Ever since 1957, when James Vicary lied about splicing subliminal messages into a movie to incease Coke and popcorn sales, it has been fashionable—and handy—to accuse advertising of having powers it doesn't possess, and of causing society's ills.
Enough. We don't know how to manipulate you or your kids against your will. And though I know of no advertisers who use subliminal practices, if there are cranks who attempt it, don't let them scare you. Scientifically valid testing has shown that subliminal advertising has no effect. At all. (Yes, I am aware of so-called tests that allegedly say otherwise. The tests are based on flawed methodology and are invalid.) (Speaking of matters sublimimal, those tapes that play while you’re asleep? Pure flimflam.)
As I write, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is pushing legislation to “eliminate the tax deductibility of fast food and junk food advertising directed at children.”
Advertising is a business expense. What is legal to sell should be legal to advertise. If you object to a product, seek to have it banned, not to make it harder to sell.
Meanwhile, try personal responsibility as a parent for a change. Yes, shocking as it may sound, I am suggesting teaching values in your home. You can use those dreaded media messages as launch points for great, values-centered conversations.
Do not blame your and your kids' bad habits on the media. No one is obese because the media made them that way. People get fat when they eat more than they burn. Kids get fat when parents don't ensure they get a balanced diet. Certainly the why behind a compulsive overeating problem is a more involved question, but ads are not part of the answer.
Ads suggest. You still get to decide what to do with the suggestion. And you remain accountable for the decision, no matter whom you try to blame.Some related thoughts:
• Ever notice the double standards used by ad-blamers? Most will tell you that they are not controlled by ads; it's everyone else they're worried about. • People claim that fast food ads cause obesity. Yet people also claim that skinny models in ads cause anorexia and bulimia. Come on, folks. Pick one.
• Programming is far less regulated than advertising. You will see actors drink booze in movies and TV shows, but never in a TV commercial. It's illegal, even in a booze ad. Remember the old Playtex commercials that showed bras on mannequins but not on real women? That was because, until a couple of decades ago, you could show a lingerie-clad woman in programming—even naked, in a movie—but not in a commercial.
• If you want to save lives, I suggest raising your voice against Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccination crusade. Kids may be getting plump at McDonald’s, but McCarthy's actions are killing tens of thousands of children right now, with the potential to kill hundreds of thousands or more in the near future. And, sadly, someday putting them on a diet won’t save these kids.
Next time you interview a marketing candidate, I suggest adding these questions:
It’s true that book learning isn’t everything. But it’s not nothing, either. A voracious consumer of marketing writing indicates someone who wants to grow and excel at the craft.
- What marketing books have you read lately?
- What marketing periodicals do you take?
- Which publications are your favorites? Why?
- Which publications would you recommend to be shredded and buried under a spot where nothing for human consumption is to be planted for at least seven years? Why?
As an agency guy, I am surprised at the number of marketing decision makers I am doomed to work with who don’t know a damned thing about marketing. How did they get where they are? Maybe they write well (“PR and marketing are the same thing, right?”). Maybe they graduated with a B.S. in psych and a parent on the Board of Directors. Maybe they “just seemed to have a lot of good sense.” Such “reasons” are not unusual.
Thus I often find myself presenting a fully thought-out, proven strategy, only to have the marketing director fixate on the color of, say, a border. Wouldn’t a midnight blue be nicer?
We all start out in our careers underqualified. Heaven knows I did. At 25, I faked my way into the job of Marketing Communications Manager for a tri-state bank! But the difference is, I knew I was faking it. I was desperately afraid of being exposed.
So, rather than assume I knew it all because I had a PR degree and my card said “Marketing Director,” I devoured every marketing book I could find. I took Advertising Age, Adweek, DM News and others. I called on seasoned pros and picked their brains. I ran tests. I went to seminars. I developed a thirst for knowing how to do effective marketing. I wanted to be worth what I was getting paid. (Happily, in the process, I found out that real competence is more fulfilling than feigned competence.)
