Advertising Plan

How to create a strategic advertising plan.

An advertising plan is an outline, a "to do" list,
a guide to action.

This article is an outline for a "strategic" plan which differs form a "standard" or "tactical" plan in scope.

A strategic plan is comprehensive, covering every aspect of an advertising program projected over a year or longer. You can cut this strategic plan to a size that fits your budget and needs.

The 3 main areas of an advertising plan:

1) What do we want to accomplish? Our objectives or goals.

2) How will we reach those goals? What will we do, and what will it cost, to achieve our objectives.

3) How do we measure results? How do we determine whether we have accomplished our objectives?
Beyond the big three categories common to most advertising plans, the exact nature and details can very significantly depending on the purpose of the plan.

Some examples:

- Annual advertising plan prepared internally for a Fortune 500 company to characterize and project the brand. In this case, you're likely to see a power point presentation of the "big picture" issues regarding budgets, creative and direct response themes, special events, and evaluation tools.

- A new business pitch from an ad agency to a small regional bank, say four branches. In this case, the Advertising Plan is a persuasive document. It should be visually informative and entertaining.

- Internal working document for the first three months of a direct response focused launch campaign for a medium sized software company. In this case, the Ad Plan could well be a work in progress, with an initial outline placed on the network, and with many people from marketing, sales and accounting making comments over several weeks. In the end, the marketing director takes all the comments and publishes a finished action plan.

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The advertising plan you prepare will likely be influenced by several big issues, such as branding, direct response and positioning.

Here are some categories to consider in your advertising plan. Select from this list to create an outline that works for you.

Background / overview:

What is the history of advertising for this company leading up to this plan? What are the chief challenges for this plan or advertising campaign? What are the big opportunities in the market?

Duration of the plan / review dates:

Is this a launch campaign that will last three months? Or is this an annual plan, with a "review and recommendation" every three months?

Competitive analysis:

What are the bad guys up to? Is there a trend towards price cutting? How do competitor products or services compare? Us ad guys want to know.

Advertising goal:

Your advertising goal can be as simple as one clearly defined objective:

- Convince marcom managers that AdCracker CD will help them create more effective advertising, faster, and that now is the best time to buy.

Or you may wish to broaden your list to include several objectives, and include marketing objectives:

- Achieve 50% brand recognition with target audience as defined by the ability to 1) recognize our logo and 2) describe at least one of our products, and 3) associate “quality products” when prompted for brand characteristics.

- Achieve a 2% response rate and sales of $500 per 100 direct mail packages within 30 days of drop.

- Achieve a lifetime value of $1,500 on each customer within five years.

Recommended advertising activities:

This could be the longest, most detailed aspect of the plan. It might be divided by month. It could also be divided by target audience. A few examples:

- Launch TVC in top 10 urban markets to introduce our new brand character.

- Email to current customers with upgrade offer, save 50%.

- Test direct mail with "Order now or get more info" offer to select cold list of small business owners in California, Florida, New York and Texas.

- Send video CD with 25% off promo letter to top 100 prospects in our international contact database from Singapore, London, Shanghai, New Delhi, and Sydney.

Optional, or conditional, advertising activities:

What's the point? Why not just include these in the recommended section? There can be several reasons to have optional advertising activities. Here are a few:

1) You don't really know the client's budget. So this gives them some extra things to buy.

2) Your recommended advertising activities work surprisingly well, and you want to take advantage of the opportunity.

Example: Your test mailer to select markets produces double the results you expect, and becomes the best activity in terms of the return on investment. So your optional activities include:

- Test direct mail with “Order now or get more info” offer to select cold list of small business owners in every major metro area of over 500,000 population, except California, Florida, New York and Texas.

3) Your recommended advertising activities fail to produce the results you need. Let's say your Save 25% offer to international prospects does not work, so you need the option, the backup plan, to go with a stronger offer:

- Send video CD with 50% off promo letter to top 100 prospects in our international contact database from Berlin, Moscow, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro and Montreal.

Non-advertising and creative media options:

This category can include anything that will help achieve your goals:

- PR
- Special events
- Seminars
- Trade shows
- Customer relations
- Social media campaigns
- Ambient, viral and unconventional media

Such activities as PR may or may not be within the scope of your department, and therefore your plan. If they are, then your plan becomes a "communications plan" not an ad plan. Advertising, generally, is "paid communications."

