The best investment Everest ever madeAccording to Nielsen Media Research, the three main parties in the election spent around £1.5 million on press advertising. It may seem like a lot - but it's only half the usual amount. Money spent on electoral poster campaigns also fell. Both Labour and the Conservatives preferred direct mail, spending more on this - £557,000 and £1.39 million respectively - than any other media to target swing voters in the marginal constituencies.
The election campaigns are part of a wider story. With consumer markets fragmenting, it's becoming more and more difficult for advertising to reach its target markets. Spend on PR and direct mail has gone up across the board. Adverts in taxis and on the back of coach seats are becoming common as marketing companies try to find new ways to get their message across. Canadian 'trucker' boots, for example, are now being advertised in service station toilets across the UK. They are perfectly placed to hit the right people - lorry drivers.
Some question whether advertising really works anymore. A more sophisticated public has meant that adverts are often ignored, and may not even be seen by their target markets. It's now easy to install a 'pop-up blocker' on your computer to avoid one of the newest forms of advertising. And with TiVo recorders and remote controls it's easier than ever to skip the boring bits on TV - and that's usually the adverts. But even when adverts are left on - how many actually watch them? Studies have shown than most people use the 'breaks' to make a cup of tea, call a friend or nip to the loo.
But advertising clearly does work. In the late 70s and early 80s, Everest spent £4-5 million every year on a series of memorable, prime time, national TV adverts. Even now, people vividly remember the adverts and the brand. They even remember the actor - TV 'personality' Ted Moult. More importantly they remember the message: fit Everest, fit the best. When rival companies approached homeowners, their sales reps had to work twice as hard to establish who they were and why people should buy from them. Everest salesmen needed no introduction. Those adverts made it easier to generate leads, and easier for them to sell. They also helped Everest sell at high prices.
Everest's campaign worked because those clear, simple, strong images got the point across. Constant repetition at sufficient concentration made sure those images and the message were imprinted onto our brains. Twenty years after Everest stopped advertising their ads are still working.
To justify the investment, advertising must be more than a temporary sales pitch. In general, short campaigns, however much is spent on them, have little impact on long term branding, and tend to have a brief effect on sales. If you want real growth, you need a sustained campaign over several years.