January 12, 2009

How Advertising Works - Part 2: Overview

(Most of this series, "How Advertising Works," comes from my book The Ad Contrarian which will be available here free as an ebook as soon as I can get my lazy ass into gear.)

Ask the average ad agency executive what the fundamental principles are behind the advertising she does and you will likely get stunned silence.

When she recovers, you will probably hear a series of buzzwords rather than principles -- vague statements about “cultural conversations” or “360-degree touchpoints” or “consumer engagement.”

The reason ad people have a hard time articulating underlying principles is that, for the most part, they don't have any. Instead, they rely on a grab bag of platitudes and jargon.

In response to that, my associates and I have developed a set of principles called Performance-Based Advertising (PBA). (I know. It sounds like jargon, too. But we had to call it something.)

PBA is meant to displace the fuzzy beliefs and horrible clich├ęs that masquerade as critical thinking in much of the advertising and marketing world today.

It defines a very specific set of principles by which advertising should be developed and managed. It avoids the tired truisms and replaces them with simple ideas that will help you understand why your advertising isn’t performing as well as you’d like it to and what you can do about it.

PBA is about strategy. It’s not about creativity. Thankfully, creativity and imagination are rare and beautiful and can’t be reduced to a set of principles. Strategy can.

I hope what I have to say will challenge what you think you know about advertising. I also hope it will give you a fresh, practical way to approach the advertising decisions you have to make every day.

The premise is simple—there are ways to advertise that are prudent and efficient, and ways that are wasteful and inefficient.

Now the disclaimers. I want to emphasize that what I'm going to provide you with is a series of principles, not rules.

These principles are about probabilities, not absolutes. (For that matter, any statement about human behavior is about probabilities, not absolutes.) The clever ones among you will be able to come up with plenty of examples of ad campaigns that did not followed these principles but were successful.

If you apply these principles, you are not guaranteed to succeed. (Remember, the elusive creative component is always the most important part of advertising.)

However, all other things being equal, if you follow the principles I believe the probability of advertising success is far higher.

Okay, I've teased it enough. In the next part, the first principle.

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