Eliminating Guesswork in Advertising

Thomas E. Dockrell September 1 1910

Eliminating Guesswork in Advertising

Thomas E. Dockrell September 1 1910

Eliminating Guesswork in Advertising

Thomas E. Dockrell

From Advertising and Selling

THERE is no greater testimony to the power of newspaper advertising than the fact that it is successful even under the abuses to which it is subject. In most cases it is handled on such “hit or miss” principles that it is a wonder that it can achieve results. Under the present system of paying singular attention to typographical effect, appearance of space and copy, and using only general instead of specific arguments suiting specific localities, the individual needs of each newspaper territory are entirely overlooked. It is decided by some one so omniscient that he (or they) can afford to ignore all statistics that a certain size of copy shall be used in all places. That certain size of copy is used, without any of the ordinary business attention which, in all other departments, is given to individual cases.

It is obvious that a small advertisement of aeroplanes for sale will be more thoroughly read than will the advertisements of a long-advertised patent medicine because there is a news attraction in the former which is lacking in the latter. It is also obvious that a 3-inch double-column advertisement set in the centre of an entire page of unleaded reading matter will demand more attention than the same advertisement set in the centre

of a page of display advertising. Similarly, it is obvious that an advertisement will demand more attention in a 4-page paper of which only one page is advertising than in a 6o-page paper of which 40 pages are advertising. It is also obvious that a quarter-page advertisement offering an unlimited amount of New York Elevated and Subway tickets for 1 cent instead of 5 cents will attract more attention and result in more sales of such tickets when placed in New York newspapers than will the same advertisement placed in the newspapers in Chicago. It is also obvious that an advertisement of an article which has no competitors need not be as large or as frequent as if competitors were also advertising.

It follows that the attention which an advertisement will receive, and the action which it will force from its readers are dependent upon the novelty of the matter advertised to the readers of the papers in which it appears. Also, upon the prominence of the advertisement on the page upon which it appears. Also, upon the proportion of the space used in the advertisement to the total amount of space used in the newspaper. And also, upon the harmony between the article offered and the needs of the people to whom it is offered. The volume of

space which must be used is also dependent upon the absence or presence of competitive advertising.

Since the conditions in every locality vary more or less, and since the volume of advertising carried by papers in different localities varies much, it is obvious that the space used in advertising a certain article at a certain time in different localities should also vary. In papers where only a small volume of advertising is carried, it is not necessary to use as large space as where a tremendous amount of advertising is carried. An advertisement segregated from other advertisements need not be as large as if buried in display advertising, An advertisement where there is much competition should be much larger than where there is none.

The amount of sales-energy which must be expended in any enterprise in order to produce its maximum at a minimum expense must, as nearly as possible, be that amount of energy which is required to make the greatest possible number of sales at minimum cost. In the many United Cigar Stores you find some equipped with one man at a time, some with two men at a time, some with five at a time. The sales-energy of the one store demands one salesman, the sales-energy of another demands two, and of another five.

Now, the unit of sales-energy in a newspaper is based on the agate line. In one locality ioo lines are necessary in another 200 lines, and in another 500 lines. Because there are two kinds of waste, A factory would be foolish to install a 20-horsepower dynamo if the maximum amount of electrical energy required never exceeded 10 horsepower. On the other hand, a factory would be foolish to install a 200-horsepower dynamo if the minimum electrical energy required wTas 2io-horsepower. In the one case would be the waste from overefficiency and in the other would 'be the waste from incapacity to do the work required.

Look at the matter of localized advertising in another light. Look at it psychologically. 'Consider all the individual minds comprised in the circulation of each paper as one mind. Here is one mind in New York, here is one mind in the backwoods of Kentucky. Assuming each to have the same amount of money and the same desire for clothes, we must use more sales-energy to convince the mind in New York than to convince the mind in Kentucky, because the New York mind, being more highly educated, is less suggestible, and is also more subject to other influences in the shape of competition. There are many other differences between the two minds which could be taken into account, but this one suffices as an example. You, who read this, can work out the differences in individualities in different localities “ad infinitum.” You cannot go wrong, because you are dealing with natural law. Some of these natural laws are so wonderful that we cannot follow them exactly, but we can at least allow them to guide us away from the frailty of our guesswork.

