Armchair Marketing


(By Roy Williams) The biggest mistake made by modern media buyers is that they pay too much of a premium for targeting.

We live in an age that worships data, but what I’m about to tell you is the truth nonetheless. The best ROI for most businesses in 2016 is to buy massive reach and frequency using woefully undervalued, untargeted radio (Adults 18+) and marry it to a message that is both relevant and credible.

That’s right. I said untargeted radio. Adults 18+.

Marc Pritchard, the chief marketing officer at Procter & Gamble, is a very smart man. In an August 9 story in the Wall Street Journal, Pritchard said, “We targeted too much and we went too narrow.” The headline above that story read, “P&G to Scale Back Targeted Facebook Ads.”

Pritchard said P&G won’t cut back on Facebook spending and will continue to employ targeted ads where it makes sense, such as diaper ads for expectant mothers, but for most of its products, P&G will return to marketing to the unwashed and unfiltered masses. To illustrate what the company has learned, the WSJ story said P&G “tried targeting ads for its Febreze air freshener at pet owners and households with large families. The brand found that sales stagnated during the effort, but rose when the campaign on Facebook and elsewhere was expanded last March to include anyone over 18.”

P&G didn’t change how much they were spending on Febreze ads. They just began reaching a larger number of untargeted people (Adults 18+) instead of paying a premium to reach the so-called “right customer.” And sales rose.

God bless Americans 18+. I love ’em. Marc Pritchard loves ’em. And Marc Pritchard is a very smart man.

A smart person makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. A wise person finds a smart person and learns from him or her how to avoid that mistake altogether. A mosquito sucks the energy from both the smart person and the wise person by challenging every decision they make.

Yes, I’m off on a whole new rant now. So hold on tight. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Armchair marketers are that special breed of mosquito who believe their experiences as consumers qualify them to make complex marketing decisions.

The smart person is you, the professional ad writer.

The wise person is the businessman or -woman who hires you.

And the mosquitoes are the people who voice foolish opinions about things they do not understand in the least.

When you spend your youth as we did, spending millions of dollars of other people’s money on marketing ideas that made perfect sense at the time but didn’t work, you learn some painful lessons. That’s why we have no patience for the mosquitoes of armchair marketing.

Friedrich Nietzsche might well have been speaking of ad writers like you and me when he said, “Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood.”

Well, Friedrich, we’ve paid red gold for what we know by bleeding for our mistakes when we were wrong.

That’s why we have no blood left for mosquitoes.

Teddy Roosevelt knew about mosquitoes. He was the first American president to fly an airplane, to own a car, to have a telephone in his home, and to travel outside the borders of the U.S. while still in office. Teddy believed in pulling the trigger and riding the bullet to where it took him.

He was at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910 when he said to the leaders of Europe:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Teddy Roosevelt would have made a fabulous ad man. Successful advertising is counterintuitive and can only be learned through personal experience or the reliable experience of others who will share their secrets.

Fantastic marketing ideas often seem, on the surface, to be ridiculous.

Most of what is taught as “marketing” in college is really just number-crunching. But data doesn’t tell you what to do next. It simply quantifies the results of what you did yesterday. Numbers make no suggestions regarding untested ideas. Data is not a replacement for talent and experience. Numerical marketers think the answer to every question can be found in the data. But real marketers know the secret to success is a message that will ignite the public.

Dear Advertiser:

Is your message surprising? Is it different? Is it relevant? Is it credible?If not, prepare to be ignored.

OK, I’m done ranting. For now.


  1. Compare Roy’s excellent comments with those nearby of Bob the numbers-cruncher.
    Even a radio station which you believe to be an also-ran has a lot of people listening to it.
    Radio ratings are, of course, similar to grading on a curve. So even the stations showing up far down the list are reaching a lot of people. When an advertiser uses those stations effectively (with high frequency), the results can be staggering. Many advertisers have discovered this and are quietly keeping it to themselves.

    Roy, I appreciate T.R.s immortal words but must confess that I remember them best as being quoted by Richard Nixon the morning after he resigned and he met with the White House staff before he left for good at noon. Probably Nixon’s finest speech.

  2. Now, Roy.
    Y’all take a little rest – maybe do some whittlin’ on the porch. Then, when you got more rants ready, y’all just get right back here and launch into another one. Y’ hear?


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