Take it from here: Advertising is a lot like golf

February 26, 2015

By John Foust
Ad Libs™ 

I remember stopping for directions to a golf course.

“How do I get to Sea Palms?” I asked. The young man behind the counter of the convenience store responded with a question of his own, “From here?”

I almost laughed out loud at the absurdity—and the profoundness—of his comment. Directions always start from where we are at the moment.

The game of golf provides us with a fine advertising parallel. Let’s say you hit your drive into the trees. I’ve been there, done that many times. You’re in trouble and need to get out. Because you can’t start over, you have to take the next shot “from here.” Let’s take a look at some steps to take when your golf ball—or your advertiser—is in the trees:

1. Find the ball. In other words, figure out where “here” is. Analyze the advertiser’s original goals and marketing tactics. What has worked in the past? Can you pinpoint what made things veer off course? Has the budget been wisely allocated or has it been spent on an impromptu basis? What about external forces? Have new competitors entered the market? Where are your potential customers spending their time and their money?

2. Pick a target. Obviously, the long-range objective is to put the ball in the hole. But for now, the task at hand is to move closer to that goal, not necessarily put it in the hole with one swing. Should you go for the green and try to blast it through a gap in the trees? Or should you punch it laterally into the fairway, to create a better lie for your next shot?

What’s best for your advertiser? Should you invest a big piece of the budget in an effort to go for the green? Or play it safe with a higher-percentage shot?

3. Pick the right club. Once you decide where and how far you want to hit the ball, the next step is to choose a tactic. If you go for the green, you can propose a big blowout sale—with substantial savings on a number of products and/or services.

If you play it safe, you can: 1) run image ads while you work out a better long-term strategy, 2) dust off and re-use a former offer that worked well, or 3) best of all, test some offers in smaller doses to determine what you should incorporate in a larger promotion.

4. Have a solid swing. A bad swing can result in an even worse location for your next shot. So make sure to pay careful attention to fundamentals. A great concept won’t work if it is introduced with a weak headline. A compelling offer will flop if the expiration date is too soon. And a message that is loaded with claims and exaggerations will be ignored by consumers.

It’s not unusual for ad campaigns to go astray on occasion. When that happens, it’s an ad professional’s job to step up to the ball and take it “from here.” © John Foust 2015. All rights reserved.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information john@johnfoust.com.

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