A common misconception about most advertising is that it creates a need to buy in the customer’s mind. If you run a home improvement center in the real world, the need to buy arises because the customer’s garden hose burst this morning or a skunk dug up their lawn last night. Those events are what brought the customer into the market for a new hose or some insecticide. If they were exposed to your advertising just after those things happened, they are going to be very receptive to your message. Customers tend to respond to the last ad they saw or heard in the window of time after the need arose and just before they make their decision to purchase.
Since skunks don’t attack every lawn in your market the same week, not all customers know they need grub killer at exactly the same time. Some need it this week, some next week; some the week after. The week you’re not advertising, you miss the chance to influence the customers who have chosen to buy that week. Sure, there’s some residual effect from the advertising you did in the previous weeks, but the ad with the greatest impact is the one the customer heard most recently.
So, what does this mean for your advertising budget? Should you spend more? Can you spend less? The answer is a resounding “maybe.” The amount of spending isn’t the issue here. What’s most important is that you find a way to advertise as continuously as possible. Generally speaking, it’s preferable to spread a small budget over more weeks than to bunch it up for more exposure during a shorter period (commonly called flighting). Don’t spend your entire month’s budget on one full-page ad. Run one quarter-page ad every week for four weeks instead. Don’t run 300 radio spots in one week, then remain silent for the next five—schedule 50 spots each week for six weeks. Or even 25 per week for twelve weeks!
This is not to say that you need to advertise at a uniform level year ‘round.You should still vary the amount of exposure you buy according to the sales you expect to generate each period. Nor does this mean that you shouldn’t heavy-up for a weekend sale or other short-term promotion. What it does mean, though, is that one ad by itself doesn’t work. You need consistent repetition to make your advertising work the same way you need lots and lots of seeds to start a lawn.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.