I still have that thirst. I still read every sound marketing book I can find. I still go to seminars. I still pick brains. I do these things even though I am the author of a marketing book myself, I write internationally published marketing articles, and I conduct my own marketing seminars.
So, back to your marketing candidate. Is this person someone who wants to continue growing—or who feels that, having attained a certain marketing je ne sais quoi, simply knows it all?
The other day a friend asked if I, like her husband, need to be right all the time. I took no umbrage. I am perfectly capable, on occasion, of being a typical male. But in this case I was able to honestly answer, "No."
Direct marketing is all about finding out what works. Much of the time this puts us in the position of finding out that some idea we thought up, cherished and defended fell flat when given its real-world test. And that's OK. The thrill of learning trumps any disappointment.
Besides, every time I find out I'm wrong about something, it's an opportunity to get it right. Which is an opportunity for personal growth. That's something I hope never to be done with.
I thought of Michael Shermer, who said, "I am a skeptic not because I don't want to believe, but because I want to know." Amen.
Incidentally, her husband took no umbrage, either. He readily admitted to needing to be right all the time. I had to compliment him at being so humble about his dogmatism.
I'd like to see an end to epithets in public discourse. Both Left and Right these days have taken to characterizing one another as "idiots." Cases in point are left-leaning books like Charles Pierce's Idiot America and right-leaning ones like Glen Beck's Arguing with Idiots. Stop it. Just write and defend your position, and spare us the childish ad hominem rants.
One of my favorite clients is introducing a new product. He has strong opinions about the form it should take. So have I. But we both recognize that what his customers will buy is a question of fact, not opinion. So, together, we have devised a test to uncover the fact—before he goes too far in either direction. There will be no focus group or survey, because neither of these can reliably predict consumer behavior. Rather, this will be a valid, scientific test. Ah, for more clients like this one! Watch this blog. I hope to be be able to share the methodology and outcome soon.
If you pour sap straight from a sugar maple onto your pancakes, you'll regret it. But boil 35 gallons down to one, and you'll have syrup to die for.
It's like good copywriting.
You already know, I hope, that long copy outsells short. But there's long and there's l-o-n-g. Self-indulgent rambling sells nothing.
When I write copy, I print and pore over it, red pen in hand, until it resembles a battlefield. Then I revise, reprint, and re-pore. I do this four or five times before I'm happy. As a result, the copy ends up short, punchy—and right.
I just wrote a newsletter article. After putting it through the above-described process, I was in love with all 1,650 words that remained. Then I dumped it into the layout. Oops. 1,310 words too long. Cutting another 80 percent of my beloved words hurt like the dickens. Besides, I was tired. But when I finished, I had to concede that the remaining 20 percent truly wielded power.
The ability to excise all you can without sacrificing meaning, tone or content is a gift. Covet it. Like syrup, the more you boil down copy, the tastier it gets.
Kellogg's is worried.
They fear that you have been duped into believing that Kellogg's secretly makes competing, no-name and/or store brands. To protect you from this error, they're experimenting with laser-etching the Kellogg's mark onto every flake.
I'm not making this up.
I, for one, am reassured. At last I am safe from inadvertently eating an off brand under delusions of consuming stealth Kellogg's.
Except, adding a logo to the Kellogg's-brand flakes won't achieve that. Because if Kellogg's really were—mind you, Kellogg's legal department, I'm not saying that they are—but if they were making private-label cereals, wouldn't they leave the logo off anyhow? Private labels are, well, you know, private.
Does the idea of eating brand name etched-flakes happen to gross you out? Kindly click COMMENT and share your thoughts.
I was thrilled the day I stumbled upon direct response. I was about two years into my advertising career, and I have to tell you, I was psyched. Here was a way to evaluate advertising by its contribution to the bottom line, instead of by soft measures like getting noticed, being remembered, and being creative.
