Advertising’s slippery slope

John Foust

Aug 1, 2023

We’re all guilty of that same thing. ...

I remember taking a day-long ski trip to Virginia. The charter bus was filled with skiers who had different levels of experience: a few were pretty good, most were average, and some were novices like me.

After a morning on the beginners’ slope, I took a break to have a sandwich on the deck of the lodge. From my perch atop a picnic table, I could watch skiers on the trail in front of me. The ski lift lowered at a couple of places along the way, from which skiers could exit. The higher up the mountain the lift went, the steeper the slope. The last exit (which I never saw) was meant for expert skiers only.

As I munched on my turkey sandwich, I noticed a couple of dots way up on the mountain. Instead of gracefully zigzagging their way down like the others, they were traveling in a straight line. As they got closer, I could tell that they had fallen. All I could distinguish were two snow-covered lumps sliding down the mountain, elbows flying and skis dragging behind. As they got closer, one of the lumps shouted, “I can’t stoooooooop!”

Eventually — within about 30 seconds of each other — the lumps slid up against the deck, right in front of me. When they stood up, they looked like snow monsters, covered from head to toe with thick coatings of ice and snow. As they talked, it was obvious that neither had been skiing before. They had driven to the slope that morning, parked their car, rented skis, gotten into the first lift line they saw, rode it to the top and immediately fell down. They didn’t stand up again until they stopped at the bottom. One enthusiastically asked, “You gonna do it again?” His buddy shook his head and said, “No, I’ll wait in the car.”

We can easily agree that they were fortunate to escape injury, especially since — according to another spectator — they had traveled maybe a mile on their back sides. It was obvious that they needed some knowledge before they jumped into that lift line.

We’re all guilty of that same thing. In our eagerness — or impatience — we’ve jumped into things that required more information than we were willing to seek. Like the old saying, “Sometimes, we don’t know what we don’t know.”

In the advertising business, lack of information is a sales killer. When my wife was a communications director, a salesperson called on her to talk about promotional services. Talking is all he did. When his spiel was over, he asked, “So, what does this company do?” Only when he ran out of things to say did he express any interest in his prospect.

And what about salespeople who present spec ad ideas before learning about their prospects’ marketing needs? I’ve seen that happen too many times to count — usually with disastrous results. That’s falling at the top of the mountain.

Knowledge is power. And lack of knowledge is a slippery slope.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. Email for information: