its claims. Verbs — action words — “show” your customer what your product can do. Fluffy adjectives simply “tell” them. In the words of Christopher J. Maddock, “Show, don’t tell.”

Believing that “Old” Media No Longer Works

It is true that you need a website and that most customers are going to visit your website before making first contact with you. Therefore, it’s vital that your website be a good one. But if you believe that online marketing is the most efficient way to drive traffic to your website, you need to go back and read Most Common Mistake No. 2. Do you want to see a massive jump in the effectiveness of your online ads? Begin advertising on radio or television. But take note: your elevated metrics will make it appear as though your online efforts are working magically, when, in fact, the credit should be attributed to mass media. I have a client in Phoenix who finished his first year on the radio with me in June. As a result, he did $4.2 million in June 2016 compared to $1.8 million in June 2015. Not bad, huh? And what do you know! His cost per online lead dropped from $354 per lead to just $28 per lead.

Assuming “The Decisionmaker” Is the Only Person You

Need to Reach

Decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. You must also win the influencers if you want to create a successful brand. If you don’t value the opinions of influencers, you’ll evolve into a direct-response marketer. But does your business category lend itself to direct response? Remember what I said earlier? Broadcast TV and radio reach not only your target, but all their influencers as well.

Believing That “Millennials” Aren’t Like the Rest of Us

Millennials aren’t a tribe, they are a collection of tribes. They do not behave as a single, cohesive birth cohort. Google “millennials” and the dictionary definition that will pop up will show the word “millennial” most commonly used in this sentence: “The industry brims with theories on what makes millennials tick.” But when you look at a list of what millennials supposedly want, it’s exactly what the rest of us want. Yes, they’re not like we “50-somethings” used to be, but then we’re not like we used to be, either.


People don’t hate advertising; they hate boring advertising; they hate predictable advertising. They hate the timewasting, life-sucking sound of too many words wrapped around too small an idea. They hate AdSpeak. But they love entertainment. Learn to purchase your customer’s time and attention and goodwill with delightful, interesting, entertaining ads.

Now go do someone a favor: Sell them some ads on your radio station.


  1. As Roy points out: “Most ads aren’t written to persuade. They’re written not to offend.”
    Yet, as Roy and other astute participants in the creation of ads already know: Most ads are so insulting and so annoying, audiences are offended anyway. This, I believe is no small distinction.
    Indeed, most ads are treated as blunt objects, the results of their use being that audiences get bludgeoned. They (audiences) tend not to enjoy being beat up by strangers.
    To be sure – be offensive all day long. Thicker skins are available. And besides – it’s fun!
    Insulting people has consequences. I would know. 🙂


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