Wanamaker Was Wrong

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I am soooo tired of seeing that Wanamaker quote about wasted advertising. Saw it twice yesterday (on a Sunday). Seems like every speaker at every marketing conference has to use it in his or her presentation.

It’s not just that it’s overused. It’s that Wanamaker was wrong.

First of all, if Wanamaker knew that half of his advertising was wasted, then he’d have to know which half. Otherwise, how did he know it was half, and not 80%, or 20%?

Or maybe 100% of it was wasted.

After all, no one deceives themselves into thinking they have an impact on sales — without any proof — like ad agencies do. (I’m not telling anybody anything they don’t already know. The CEO of creative boutique Droga5 believes that “all agency rhetoric blows — including ours.” He said it, not me.)

Oh sure, advertisers have measurement techniques to show that sales go up after an ad (or campaign) runs. But those techniques never seem to take into account things like competitors going out of business or raising prices, refund checks being sent out by the IRS, weather, or any other factors that just might have caused the increase in sales instead of some advertising effort.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that none of Wanamaker’s advertising was wasted. He might have thought that advertising that influenced consumers’ brand perceptions, likelihood to buy, and/or their likelihood to switch or not switch providers — but didn’t influence their immediate purchase decision — was wasted.

Any way you look at it, Wanamaker was wrong. So please: Stop quoting him in every one of your presentations, articles, and blog posts. He won’t mind, really he won’t. He’s been dead for 87 years. Maybe there’s a more recent quote you can cite. Like something David Ogilvy said 50 years ago.

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