WOLFBITES - Issue 12

The water hole theory of media buying

Let’s start off 2006 by diving into our “water hole” theory of media buying, presented as part of our continuing effort to demystify the wonderful world of advertising.

Imagine you are walking through the forest and you come upon a water hole. While it is a big, deep water hole, it has only attracted a few scrawny animals. You also note there are no lions or elephants, the animals that can drink at any water hole because they are more powerful than any other animal. You continue walking to a second water hole. It’s much smaller than the first water hole, but it’s surrounded by animals, including several lions and bears. Other animals are waiting to get at the water hole. Conclusion: the second water hole is far better than the first water hole.

Now let’s apply this rule to a real life advertising project we handled in 2005. The client, a company with three restaurant locations in the GTA, purchased a weekly ad in the Saturday edition of a Toronto daily newspaper. It appeared on the bottom half of the Comics section, a primary position, the client insisted, because it was on the front cover of a section. We noted that you had to dig through the paper to find the Comics.

Would it not make more sense, we suggested,
to focus the client’s media dollars on the areas
where they were most likely to attract customers?

We also noted that the Comics did not attract the female-skewed target audience and we wondered whether it was smart to place an ad on Saturday when the client’s best sales were on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Finally – and most important – we saw research that indicated about 80% of the customers drawn to the company’s three locations came from the immediate vicinity (about a five-kilometre radius) of each location. This meant the strength of the daily newspaper – complete coverage of the GTA – was largely wasted since we were not drawing customers from across the GTA. Would it not make more sense, we suggested, to focus the client’s media dollars on the areas where they were most likely to attract customers?

After much teeth gnashing, the client agreed, briefly, to trial other media and we pulled the Comics ad. Interestingly, nobody else snapped up the space until the client opted to return to the Comics page. Not surprisingly, we soon parted ways, but we kept an eye on the Comics page to see what would happen. Our now former client made only a few more placements in the Comics. After they stopped, not a single other advertiser purchased the space, which was filled with a self promotional ad for the daily newspaper. Shortly thereafter, the newspaper dropped the advertising space on the front page of the Comics. Conclusion. the half-page Comics ad failed the water hole test.

You can apply the same test to your media buy. For example, if you are in retail, there is a good chance you should be using flyers. Why? Apply the water hole test. Are flyers popular? Yes. Are flyers used by the biggest (and most sophisticated) media buyers? Yes. So forget the myth that flyers don’t work. They do work if your campaign features strong creative, timely scheduling and is both targeted and measurable.

You can reject the water hole theory of media buying because you don’t want to be a “me-too” advertiser. That’s fair. You can gain a big advantage by being the first to find and use a media option your competitors have not discovered. You can also get a very poor return if you choose badly. It’s all a matter of risk and reward.

Next time: Want better ROI (return on investment) from your advertising? Then stop complaining and start measuring!

Read Wolfgang's latest marketing blog.

Words at Work, a leader amoung Toronto Marketing and advertising agencies and digital ad agencies offering internet advertising services and website development

Wolfgang Franke is President & Creative Director of Words at Work Advertising & Marketing, a full service communications company established in 1988. Our growing list of valued clients are found throughout our local market, Markham and the Greater Toronto area, across Canada in cities such as London, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta, and an expanding list of international locations ranging from The Big Apple in New York to Kanturk, Ireland.

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