The more I tracked advertising performance, the more I saw that what I learned in college about how to advertise was grounded more in tradition than in knowledge. So was the work most ad agencies did. Including the one our company used. (I was a client in those days.)
But then, so was the work of our competitors’ agencies. This spelled opportunity! We could be the first in our market to get it right. We could grab more market share and increase profits before the competition knew what hit them. This was exciting!
My employer and our agency didn’t share my enthusiasm.
They wanted the kind of advertising that everyone else had. (A desire, I have since observed, often espoused most strongly by the same people who want advertising that makes them “stand out.”) As for the evidence I presented? Dismissed.
(Now you know, in part, why I opened my own shop.)
I am no longer surprised when people prefer not to entertain the possibility that their advertising could be more effective. Denial is a wonderful tool. It is humanity’s time-honored mechanism for coping with cognitive dissonance. Heaven forbid we should change how we think, or how we do things.
But if results matter more to you than comfort zones, I urge you to dig into direct response marketing. The incredibly valuable information you will discover isn’t secret. It just might as well be.
means "naysaying," we're already in trouble, since that's not how I use the word.
For clarity's sake, then, I'll use the term "evidence-based thinking." EBT for short.
EBT is a marketer's silver bullet. It lets you rise above emotion and speculation as you evaluate a marketing effort from a scientific standpoint. Rather than rate a campaign by how well-liked it is by you, your focus groups, the Board of Directors, and the Board of Director's spouses, you can rate it in terms of (1) if it's making or costing money; (2) how it compares against other strategies; (3) how it performs down to cost-per-sale; (4) how to make it perform even better; and (5) reliable, projected future performance.
(If it's news to you that you really can measure effectiveness to that level of detail, you're not alone. Most clients and agencies don't know how. How
to do EBT is a subject for another blog, not to mention an entire chapter in my book
. For today's blog, I want to focus on the benefits
Granted, with a scientific or evidence-based approach, you risk learning that the cute campaign everyone loves isn't making money. Worse, you may learn that the cheesy campaign you hate is going gangbusters.
There are two ways to handle that information. If you're stubborn or insecure, you can stop measuring results—stop gathering evidence—in order to stick with your pet campaign, free from inconvenient data. Sadly, I have seen more than one client do exactly that.
Or, you can bid a tearful farewell to the cute campaign and go with what your market has shown, with their wallets, to be the better one.
Learning to let the evidence lead you to the facts is a discipline of its own. It's not always easy to do, in marketing or, for that matter, in life. But if you're more interested in knowing than supposing, then skepticism or evidence-based thinking can be your greatest tool.Steve Cuno
Prior to the Dave Thomas spots, Wendy's went through campaign after campaign. They used ragtime music, then they told us to bring lots of napkins, then they were hot n juicy, then they had the taste, and then they where's-the-beef-ed us until it wasn't funny anymore.
Each of those campaigns by itself, given time to endure, might have produced results. But changing too often, even from good idea to good idea (not that each of those was), only tells your market you're not sure who or what you are.
Then Wendy's committed what is generally the Ultimate Advertising Act of Desperation: they put their CEO on the tube. Yet it worked for them. America fell in love with Dave Thomas.
The risk, of course, was that Dave might die. Which, you may have heard, he did.
After Dave's passing, Wendy's returned to its roots of uncertainty. The red wig came and went. They were open late. They weren't fast food. There have been other campaigns, but in the spirit of how forgettable they were, I have forgotten them.
This week Wendy's announced a return to the Dave Thomas strategy, they say, by talking about—brace yourself—freshness. Their new tagline: "You know when it's real."
Freshness? RIght. No fast food purveyor ever tried that one before.
It's enough to make an agency guy with smarts weep. Sure, Dave Thomas talked about freshness. He talked about other things, too. But what America fell in love with was Dave himself. Heck, we even called him by his first name.
If Wendy's thinks "you know when it's real" invokes the essence of Dave Thomas, then maybe a tagline like "we can win" will convince people that your company personifies none other than Winston Churchill.