The idea for the panel started here: As an agency, you present a very bold idea, it gets approved, and then you leave. But the marketer is left with an entire organization of people who don't work in marketing or advertising so they have to champion the work internally and get it approved and supported. Imagine how difficult that is when your idea is extremely bold?
One of the great bits that came out of our discussion was how to recognize a bold idea. The group's answer: when it makes you uncomfortable. Their opinion was that, when the work is presented, if you don't feel uncomfortable it means you've probably seen something similar before... even if you're not sure where.
Which doesn't mean it's not good! It just means you're probably not in "bold" territory. And that's fine, of course. But if you're looking to be bold, to stand apart, to turn convention around, to surprise your competitors, to earn an unfair share of consumer attention, then you should anticipate being uncomfortable on your way there.
"Always go a little further into the water than you feel you're capable of being... go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don't feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you're just about in the right place to do something exciting."
But my favorite part was about why it's important to be bold... you do it on behalf of the customer.
The core reason for bold ideas isn't to make your organization "be different." It isn't to strongly position you against your competition and it isn't to grab headlines. The reason it's important to be bold is to make something notably better for the customer. As Bernbach said, a brand value isn't really a value until it costs you something.
T-Mobile, Xbox and Amazon are all bold because they put the needs of the customer at the top of their thinking. And when they do that, their ideas become bold--and the advertising has to level-up.
When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your objective to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself. That’s the true test of writing. When you can do that, the reader gets the kick and you don’t get any.
Tracy Wong offered one of my favorite descriptions of advertising: "commerce, artfully told." So it's not surprising that the process of being bold--understanding what it takes, and what it means--is similar to what the world's best artists, writers and musicians experience, too.
This was just a fun read, and I agreed with everything except for a small * on the first thing: choosing the right name. Truth: There are better names and worse names, clear names and confusing names, really strong names and really weak names, clear names and confusing names, strategic names and not-so-strategic names. The Rolling Stones is a great name: far better than Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys.
But, in general, the brand makes the name. It's the gestalt of the whole thing--something good has a way of making for a good name. Is Target a "good" name? How about Radiohead, Dreamworks, Tesla or Android? If these things were crap, names like these could be looked upon much differently. But it's nearly impossible to have your mind go there, isn't it? Their names are good largely because they are good.
Flip side--if your name is lululemon, Dr. Pepper, the Goo Goo Dolls or FourSquare you have to work that much harder to impute desirability into what you call yourself.
This was referenced during a speech at MarketMix by Patrick Byers. The capo d'astro bar is a great advertising story that was written in the 80s. Searching for the story took a few attempts, so I thought I'd re-post it here.
By Bud Robbins
Back in the sixties, I was hired by an ad agency to write copy on the Aeolian Piano Company account. My first assignment was for an ad to be placed in The New York Times for one of their grand pianos. The only background information I received was some previous ads and a few faded close-up shots…and of course, the due date.
The Account Executive was slightly put out by my request for additional information and his response to my suggestion that I sit down with the client was, ‘Don’t tell me you’re one of those? Can’t you just create something? We’re up against a closing date!’
I acknowledged his perception that I was one of those, which got us an immediate audience with the head of our agency.
I volunteered I couldn't even play a piano let alone write about why anyone would spend $5,000 for this piano when they could purchase a Baldwin or Steinway for the same amount.
Both allowed the fact they would gladly resign the Aeolian business for either of the others; however, while waiting for the call, suppose we make our deadline. I persisted and reluctantly, a tour of the Aeolian factory in Upstate New York was arranged. I was assured that ‘we don’t do this with all our clients’ and my knowledge as to the value of company time was greatly reinforced.
The tour lasted two days and although the care and construction appeared meticulous, $5,000 still seemed to be a lot of money.
Just before leaving, I was escorted into the showroom by the National Sales Manager. In an elegant setting sat their piano alongside the comparably priced Steinway and Baldwin.
‘They sure look alike,’ I commented.
‘They sure do. About the only real difference is the shipping weight—our is heavier.’
‘Heavier?’ I asked. ‘What makes ours heavier?’
‘The Capo d’astro bar.’
‘What’s a Capo d’astro bar?’
‘Here, I’ll show you. Get down on your knees.’
Once under the piano, he pointed to a metallic bar fixed across the harp and bearing down on the highest octaves. ‘It takes 50 years before the harp in the piano warps. That’s when the Cap d’astro bar goes to work. It prevents warping.’
