How Wanamaker, the yellow pages, phone companies and technology geeks conspired to screw up the world of advertising.

There is a famous quote from John Wanamaker

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.

That statement has driven businesses on a quest to determine “what is working.”  It is the right quest.  But the answer to that question was first twisted by the yellow pages.  Remember them.

Enter the yellow pages.  They figured how to sell the answer to The Wanamaker Question.  Put a different phone number in the yellow pages ad and when people call that number – BOOM – you know the ad is working.  Brilliant – for yellow pages.  Here is what the yellow demons of advertising knew.  They knew this made them look good.  Here is how.  Remember back to the days of yellow pages.  Did you ever do this?

What was the name of the HVAC company again?  It was Joe something.  Grab the yellow page, flip to Heating and Air Conditioning, look up Joe – there it is – Joe and Sons Heating and Air.  You then dial the magic Wanamaker number and BOOM – the yellow demon jumps up and rings the leads bell– ding, ding, ding —- I got you a lead.  Reward me.  I win the Wanamaker trophy.  I know, I know, the Wanamaker Trophy is a golf trophy, but I could not resist.

What yellow pages data actually tells the business is that yellow pages was the LAST point of contact.  What yellow pages wanted you to believe is that it was the ONLY point of contact.  The only influence.  But here is the real question, what made the consumer look up Joe in the yellow pages in the first place?  Was the consumer trolling the yellow pages?  Or was it something else?  The data does not answer that question.  The data does not actually tell us if the yellow pages advertising created a lead.  What it did do was make yellow pages look really good.  And that is what yellow pages wanted.  So, you would pay your bill.  Next, enter the evil genius of measuring using phone numbers – the phone companies.

Sure, we can sell you 80 phone numbers so that you can track calls.  Just pay the bill.  Enough said.

Lastly, technology monsters manned by programming geeks realized they could sell software if it could help answer the Wanamaker question.  Yes, we can track all 80 phone numbers and put it in a report.  This way you know what ads are working.  But you actually don’t.  All you know is last point of contact.

For example.  The radio ad with a different phone number.  Does the consumer remember the phone number or do they go to your website and look it up?  Here is a clue.  I bet the calls from your website phone number rose around the time you had an increase in direct traffic to the website around the time you started a radio ad.  Hmmm…. Coincidence?

Listen to the story the data is telling.

The truly sophisticated companies know this.  The ads that get attention, the ads that hold attention, and the ads that converts people to a customer are often different.  And guess what.  Without getting attention and holding attention there is no opportunity to convert.  But which one get the trophy – you got it.

But which is working?  Answer – all of it.  It is all important.

The quest to answer the question – which of my ads is working – is noble.  It is not easy.  It is elusive and requires wisdom.  Not 80 different phone numbers.