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Advertising In Tough Times

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When traffic is slow, don't 'scream' at your customers.

So, times are tougher and traffic is smaller. Sales are off and nobody is reacting to all the yelling and screaming everyone does to get the consumer's attention. 70% to 90% off is not cutting it today. People are not reacting to "No Payments, No Interest, No Down Payments for Three Years". Wonder what the problem could be? Certainly, credibility isn't at issue here, is it? After all, doesn't every business yell and scream "We'll Give You Everything In Our Store Free If You'll Just Come In Today"?

Never in the history of man have there been so many doing the same copycat things as in the home furnishings industry. If you scream, I'll scream louder. If you offer NO NO for one full year, I'll offer NO NO for two full years. And, if you're on the Today Show, I'll buy sponsorship of the local newsbreak on the Today Show. And, as traffic continues to dwindle, what should a home furnishings retailer do to get back on track? Without a doubt, this is the most asked question as retailers everywhere are trying to figure out where all of the customers have gone, seemingly over night.

One thing is certain, yelling and screaming will only get you horse. So calm down. Get a grip on yourself. Sit back for just one moment and examine what is going on around you to cause all of this hysteria. O.K. The newspaper is the culprit. They have once again announced that their rates are increasing. So are tickets to the ball games. You're upset that the Cubs haven't won the pennant. So another generation sees mediocrity in action. One thing is different. Traffic is reduced in your stores. Of course, you have cut back on advertising therefore making it harder and harder for people to know that you are in business and that you have the best selection in town with great value and prices that can't be beat. Funny how traffic and advertising are linked. It's like a water faucet. When you turn it off, the water stops. When you turn it on, it takes a second, but water comes out to the degree you have opened the valve. Funny how traffic and water are linked. But that's the second part of the issue. First is the message.

In a time when people are upset, and our potential customers certainly are upset, it is time to be calm and allow the water (love this analogy) to be calm around you. The calmer you are, the calmer everyone around you becomes. Life actually becomes somewhat pleasant. Smiles are occasionally seen on faces. Small, but noticeable, laughter is heard. People actually say, "Hello" when greeted.

Certainly we have every reason to be glum. Traffic is down. The weather has been too good. The gods are conspiring against us. When in effect, the only thing that is bothering us is that people are not buying our furniture. Now that we have established the problem, let's find the solution.

We aren't advertising as much because coupled with increasing newspaper advertising rates, once the key medium for furniture retailers, dealers are looking to other media for answers. And other mediums are scary because all we used to have to know about was the newspaper. That's all our fathers taught us. Television was too expensive. Besides, everyone knows that only 'dummies' watch television.

Television may have the key for you. And cable television in particular may just be that key.

First, let's examine the issue of where the customers are located today. Simply put, they are in front of their television sets. Increasingly, television has become the source for news, information and entertainment. Recently, the Jessica Serviette story on the Lifetime cable network pulled in an astounding 7.9 rating, the second highest in the history of cable television for a movie. What was stunning about this was that it was up against football on Sunday, which was also on cable (TNT).

In other words, on one night, on cable, two powerful programs were up against all of the big time networks, the Sunday newspaper and local radio... and cable had two of the biggest programs on the air. Any guesses why? For those who have been in the ozone too long, cable stations are paying the money to get big programs on the air. They are establishing their franchises with solid programming, just like the broadcast networks did in years past, and continue to do. No! Their ratings are not going to beat "Friends" or "Seinfeld". But please note that these programs are not up against "Friends" or " Seinfeld ". In particular, these programs were on Sunday evening, traditionally the heaviest viewing night of the week for television. And they got their share of the audience on this particular evening.

Perhaps that is the cornerstone in building a powerful cable advertising buy. Rather than buying ROS (run of station) on a cable buy, dealers would be better off picking and choosing where they place their spots. In some instances, this is difficult because local cable operations only offer sweeping buys (where you have to buy an entire week's cycle). However, this should not preclude dealers from buying a cable network for a particular week when they know big programming will be featured.

Cable has built-in advantages for home furnishings dealers. First of all, cable allows the dealer to pick and choose among many demographically correct programming blocks. After all, cable has been built on networks that have been, by design, aimed at a particular audience. Look at Lifetime. Here is a network absolutely built around women's programming. If you want to reach women, and reach them constantly, Lifetime is an excellent choice. Look at ESPN. This is a network that is designed around men's programming. If you want to reach men, and reach them constantly, ESPN is an excellent choice.

Then there is CNN. At first it was designed to grab the news hungry. Rather than watching the traditional network newscasts at 5:30PM or 6:00PM Monday through Friday, CNN was designed to give their audience all of the news when the viewer wanted to watch it. And because it caught on, CNN Headline News was born to give the viewer the complete news package every thirty minutes. What started out as a way to grab a smaller segment of the audience, turned out to be a large chunk of everyday living. CNN is a major, major source for news and information that cannot be ignored by home furnishings retailers if they want to reach those who could, would or should buy furniture in their local market. It is simply the cornerstone for any home furnishings advertising campaign. As most retailers know, you have to get in front of the audience as much as possible. CNN allows you to do this at an attractive rate.

And if you want continuous frequency that is extremely efficient, CNN Headline News is for you. It is built for the home furnishings retailer who always complains that this costs too much or that is too expensive. CNN Headline News is economical. And it allows you to buy a ton of spots for excellent coverage. The wonderful thing about CNN Headline News is that the audience drifts in and out all day with surprisingly little fluctuation. We call it our ammunition box. When we run out of bullets as we are targeting our prospective audience, CNN Headline News gives us that extra bit of reserve that we are always looking for. Is it effective? On it's own, probably not. But in tandem with other broadcast and cable buys, it is extremely effective.

Other dabble opportunities are on the Discovery Channel especially around "Movie Magic"; A&E, around "Biography"; USA around their movies; Comedy Central around "Politically Incorrect" and "Mystery Science Theatre 2000"; E The Entertainment Network around "E News Daily" and "Talk Soup" TNT around their weekday evening movies; MTV and VH-1 throughout the weekends; ESPN-2 around "Talk 2"; the History Channel on the weekends; TNN during the evenings; and not to be left out, TBS in and around their sporting events. (Editor's note: One of the perks of writing a monthly column is to have the ability to have an Editor's note. Here is mine for this month. "Larry Sanders" is the best show in the history of television but cannot be bought because it is on HBO. But, it is on cable.)

All editorializing aside, it seems clear that television is made for home furnishings dealers. And cable television is especially well suited for the type of personalities within this industry. But the key to better traffic for home furnishings retailers is always the message. Keep it simple. Keep it informative. Keep it entertaining. But don't yell. Most people can hear just fine if you allow them to listen.

Lance G. Hanish is the President of Lance Benefield & Co., Inc. Worldwide, a leading marketing communications firm serving home furnishings retailers. Questions on any aspect of television media management or production can be direct to Mr. Hanish care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at lhanish@furninfo.com.


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