Most firms never experiment with their advertising, which is why those that do can do so well.

There are some people who shrug off failure, and there are some who take failure as a sign of personal weakness.  And, of course, there are a few who, from the off, are so brilliant at something (maths, singing, acting, swimming, learning languages, oratory…) that they simply never fail at all.

Take Sir Alec Guinness, for example.  He was not only appearing in the West End by the age of 22 but during the war commanded a landing craft in the invasion of Sicily and Elba. The authorities then gave him leave to appear in the stage play Flare Path about RAF Bomber Command as a way of raising morale at home.  Later, he famously played nine separate characters in the movie Kind Hearts and Coronets, and on TV was George Smiley.

But for the rest of us, if we are lucky, failure and success go hand in hand. Except some people really do not like the prospect of failure and so become risk averse.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being risk averse in itself.  Indeed society needs both risk takers and risk avoiders.

Yet  when it comes to advertising, a certain level of risk can be worthwhile.  It doesn’t have to be completely over the top bonkers risk taking; indeed a few small steps along the continuum that runs from “play it safe” to “try anything” may be all that is needed.

The reason for this is that in advertising one is always up against competition, and the chances are that somewhere out in the great wide yonder there will be a competitor of yours who really does experiment with their advertising and thus moves ahead of you.

So yes, of course, they might come unstuck and write something that has people laughing at them or saying in outrage, “I’m never buying from you again.”  But even then, all may not be lost, for two reasons.

First, such risk takers in the field of advertising tend to learn their lessons quickly and after an advert that doesn’t work are liable to get the next advert right – and once they have done that that they will have the template for how to promote this product.

Second, people forget.  I recall a customer of ours who did a postal mailing to primary schools which had a covering letter which began “Dear Headmaster.”   We didn’t get to see it before it was posted (he just bought the mailing list from us), so we couldn’t advise him; but the result was disastrous.  Female headteachers do not like to be called “headmaster”.

What our customer then did was confess his error and ask if we had any ideas how to redeem the situation.  We came up with another sales letter which had a dramatic and enticing headline (but no reference to his recent error) which led to a radically different sales pitch.  Sales recovered and by the next campaign sales were ahead of projections.

Of course, the great thing about postal campaigns is that one can run a short run test mailing of maybe 300 schools just to see if the promotion works.  With emails one normally writes to all the schools, because the unit cost is much lower, and one can get out a different advert quickly if anything misfires.

And the company that does experiment a little with its advertising has one other big advantage in the field of education marketing.  For most companies that advertise to schools are generally risk averse – which means that when you do something different, you really will stand out.

If you are not sure about taking a risk with your advertising (and please do remember “taking a risk” does not just mean being amusing – indeed generally it doesn’t – it means trying something quite different), do get in touch.  We’ll be happy to look at your product or service and come up with an outline idea or two.

And, of course, if you want to experiment yourself, we have the four email programme which allows you to send out four emails to schools over a period of anything from one month to four months.  For secondary schools the cost is £289, for primary schools it is £215 for all four mailings.

Plus there’s a bonus.  If you order now we will include free of charge an extra email in August.  Scottish schools open on 15 August, while managers, careers, year 11 and sixth form tutors return on the same day for the initial announcement of A level results.

If you want to take up a free bonus mailing either to Scottish schools or indeed to all schools between 15 August and 10 September followed by a four email campaign, please do call 01604 880 927 or email Stephen@schools.co.uk

Or see our article Why August is a great time to promote to schools in Scotland

Tony Attwood

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