Insights
2 min Read
November 11, 2009

Pretty sneaky, sis!

If the phrase, “pretty sneaky, sis” means anything to you, chances are you’re 35 or older and watched some amount of children’s television during the late 1970s or early 1980s. The line is in the last 5 seconds of a 30-second TV spot for Connect Four, a kid’s game that’s a variation on checkers (but 4 across).

If you watch the commercial today, it’s wholly unremarkable. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to recall it a few minutes later if you’d never seen it. But for those of us who grew up watching TV during this era, the ad’s trite dialogue is seared into our memory. Why? Because during the 1970s and 80s you could count the number of TV stations on your fingers even faster than you could adjust your rabbit ear antennas, and that commercial played constantly. (In fact, I bought Connect Four recently as a gift for a kid- and I could hear that line of bad dialogue echoing in my ears as I clicked ‘purchase’ online.)

Yep, whoever bought air time for Connect Four understood the principle of effective frequency- they knew that we consumers needed to see that ad over and over and over and over again until Connect Four became a part of our collective unconscious. These days, reaching effective frequency is much tougher, of course. Given all the tv channels, online destinations, games and virtual worlds consumers now populate, a commercial this mundane could never be viewed enough times to reach effective frequency. It’s hardly worth advertising Connect Four at all.The difficulty of reaching the right audiences and the expense of achieving an effective frequency (and a few other things) has made me skeptical about the value of advertising, especially for nonprofits. Many organizations get solicited to advertise in various publications or online forums and consider it simply because they were asked- not because there’s a clear strategy that suggests advertising will be effective.Before you consider advertising, ask yourself:

  1. Who are we trying to reach? Is the most effective channel to reach our audience through?
  2. If it is the most effective way to reach our target audience, what’s the action we hope they’ll take when they see our ad? What percentage of people reached will be likely are they to take that action as a result of the ad?
  3. Can we afford to run the ad frequently enough to reach an effective frequency and penetrate through the clutter?

Advertising as a medium for fundraising rarely works. It’s likely to be more viable for programs-related marketing (aka ‘outreach’) when a specific audience is targeted and the ‘call to action’ is beneficial for them, as was the case in this bus ad Big Duck developed for SCO Family of Service’s Brooklyn Drop-In Center, which ran for about a month on Brooklyn buses. Organizations have raised awareness, changed perceptions, and impacted public health and safety issues like drunk driving and safe sex quite effectively, though- when advertising is part of an overall strategy that’s well-considered in advance.

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