A grenade to catch a trout

I read “Truth, Lies and Advertising” by John Steel, Group Planning Director at WPP, when I first became a Planner a little over a year ago. It the kind of book that I keep dipping back into to read memorable passages again and again.

This is one I revisited earlier this week.

“A history of effective advertising would doubtless contain many examples of campaigns whose success was achieved more by sheer weight and presence than by smart strategic insights or distinctive creative executions. In these examples, audiences were bludgeoned into submission by large budgets and repetition, and I am certain that the advertisers concerned would say that it did not matter that people did not like their campaigns, or that some even found the insulting or offensive. As long as they they their objectives and got a return on investment, they were happy.

In an absolute sense, it is hard to argue that those companies are wrong. My argument, however, is more relative than absolute. and it touches on two main areas. First, the environment in which advertising operates has changed. Companies are under intense pressure to increase their earnings year after year, quarter after quarter, month by month, and there is no category in American business where an extra point of market share comes easily. Companies have to fight for distribution, for sales, for margins, and for consumer of mind, which, as the number of media choices and the amount of advertising increases, becomes ever harder to capture. Moreover, as the pressure on the bottom line mounts, the amount of resources at most companies’ disposal dwindles, so that every year they are being asked to achieve more, with less.

There are many ways to catch trout. One, which does not require either training or finesse, is to buy a hand grenade, remove the pin, throw the grenade into the pool, and, when it explodes, scoop out the bodies in a net. That is the way that many companies have traditionally advertised, but financial restrictions mean that hey now have to find more skilful, intelligent ways of attracting and retaining customers.

While this may be new to some advertisers, others were smart enough to realize it years ago. They were not forced into it by accountants, but came to it willingly, feeling that there was a better, more thoughtful, human way to advertise that that suggested by the industry rule book. That brings me to my second point. However effective advertising campaigns may have been using the blunt instrument of big budgets, Unique Selling Propositions and repetition, how much more effective might they have been if they had been distinctive and relevant to consumers, as well as omnipresent? How much less might they have been able to spend to achieve the same goals?”

If you liked this, I’ve previously quoted John Steel in the post “The power of four little words“.

Hey. I’m Alex Murrell. I'm a Planner at Epoch Design in Bristol where I help deliver highly creative, innovative and effective pack, instore and online communications for some of the world’s biggest FMCG brands. Want to know more? You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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