There are two well-known natural laws which the average man does not seem to apply at all in alloting advertising—one is Fechner’s “Law of the Threshold,” and the other is Weber’s “Law of Sensation.” An old German named Fechner discovered that a certain volume of stimulus to any one of our senses was necessary before we became conscious of sensation. For instance, he discovered that the eye needs to be exposed to a certain volume of light before it becomes conscious of light. He discovered that you must apply a certain volume of weight in the outstretched hand before the hand becomes conscious of weight. For instance, he discovered that if you stand in the open fields before dawn, when the sky is absolutely obscured and you are surrounded by absolute darkness, and wait for the dawn, the dawn will have appeared before you are conscious of it. There will have been light before you are conscious of

the presence of light. In other words, a certain threshold has to be crossed before your mind receives a sensation from your eye. He expressed the law another way. Blindfold a man, lay his hand stretched palm upward on a table. Lay a handkercheif across the outstretched palm, on the handkerchief put a small feather, put on another small feather, put on another, keep adding to their number, yet the man feels no sensation of weight until a certain amount of feathers have been laid upon the handkerchief upon his palm. He didn’t feel the first feather, nor the second, nor the third, nor the fourth. There was weight upon his palm, infinitesimal of course, obvious to sight, but unrecognized by touch. There was more when the second feather was added, and so on. But it was necessary to attain a certain volume of weight before the blindfolded man became conscious of the presence of the weight of the feathers upon his palm.

It is easy to see the application of this la>w to newspaper advertising. Add all the minds in the circulation of one paper together and consider them one mind, then take the paper which you propose to use in your hand, look it over, see how much advertising it contains then look at the space you propose to use and the individual features of your own advertising, then consider the position in which it will appear in that paper, and ask yourself this question: “Knowing the supply and demand in that territory, knowing the amount of competition, knowing the volume of advertising carried, is the volume of my advertising in this particular paper sufficient to cross the necessary threshold of consciousness in the one mind which I am attempting to reach, so that I shall make upon that mind the sensation I desire?”

Another German, Weber, went still further. He discovered the “Law of Diminishing Sensation.” He discovered1 that once the sensation of light was conveyed from the eye to the

mind, afterwards the proportion of sensation of light received by the mind was not proportionate to the increase in the. volume of light stimulating the eye. In other words, as the stimulus was increased the increase in sensation diminished. For instance, if you are seated in an absolutely dark room you immediately intensely feel the sensation of light when four electric lights are turned on. The sensation of light is intense and powerful. But, to give you the sensation of double the amount of light it is necessary to turn on possibly eight or twelve more lights. If you lighted four after the first four, that is if you increased the stimulus of light ioo per cent, you would possibly only get the sensation of io per cent, increase. To get an increase of 50 per cent, it is necessary to increase the stimulus 300 or 400 per cent. Similarly, he discovered, that, in the case of a blindfolded man with his palm upward covered with a handkerchief, possibly the application of 30 feathers gave the sensation of weight, but that if he first placed 60 feathers upon the man’s hand he had to apply 60 more in order to give him an added sensation of weight, and that then the added sensation was only slight. So that the natural law is that, once a certain sensation has been conveyed to the mind, it is necessary to increase the stimulus which produced the sensation about 100 per cent, in order to get an increase of 10 or 15 per cent, in sensation.

There’s the law that explains the complaint of the advertiser who says : “I increased the space without increasing the returns.” It probably was not increased enough. There are many reasons for failure and many for success. But, there are other ways of handling advertising than by making it a guessing contest. Rather than let the rudder swing free because we have no compass let us guide ourselves by the stars. In the absence of an advertising compass 100 per cent.

perfect, let us use the 75 per cent, guides we have rather than swing rudderless in the wind of fancy. No man letting his mind rove loose in a guessing contest on an advertising campaign can hope to achieve the results that are obtainable when he uses data

and natural law to help him. The “hot-air,” the necromancy, the 'black magic and the witchcraft are being squeezed out of advertising, and like the rest of business, it is coming under the jurisdiction of Common Sense, the Cost System and the Auditor.