The Worst Part of my 165-mile Commute

Every week I drive from Houston to Austin. It’s not bad. 3-hours of scenic (enough) countryside and a chance to catch up on podcasts, but there is one part of the trip that I can’t stand.

I can’t stand it because it sends me down a marketing wormhole. It’s a freaking billboard. One you’ve probably seen before.

The first time I saw it I thought “Hah, you got me! Brilliant. Guess it does work.” I imagine that’s the desired impact and, ideally, in that “gotcha” moment I would call and reserve the billboard.

But did it work?

I didn’t buy the spot. In fact, no one has for the past year. It’s just sat there for sale, catching motorists off guard with its gotcha marketing.

Of course, after thinking about this, I had to pay attention to every single billboard I passed on the 165-mile trip… and the 165 miles back. I saw billboards for radio stations, for dentists, for lawn equipment, for churches, for fast food.

Did I change radio stations? No. I liked what I had.

Did I pull over for a teeth cleaning? No. I didn’t have the time.

Did I buy a weed eater? No. I don’t have a yard.

I also didn’t make a pitstop to pray or buy a combo meal. I did stop once. It’s the only place I ever stop on that route and, admittedly, the stop is always prompted by a billboard. I stop at Buc-ee’s… and the billboard?

They aren’t just putting a message in my face. They are matching my need with their service at the right time through the most effective channel.

Picking on billboards is the easy example, but the lesson here can be applied to every marketing channel. Facebook ads for the cleanest bathrooms wouldn’t work. Nor would T.V., newspaper, or even radio. Radio seems like a good choice but there are no guarantees of matching the timing of my intent.

The lesson here is that awareness is not interest. You can justify any ad spend with the argument of awareness, but awareness only has value if it is matched with interest. Interest exists paired with a specific goal, at a specific time, and in a specific place.

This seems like the most obvious marketing lesson in the world. It might be marketing 101. But how often do we go against this lesson and race to the next “big thing” or adopt channels because everyone else is there?

What do you think?

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