One way to handle advertisers who resist change

“Ad-libs” by John Foust


Colleen is a veteran ad manager who has worked with just about every type of advertiser. “One of the most challenging prospects was a second-generation owner of a building supply company,” she told me. “He had a loyal base of long-time customers, but his market share was declining.

“Every advertiser wants to attract new customers,” she said, “but his case was more complicated. Although they had state-of-the-art products and services, the company’s public persona was stuck in the past. His logo and ad layouts looked ancient, and the copy was stilted. He adamantly resisted changes and told us, ‘My father started this company and he had special ad formats. If those things were good enough for him, they are good enough for me.’”

John Foust

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and others have told the story of the bride who suggested cutting off the ends of a ham before putting it in the oven. When her husband asked why, she said her mother did it that way. Being a curious sort, he called his mother-in-law, who told him that her mother did it that way. Then he called grandma, who explained that she cut off the ends so it would fit into her small oven. The original reason for cutting the ham had disappeared when the family got larger ovens, but the practice remained. The point: it’s not a good idea to do things a certain way just because they’ve always been done that way.

All those years ago, Colleen’s advertiser’s father had sensible reasons for his advertising approach. But a generation later, those reasons weren’t quite so relevant.

“We handled it by putting together a special presentation,” Colleen said. “The first step was to help him understand that it was okay to change. We showed him a few examples of well-known brands that have updated their advertising. To make it as objective as possible, we used one old ad and one new ad from industries that weren’t related to his business — automotive, electronics and a department store. The ads were easy to find online.

“We told him, ‘When your father started this business, he must have shown a lot of creativity in adapting to the marketplace. That’s why the business grew so much over the years. I think he would have continued that approach today.’ Then we got his permission to put together some ideas — with the promise that the ads would honor his company’s history.

“He agreed on a new logo and updated ad designs. And we ended up with a campaign with a ‘what has and hasn’t changed’ theme. One ad featured side-by-side photographs of the original and current stores. One had photos of their old and new delivery trucks. And one ad featured a picture of father and son at work. Of course, the ‘what hasn’t changed’ element was their commitment to customer service.”

Colleen’s advertiser was happy with the results. “He liked the ads,” she said. “And they worked.”

 

(c) Copyright 2018 by John Foust. 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