Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ideas that Empower

(continued from If You Tame Me…, see 5/9/07 below)

Over $100 billion is spent each year in advertising. In our industry, we use very sophisticated technology. We allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to research on all kinds of consumer behavior surveillance techniques ranging from simple diaries to brain scans and yet, surprisingly, after more than 160 years of the existence of the advertising industry, we still don’t know how advertising works. We only know that it does work.

For many years, an accepted model of how advertising works was a hierarchical model. We believed people moved through a series of events – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action – which took us from advertising to sales. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, however, the research simply did not support this model. The research showed us we could have behavioral changes before attitudinal changes. We could have increases in sales before we had increases in awareness.

Maybe some day we’ll figure it out. But as we’re struggling now to update our definition of advertising, let’s take a different approach and consider the observations of some who were considered among the most successful in advertising.

As we’ve recounted in earlier posts, there was a period in time when some, at least, thought we understood advertising. In his famous book, Scientific Advertising, Claude Hopkins wrote, “The time has come when advertising has reached the status of a science. It is based on fixed principles, and is reasonably exact. The causes and effects have been analyzed until they are well understood. The correct method of procedure have been proved and established. We know what is most effective, and we act on basic law.” Here are a couple of Hopkins’ “laws” of advertising:

    – Ads are not written to entertain. When they do, those entertainment seekers are little likely to be the people whom you want. That is one of the greatest advertising faults. Ad writers… forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause.

    – Any studied attempt to sell, if apparent, creates corresponding resistance.

Fast forward a number of years and consider Bill Bernbach. He rejected the idea of advertising as science and considered it more of an art:

    - Advertising isn't a science, it's persuasion. And persuasion is an art.

    - It’s not just what you say that stirs people, it’s the way that you say it.

But on some points, Bernbach and Hopkins would seem to agree. It’s hard to imagine Hopkins disagreeing with these observations by Bernbach:

    - Our job is to sell our clients' merchandise...not ourselves. Our job is to kill the cleverness that makes us shine instead of the product. Our job is to simplify, to tear away the unrelated, to pluck out the weeds that are smothering the product message.

    - Getting a product known isn’t the answer. Getting it wanted is the answer. Some of the best known product names have failed.

David Ogilvy, who came from a background in direct response, leaned more towards the “scientific” school of thought on advertising effectiveness. In a speech he gave to the advertising community, Ogilvy chastised “generalists” for putting creativity above the commercial goals of advertising:

    You generalists pride yourselves on being creative, whatever that awful word means. You cultivate the mystique of creativity…. We directs do not regard advertising as an art form. Our clients don’t give a damn whether we win awards at Cannes. They pay us to sell their products. Nothing else….

    When sales go up, you claim credit for it. When sales go down, you blame the product. We in direct response know exactly to the penny how many products we sell with each of our advertisements.

    You generalists use short copy. We use long copy. Experience has taught us that short copy doesn’t sell. In our headlines, we promise the consumer a benefit. You generalists don’t think it is creative.

    You have never had to live with the discipline of knowing the results of your advertising. We pack our advertisements and letters with information about the product. We have found out we have to if we want to sell anything.

And yet, Ogilvy had a great deal of respect for another successful ad man, Leo Burnett. Burnett created the advertising campaign that succeeded above all other campaigns: the Marlboro Man. The Marlboro Man campaign is credited with taking a cigarette brand that at one time had about a quarter of a share point in sales and drove it to become the top-ranked brand in the world. The Marlboro Man campaign had none of the fact-based, long copy which Ogilvy criticized the ad community for leaving out in its advertising. It was an image campaign.

So what does this all mean? What does it tell us about what advertising is or is not? For one thing, it suggests there is more than one path to advertising success. There are times when rational, information-based appeals can succeed, and there are times when emotional-based appeals can succeed. Through generation after generation, successful advertising practitioners have concluded that advertising may be entertaining, but it is not entertainment. As the saying goes, “it’s only creative if it sells.”

Here’s another saying that’s relevant: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Every year, it seems, we struggle with the same challenge – how to make advertising more effective – and in many cases we keep finding similar answers. Aren’t the views of Hopkins, Bernbach, Ogilvy, Burnett, and many other successful ad men as relevant today as they were in their own time? For instance, haven’t we learned that advertising is not a popularity contest? Don’t we discover time and time again that the most popular ads are not necessarily the most effective? And yet, what is it that we continue to strive for when we measure advertising recall, and now try to measure engagement? Recall and engagement are best suited as measures of entertainment value, are they not? There is no definitive correlation between recall and sales. Here’s a prediction, there won’t be a definitive correlation between engagement and sales either.

Let’s move beyond engagement and embrace empowerment. When advertising is successful, it empowers people to take action to satisfy some need, want, or desire. The goal of advertising is to create ideas that empower.

In our next post, we’ll try to take the ideas expressed in these last three posts and put them together to offer our new definition of advertising. Meanwhile, I’m curious, what’s your definition of advertising?


Anonymous kate said...

my first boss used to say "advertising is the deliberate production of change." to me, that's still a pretty perfect definition.

11:09 AM  

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