I left the National Sales Manager under his piano and dove under the Baldwin to find a Tinkertoy Capo d’astro bar at best. Same with the Steinway.
‘You mean the Capo d’astro bar really doesn’t go to work for 50 years?’ I asked. ‘Well, there’s got to be some reason why the Met uses it,’ he casually added.
I froze. ‘Are you telling me that the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City uses this piano?’
‘Sure. And their Capo d’astro bar should be working by now.’
Upstate New York looks nothing like the front of the Metropolitan Opera House where I met the legendary Carmen, Rise Stevens. She was now in charge of moving the Metropolitan Opera House to the Lincoln Center.
Ms. Stevens told me, ‘About the only thing the Met is taking with them is their piano.’
That quote was the headline of our first ad.
The result created a six-year wait between order and delivery.
My point is this. No matter what the account, I promise you, the Capo d’astro bar is there.”
We will only be able to respond adequately to the continuing rapid pace of change in commerce and communications if we understand the basic principles of how people are influenced by publicity.
This was on page 16 of The Anatomy of Humbug and, upon reading that, I had a hunch the book would be good. "How people are influenced by publicity" is a great choice of words. It's naturally big so it's no surprise that the answer varies.
But that shouldn't be frustrating.
It should be liberating.
And that's the genius of The Anatomy of Humbug--it provides confidence and structure while at the same time requiring the practitioner to study their own situation and apply the right answer from a collection of approaches.
Paul Feldwick confirms several things in this book that I have long believed but couldn't articulate in a way that I liked. Such as how many advertising and marketing people have long-argued for the USP--but that's not always right. In fact, it's often wrong. Equally, others have argued for all emotion-based campaigns. But that's not always right either.
"Humbug" offers six ways to think about how advertising works:
Advertising as Salesmanship: the first massively adopted way that advertising works dating back over 100 years, commonly condensed under a USP, and often the default definition from most marketers. (I think of Microsoft)
Advertising as Seduction: more emotion-forward advertising, this works by providing associations to brands and products. (I think of Coke)
Advertising as Salience: creating a distinctive and consistent mass marketing approach derived at making a brand famous and easily accessible in the mind. (I think of GEICO)
Advertising as Social Connection: the acknowledgement that most communication is 'non verbal', that everything a brand does communicates, and that it's always 'on.' (I think of Red Bull)
Advertising as Spin: re-framing reality--impute all-new meaning into the product benefit. (Feldwick cites Axe)
Advertising as Showbiz: creating must see entertainment, like what P.T. Barnum did for his traveling shows. (Feldwick cites Volvo Trucks)
So which way is right?
All of them.
But not all of them, all of the time.
Throughout the history of advertising each of these approaches have been overstated, often by the practitioners who coined (and sold) them. But none of these theories on their own can claim that they are 'how advertising works' because it depends on the brand and what needs to be accomplished.
What is required is deep understanding of the business problems--and the true purpose of the brand at-hand--and then applying whichever type of advertising theory satisfies them best.
And it's often about choosing several of these.
Within the same brand there are times when an ad should be a salesperson. There are other times when it should seduce. As it does both, a campaign should have salience. And so on.
If everything is done well it creates business-driving advantages, hence the title of the book.
It's a reminder that we have to talk about the tactics of new channels so that we can understand them. We must measure performance so that we can give people more of what they need and less of what they don't. We need to study the fundamentals of branding and marketing and selling.
Doing this provides us with the confidence to then blaze new trails for ourselves. And it's in this spirit that re-reading this letter from time to time always ignites a spark within.
Dear ___________ :
Our agency is getting big. That’s something to be happy about. But it’s something to worry about, too, and I don’t mind telling you I’m damned worried. I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance, that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals. I’m worried lest hardening of the creative arteries begin to set in.
There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this short or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.
It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency and that I am so desperately fearful of losing. I don’t want academicians. I don’t want scientists. I don’t want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things.
In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people – writers and artists. Many of them were from the so-called giants of the agency field. It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative. Sure, they had advertising know-how. Yes, they were up on advertising technique.
But look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.
All this is not to say that technique is unimportant. Superior technical skill will make a good ad better. But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability. The danger lies in the temptation to buy routinized men who have a formula for advertising. The danger lies In the natural tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.
If we are to advance we must emerge as a distinctive personality. We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.
Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.