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  • Frank Gussoni

Maybe it’s Time for a John Wanamaker State of Mind!

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

As John Wanamaker once said, “I know 50% of my advertising is working, I just don’t know which half!”.

However, today the advertising industry has become a victim of its own circumstances and agencies and clients have bought into a mindset that is proving harmful to themselves.

For decades our industry has been searching for the holy grail. The ability to directly correlate every penny of a company’s ad budget directly to a sale of their product or service. When there were only traditional mediums, this was hard to prove.

In days gone by, there was no doubt that a balanced campaign using TV, radio, OOH and print was working but it was often hard to determine which mediums were doing the heavy lifting, or what percentage of each medium was responsible for the company’s success.

Then came digital, social and mobile media and more reliable tracking through cookies, subscriptions and purchasing behaviors which brought a distinct advantage to building an audience profile and understanding better exactly what the consumer profile was for each brand. Again, a great advantage and definitely helpful.

First party and third-party data became a necessity and companies looked to it and AI to help gain more insight into formulating the right mix and balance to their future media campaigns. All of which makes complete sense. But like nearly everything in America, we go overboard and eventually abuse a good thing!

That’s exactly where our industry is today. No company wants to spend a penny unless they are guaranteed that every ad purchased will be directly traceable to a sale. Again, this makes sense, especially for ecommerce companies that can track their placements and the path directly created to their sites and sales. But now companies that aren’t ecommerce companies are expecting the same metrics and they aren’t possible, at least presently. So, they’re beginning to trip over their dollars not to waste their pennies!

Many companies and their agencies are beginning to rely too heavily on data only results or they are finding comfort in the wrong metrics, to justify their decisions. So, data information sales are soaring. But is all that data reliable? Absolutely not!

In addition, we’re now measuring likes, tweets, emojis, page views, search results, but none of these guarantees anything to a non-ecommerce business either. And other companies are now tracking device IDs and making the assumption that a consumer who saw an brand ad during a TV show that makes a purchase up to 30 days later of that item, should be qualified as a lead generated from that commercial. Ridiculous!

So, why are they measuring these things? Because agencies and internal marketing staffs need to have numbers to show their superiors, to justify their expenditures. Obviously, an argument can be made that an increase of eyes on a brand enhances its chances to sell more products but there are no more guarantees, then driving by a billboard!

Digital media, particularly programmatic is too noisy and requires more money to rise above your competitor’s noise, but the money continues to pour in. Google just registered quarterly earnings of nearly $90BN most of which was generated by “Search”. Rates continue to climb, while golden opportunities continue to dwindle. We rely heavily on DSPs and SSPs, everything is becoming automated and very sterile, while we continue to try to make a more personal connection with the consumers. Hmm?

What many companies are missing is the spontaneity and whimsicalness of the consumer. Just because a consumer typically buys cabernet, doesn’t mean they may not try a sauvignon blanc. But data profiling and AI, are assuredly going to lessen those chances in the future. So, companies will be spending more to target fewer people being courted by more similar brands. So, the consumer pool will continue to decrease as the budgets will need to increase.

The next hurdle is the volume of traffic. The volume is driving costs up and quality placements way up! Sure, there are still cheap placements as long as you have a broad market, general demo and aren’t bothered by weak viewability, but start narrowing the demo, the market size and other consumer parameters and it gets expensive quickly.

Companies are losing sight that not every consumer experiences their brands in the same exact way. But they don’t! While many younger or older adults may have many of the same interests and habits as others their age or income, doesn’t mean that periphery areas of media may not offer better opportunities, pay higher dividends and offer less competition. But they may not all be 100% trackable.

That doesn’t make them worthless or useless. It makes them a solid opportunity that may benefit the company’s sales more than some measurable means, but you’ll have to use other qualifying tactics to trace their results or just be content with the fact that your business is doing better.

While the world flocks to the digital universe, golden opportunities through traditional means are being missed. Prices are decreasing, competition is lighter, and a fair share of your audience is still engaged by it. Even with the technology that we now enjoy compared to years gone by, maybe companies and agencies alike need to have more of the Wanamaker mindset.

Is it more important to be able to track every ad or win more? I’m going with WIN!



President & Founder of A3 media.

We’re Type A. We transform media from an expense into a smart investment.

Frank’s Take provides uncommon sense media buying advice for regional and mid-market businesses.

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President & Founder of A3 media. We’re Type A. We transform media from an expense into a smart investment.

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