February 07, 2013

Advertising Is Like Exercise

Here's what the ROI monkeys don't understand about advertising. They think you can advertise today and measure the results tomorrow. It doesn't work that way.

Advertising is like exercise.

If you're not used to running, and you run 5 miles today, you will not be stronger or healthier or feel better tomorrow. Or next week. As a matter of fact, you'll probably feel like crap.

But if you run 5 miles every day, next year you probably will be stronger, and healthier, and feel better.

That's also how advertising works.

If you advertise today, your business is not going to suddenly be successful tomorrow or next week. But if you advertise every day, next year your business probably will get better, and healthier, and stronger.

Why do you think a can of Coca-Cola is worth 50¢ more than a can of Safeway cola? It's not because of the Coke ad you saw last night or last week. It's the ones you've seen for your entire life.

Notice I said "probably." There are no guarantees. Just like exercise, sometimes advertising backfires. You can take off on a 5 mile run and have a heart attack after 10 minutes.  Or you could run for a year and wind up with a gimpy knee. You never know.

Similarly, you could advertise for a year and end up with nothing but a one-way ticket to unemploymentland.

It's all about likelihoods and probabilities.

If you look at the leading brands in mainstream consumer products and services categories, the likelihood is that they have one thing in common. They advertise, and they do it a lot.

Does this mean that in all consumer products categories advertising is a surefire road to success? No.

But absence of it is a pretty reliable road to failure.


Anonymous said...

Phygital exercise.

ed lee said...

so it takes time and it doesn't always work? isn't this the argument from social media wonks that you've rejected in the past?

Sam said...

This does seem a rather contrarian post compared to the Contrarian's usual method of being a contrarian.

Unknown said...

I love this analogy. It describes perfectly what I try to teach in my undergrad advertising class. I shall steal this idea, and pretend it's my own.

Peter said...

A question to which your answer to hear I'm very interested: how do you answer/persuade clients that you can't measure the effects? I mean obviously you could look at sales during a campaign, the might go up, they might increase, they might decrease. You could always tie it to the campaign in some way. So is the honest true answer: there is no real measurement available or do you have indicators that might actually provide some measures that one can rely on?


Ed Lee,

Advertising over time has built thousands of huge, successful, mainstream consumer brands. When I see examples of social media doing likewise I will change my mind and concede your point.



Advertising is as much religion as science. You either believe or you don't. You will not persuade clients that don't believe.

Jason (aka the Colonel) said...

I'll say this: you can't measure an immediate ROI. But with the right math, you can show how the cumulative effects of advertising drive sales for a brand. I've been doing that for twenty years.

Anonymous said...

Wish my company would advertise instead of wasting millions listening to a bunch of 30 year old "social media experts" who have no experience in our industry. Be nice to walk into a prospects office and have them actually have an idea of who we are.
But no, they're too busy creating a "dialog with the consumer" via twitter posts.

Rick said...


People who eat too much fast food and then go exercising a lot to make sure they don't gain weight. While they could also change their diet and spend their time and money in a different way.

Anonymous said...

Buy Coca Cola instead of Safeway Cola so they will have more to spend on advertising.
Simple really, spend more, advertise more, make more £.