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Phil Bernstein: When Is It Okay to Stop Advertising?

    • 1266 posts
    October 5, 2018 12:03 AM PDT

    Sound advice from our friend and sales trainer Phil Bernstein:


    When Is It Okay to Stop Advertising?

    The other day in a Midwest market, a store owner asked me, “How long will I need to advertise?”

    It’s a common question. A lot of advertising people like to answer with a story about McDonald’s.

    For one day, the story goes, McDonald’s pulled everything — radio, TV, print, you name it. They’d been relentlessly marketing their products for decades, and figured they’d earned the right to take the day off and save a few bucks. 

    The punch line, of course, is that store traffic count and sales dropped immediately. McDonald’s executives were so shaken that they resumed marketing the next day, and haven’t stopped since.

    Disclosure time: as much as I like the story, I have no idea if it’s true, and have never been able to locate its source. If you can point me in the right direction, leave a comment below.

    Because I’m not 100% sure it’s true, I tell a different story. It’s about my biggest client during my radio sales days. I trust this story because I was there.

    The client was Paramount Equity Mortgage. The company had been running radio ads on 1190 KEX in Portland for more than three years when this took place. They’d been relentless, advertising every week of the year during that time. Although the offers changed as business conditions changed, the basics had been remarkably consistent.

    For more than three years, they’d used the same spokesman in every commercial — Hayes Barnard. They’d used the same jingle. There’d always been a single one call to action — “Call 503-718-one thousand”. After three years of this, many KEX listeners could recite that number from memory if you woke them from a sound sleep.

    But not everybody.

    One day, Chris Brown, who ran our commercial traffic department, received a voice mail from a KEX radio listener. I’ve changed the listener’s name and number, but otherwise this is a verbatim transcript:

    Good morning Chris, my name is Bob Johnson. This morning on my drive in, approximately 5:15am on 1190, I heard a commercial… I believe it was for Paramount Equity, it was a mortgage company advertising loans… mortgage loans. I was unable to write down the phone number and would certainly like to contact these people. I do not have a contact number. If you could get that number to me, my number is 503-555-1212. I’m very interested in the product and if it would work for me. Appreciate your help.”

    I called the listener back and gave him Paramount’s number. I asked him if he was a regular KEX listener, and he said he’d been listening for years, tuned in almost every day, and was a member of the Mark & Dave Cult (our afternoon show listener club at the time.)

    In the three years before he called the station. he must have heard Paramount’s commercials – and phone number – hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. He should have been able to recite that phone number in his sleep.

    And yet, the day he finally decided to take action, he needed to be reminded one more time.

    Not everyone forgets that quickly. A strong campaign will get into many consumers’ heads — Les Schwab and Fred Meyer and McDonald’s have a semi-permanent place in millions of mental hard drives.

    But Les Schwab, Fred Meyer, and McDonald’s know that “semi” always comes before “permanent”. The day you stop advertising is the day that your customers begin to forget about you.

    Question: Do you know the origin of the McDonald’s story? Got a story of your own? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


    Phil Bernstein is the author of Breakthrough Prospecting—Jumpstart Your Media Sales Career and Make the Income You Deserve. He coaches radio and television sales teams, and individual salespeople, across the United States. You can read more of Phil’s essays on sales, advertising and marketing at

    This post was edited by Rebecca Hunt at October 5, 2018 12:13 AM PDT
    • 1051 posts
    October 5, 2018 11:18 AM PDT

    Being from Chicago, the stories of William Wrigley, Jr., who founded the Wrigley Gum Company there in the early1890's, are particularly evocative. I used to ride the train from the south side to work downtown and can imagine him telling his young accountant the story of why he continued to advertise his gum so heavily when he was the undisputed heavyweight champion in that category. It goes something like this:

    Accountant: "Why don’t you save the millions of dollars you are spending on advertising and put them into profits?”

    Wrigley: “Young man, how fast is this train going?”

    About sixty miles an hour.” 

    “Why doesn’t the engineer turn off the engine to save on fuel costs, and just let the train continue on its own momentum? Because, as soon as he does so, the train will begin to slow down--imperceptibly, at first--but eventually it would come to a dead halt.”

    Roy Williams states the same principle in this way: "People stay 'sold' like grass stays 'mowed.'"

    We advise our clients to keep their business top-of-mind, because we don't know when someone who's listening will be ready to buy. But if we can establish a preference for our client well ahead of time, then when the triggering event occurs and the prospect is in the market, she'll be predisposed to paying our client a visit. Hit-and-miss advertising may reach today's ready buyer, aka "the low-hanging fruit," but in the long run it's best to advertise with as much consistency as the budget will allow. 

    Anyone remember this tune? "Double your pleasure, double your fun, with ________  ___, ________  ___, _____________  ____."

    This post was edited by Rod Schwartz at October 5, 2018 11:22 AM PDT