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Memo to the CMO: Airport Ads: What’s your marketing ROI?

By July 13, 2011Advertising, Marketing

By Prabhakar Gopalan

Source: Alliance Airport Advertising

Airport banner ads are a befuddling example of marketing investment gone wrong.  Large tech companies spend a fortune on this display game. The Office of the CMO calls it a brand campaign.  Famous failures include ads featuring catchy phrases and athletes soon-to-disappear off the face of the sports pages, either due to poor performance on the field  of sport (think Rolex) or off of it (remember Tiger replaced by Elephants and Frogs?).  So much for brand equity tied to an athlete’s performance.

Do these ads really change your perception of the companies that scream about how good/better they are or how they are charting a new direction? How do marketers explain the ROI of these campaigns?  I can track the efficacy of a web campaign with click through rates.  But how do I track an eyeball measure in the airport when all someone is trying to do is get through airport security and get out of the airport as soon as they can? Pat comes the reply – “we are building brand equity”.  Really?!

Here’s a suggestion to the office of the CMO – let’s please stop this waste of millions of dollars of shareholder wealth on yet another brand campaign.  If you are living in the era of Don Draper and Mad Men, you could justify the spend to your corporate board, and con innocent bystanders.  But in a time when your product reviews are hitting online message boards before they are released and the world already knows how good or bad your product is, do you really think you can change public perception with a bill board in the airport?

There’s one exception to this though – if you actually make delightful products, products that customers love, then these ads simply reinforce the idea and goodwill (ok, call it brand equity) you already have.  But let’s say you are not really at the bleeding edge of delivering innovation to the market, but want to ‘re-brand’ yourself with a marketing campaign – how does that really work?  Case in point – AT&T wi-fi.  Many a time I’ve stood right in front of  the AT&T ad at DFW airport where I had no signal on my AT&T service.  And you wonder right there if you can believe anything you read in the ad.  Get my point?

CMOs please do us a favor: instead of spending those millions in airport banner ads, give that money back to product teams for R&D, so they can hire the best and the brightest, or if you can’t do any of those, at least give back the money to shareholders.  Dr. Ramesh Rao, finance professor at UT Austin (yours truly was his student several years ago) argues how marketing misses the point when it comes to measuring ROI.  What we need from marketers out to create the next big campaign blowing a big hole through the corporate coffers is a concrete set of metrics that can show why and how they can help deliver delightful products to customers.

Prabhakar GopalanPrabhakar Gopalan is Founder & Principal at Whole Mind Consulting (url: http://www.wholemindconsulting.com), a strategy consulting firm advising business and technology leaders on growth strategies.  Follow his tweets on Twitter @PGopalan and connect with him  on LinkedIn (url: http://linkedin.com/in/prabhakar)

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Great point, Prabhakar. If the airport ad were pitching something the inbound visitor might do pr buy while in town, that would be one thing; but typically these are ‘image’ ads with no clear call to action and no apparent benefit to the advertiser.

    I also wonder why the TV and radio meteorologists tell us the temperature at the airport. Not very useful unless you live nearby (and almost no one does — just acres and acres of empty land out there). And even if you’re going to the airport, you won’t be there for long — and you’ll be ‘ll be indoors! Who cares what the temperature is at the airport?

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