How Ad Agencies Gamble With Your Money : 3 Ways to Protect Yourself

Why make John Wanamaker's mistake? Protect yourself using Tactic #3.
Nowadays, there’s no need to make the same mistake as this $1.3B man. More on John Wanamaker in a moment.

Cut the blue wire!
No, the red!
Wait – yeah the blue!!

Taking blind risks in dangerous situations is a common storyline in Hollywood.

Does life imitate art?

According to the North American Association of State and Provincial lotteries, during the past 12 months, Americans happily gambled away $78B in lottery ticket sales. Canadians spent a whopping $9B (12% more per capita).

In short, lots of people in lots of places like to gamble.

Is it any surprise that ad agencies have an appetite for the same thing?

The only difference is that they do it with your money.

How Ad Agencies Gamble Your Money Away

Agencies don’t care about revenue generated. Sure, they pay lip service to it, but it is a far-less-weighted metric than you would expect from a company spending your hard-earned cash or credit reserves.

What do they care about?


Most agencies have branding blindness.

What is branding anyway? Ask 100 agencies, and you’ll get 100 answers. According to Brick Marketing, “A brand is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with“. explains that “the perceived emotional corporate image as a whole” is your brand.

I tell my clients that branding “is the package that holds all of your market’s perceptions and feelings about your company and your services.”

Does branding work? Sure, if by “work” you mean “makes people feel stuff” or “make people think about your company for a brief moment in time” or “interrupts people and gets them to remember that you had a commercial on TV”.

Oh – you should probably also know that it only sort of works if you have a few billion dollars to spend or many years to make an impression. Then it might really take hold in your market’s consciousness. Of course, if the message is weak, then not even billions can help you.

Branding proponents will tell you that the power of the “mere exposure effect” means that it’s always smart to invest in brand-based media buys, so that you can “get your name out there” and “make an imprint on your target market’s consciousness”.

The problem (or dream come true, depending on whether you’re the client or the agency) is that these kind of coordinated efforts are incredibly squishy and near-impossible to measure in a relevant way.

Another word for impossible to measure: gambling.

Don’t Be Fooled

Don’t be duped.

No matter how you define it, branding is not a relevant metric to measure a marketing spend. You can’t pay your lease, your taxes, or your payroll with ideas, perceptions, or feelings, can you?

I wish you could, because that means we could all write checks for brand-new X132 Hellcats merely with the emotions emanating from our hearts. Alas, this is not reality. You need cash. I need cash. And the agency needs cash.

TRY THIS: Tell the agency that you’d like to pay your bills and media spends with feelings. Ask them what a heart full of gratitude and a soul full of joy can buy you in the way of 24′ billboard space for a 2-week run. Hey – you never know, maybe they’ve started to believe the nonsense they’re trying to convince you to believe.

3 Ways To Protect Yourself

1. Demand a new metric

I recommend choosing money as a measuring stick. Moolah. Cash. Dinero. Pesos. Dollahz.

Not feelings.

  • Either your company earned money during the campaign, or it didn’t.
  • Either customers opened their wallets or they didn’t.
  • Either your company made money or it lost money.

It’s simple, really.

Intuitive, too. Turns out your gut was right all along.

2. Demand direct-response in your ad designs

Here’s what’s going to happen: Your agency is going to tell you that “it’s impossible to know if that particular billboard ad is driving new sales. It has to be part of a fancy, integrated, mishmashery known as a crossplatform brand play.”

To which you say: “You’re right. If this is just too hard for you guys to figure out, we should probably start shopping for a new agency.”

Then you walk out the door.

The truth: Any media can be made direct response. I repeat: any media.

  • Radio ad: Ask people to visit a unique URL. Or use a coupon code.
  • TV ad: Direct people to a unique URL. Or use a coupon code.
  • Magazine ad: Can you guess what I’m going to say? Yup, ditto.
  • Newspaper. Ditto.
  • Yellow pages. Ditto.
  • Flier campaign. Ditto.
  • It’s all the same. Ditto.

Ask people to take a specific action, and then measure it.

3. Use a different direct-response device for various media

If you post your main website address on everything, and then measure it, you’ll know whether or not all this money you’re spending is actually doing anything, but you won’t know what part of it is responsible for the growth, and what part of it is dead weight.

As revolutionary retailer John Wanamaker put it: ‘half the money you spend on advertising is wasted, the problem is knowing which half ‘. When you use unique direct response devices, you never have to wonder again. You’ll know.

Assign a unique tracking device for each type of media, or even each type of campaign if you wish.

Types of tracking devices that you can make unique for each type of media:

  • Telephone numbers
  • Website URLS
  • Website destination folders
  • Clippable or downloadable coupons
  • Coupon codes
  • Special links
  • Form completion
  • Video watching

There’s enormous variety available.

Protect Yourself!

Those are the 3 ways to protect yourself from a gambling-oriented ad agency:

1. Demand a new metric
2. Demand direct-response in all designs
3. Use a different direct-response device for various media.

If someone else chooses to throw their own money away by gambling, then so be it.

That doesn’t mean you have to willfully place your hard-earned money in harm’s way.

Agree? Disagree? Leave your comment below.