This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why the Television Experiment Failed

            When you’re out fishing, you get your scorecard in real time. You know how many fish you’re catching — or at very least how many are taking your offering. When that happens, you know you’re doing something right.
            On the other hand, if you’re not catching fish, you often don’t know why. It could be that you’re doing something wrong — a clumsy approach, bad technique, poor choice of fly or bait, whatever. Or it could be that you’re fishing a good piece of water and the fish simply aren’t there or aren’t feeding at the moment. Hard to say.
            In other words, it’s like advertising in some respects. Which is why a common saying, attributed to F.W. Woolworth and others, is, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The problem is, I don’t know which half.”

The Author on Television

            I used that quote in a post two months ago, in which I said I was going to do a test on advertising my mystery novel, Not Death, But Love, on cable TV. At the time of the posting, I’d just signed an agreement to run a 30-second spot in a relatively small cable market (Monterey County, CA) to see what sort of bump it would provide for my book sales.
            It was clearly an experiment. Based on the number of people who would be seeing it, there was no way I could sell enough copies of the book to pay the whole cost of the ad. However, I reasoned that if I got a discernibly good response, that would tell me that this sort of advertising can be effective, and the next step would be to see how to use the video tool in a more cost-effective way.
            I worked with a cable consultant to come up with a package that would put the spot in front of a large number of women aged 35-64, a good target market for my type of mystery. It ran a couple hundred times on six different channels in the market, and the results are now in.
            It failed utterly.

What Went Wrong?

            Like the angler who thinks he’s doing things right, but getting no love from the fish, I was perplexed. I had expected I’d see at minimum a modest boost in sales from the ad, yet during the two weeks it was running, I sold fewer books than I had the prior two weeks. And the prior two weeks were slow, so sales in the ad period couldn’t even clear a very low bar. No way you can put lipstick on that pig.
            So the question is why did it fail? The reasons I can think of include: The ad wasn’t good; the book was wrong for the target market; the brief experiment didn’t connect with enough repeat viewers; requiring people to go to Amazon to buy the book may have been too much to ask; people screen out TV ads and nobody saw it; people needed to see it a couple more times before taking action.
            My gut sense is that it likely wasn’t the first two reasons, and that the problem had more to do with the fact of hitting an audience with a completely unknown product. In such a case, it would probably take more ad repetitions than I could afford to drive a fair number of people to log on to Amazon and buy the book. Well, that’s my best guess anyway.