Description of target markets / audiences:

- Business type, size and location.

- Career stage. Think about the person who will receive your message. Is this an owner who sees the big business picture and would be more likely to consider a new software program to enhance overall company efficiency vs someone in purchasing or human resources who is focused on their departments.

- Consumer location. Define, as best you can, where your targets live, work and play. Then put a little more effort into defining where you target live work and play.

- Age.
- Gender.
- Marital status.
- Income.

- Life stage. Are your prospects retired? Or is their a mix of say, 60% retirees 55 to 65, and 40% young urban professionals 30 to 45.

- Psychographics: how will the prospect approach the purchase decision. Is it high or low involvement. Rational or emotional? Are thy looking for security? Or a thrill?

Persuasive strategy:

What is the main thing we going to say, to offer, to our target audience, to get them to think what we want, to feel what we want, or do what we want?

- Save on brokerage fees with TD Waterhouse, and get access to independent research.

- This could be the last battery your car will ever need.

- America's favorite skylight is a lot less expensive than you think – and it adds value to your home in three specific ways.

Creative strategy:

You don't want to dictate creative in the advertising plan. In fact, you may not want creative strategy included at all. But if you do, here are some of the things you would want to cover:

- How are we going to present the message? Through a celebrity? A brand character?

- Will the copy be friendly? Or dramatic?

- Should we use music to communicate emotion? If so, what songs?


Google: advertising research. consumer research. attitude research. Phrases like that.

AdCracker is reluctant to endorse pre-launch research since so many great campaigns did not, initially, do well in such tests.

Customer feedback:

Google: stupid. Because this can be so simple to do, and so effective. And so few companies do it.

Pick up the phone. Call ten or 50 customers. Ask them,

- Why did you buy?
- What do you like the most about the service?
- What would you like to see improved?

Now you know exactly what to consider for copy points. And if the client is smart, they know exactly how to improve their service. Plus, you might end up with material for a superb testimonial campaign.

Creating a communication loop between customer and company is always a good thing to do. So just, you know, do it.

Media plan:

Here are some choices:

- Direct Mail.

- Collateral: brochures, single sheet flyers, in-store take-one displays and brochures, posters, statement stuffers.

- Broadcast: Radio, TV spots or infomercials.

- Video on tape or CD / DVD.

- Print: magazines, newspaper, specialty publications, inserts.

- Outdoor: billboards, transit, off-screen.

- Internet Marketing : Website optimization, pay per click search engine listings, affiliate or associate relationships, paid banner placements, email.

- Digital communications: digital video on Web, multimedia CD.

Media Strategy:

The simple answer to media strategy is to identify your target audience then find the best media, at the best time, to reach them.

For many advertisers the options will be obvious. If not, consider one of the large media buying services. Google: MindShare, OMD, Carat, Zenith, Tempus or Initiative.

Keep in mind that you will get the best return on your advertising by getting your message in front of people during the decision making and buying cycle.

That also means it costs more to buy customers during off seasons or economic downturns.

Divide your budget by 12 months if people buy all year long. Spend more to launch new products or compete for a larger share of a season pie.


We like to say, with direct marketing, "It’s not what it costs, but what it returns that matters."

And that's true. We have seen $500 direct mail packages sent to CEOs that produced $20,300 average return. In that case the client allocate a budget based on what it would cost to put a persuasive presentation in the hand of a very hard to reach target.

Some budgeting methods:

- Task method of budgeting: spend what it takes to do the job, and do it right.

- Annual allocation. Start with a base, which could be anywhere from 1,000 to 100 million, and increase it by x% each year.

- Percent of sales. Aggressive marketers, especially in consumer markets, can spend 20 to 30 % of sales on advertising and marketing. Sometimes even more.

In a business to business environment, 10% of sales would be considered aggressive, on average.


How will you track sales? How will you link sales to advertising? Who, in your company or with the client, will do that?

Direct response and Internet advertising is easy to track.

Branding focused campaigns may not be easy to link to sales. Talk to a research company if you want to do that.

Here's a tip: Capital One spent over 100 million annually, mostly on TV ads, to build brand recognition during the early 2000s. That's the kind of money it takes to buy a nationwide brand. What's in your wallet?


For mid to large sized companies, the hierarchy of "plans" are:

Company business plan / marketing plan / advertising plan.

All good corporate citizens should make certain that the goals and budgets for all plans are aligned.

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