January 07, 2009

How Advertising Works - Part 1: The Problem

Admit it, you're confused. You don't know how advertising works.

Like everyone in advertising and marketing, you pretend you do. But you don't.

You believe that ads that win awards are superior to mundane, slice-of-life ads. But why do you believe that? Because you've seen proof, or because everyone else in advertising believes it?

You believe that ads that touch an emotion are more powerful than logical ads. But where's the data that backs it up? Is it really true or just a legend?

You believe lovely "branding" spots are way more engaging than crappy direct response spots. Yet TiVo tells us that consumers skip the beautiful "branding" stuff more than the nasty direct crap.

You can't figure out why the last campaign you did failed, while the one before it -- based on the same strategy -- was a big hit.

You don't understand why the brilliant creative team that wins all the awards also does such atrocious junk.

You know the planners and brand babblers in your agency are full of shit, and you can't understand why clients believe them.

You can't figure out why some agencies do great work for one client and abysmal crap for another.

Does copy testing work? Sometimes.

Do celebrity endorsements work? Sometimes.

Do testimonials work? Sometimes.

Do comparison ads work? Sometimes.

Do jingles work? Sometimes.

Are tag lines effective? Sometimes.

So, what do you really know about advertising? What are the principles?

Are we like the financial community that goes along pretending it knows what it's doing but every now and then discovers it doesn't know shit?

The answer is, we're worse than them.

At least for them there's a reckoning every decade or so. There's a big event that shows the world how stupid they've been. For us, there's no grand reckoning for our ignorance. It's just one little failure after another that no one ever tallies up.

It is remarkable that in an industry that spends tens of billions a year, no one knows a fucking thing. Opinions masquerading as wisdom are all we have.

There are some corners of the ad industry in which people really do know what works. The direct response people know that offers work. The political people know that attack ads work. But these strategies are generally outside the lines of mainstream brand advertisers.

We still rely on the same platitudes and cliches that were developed 50 years ago. We abide by the same legends and rituals that were developed by the MadMen -- handed down unchallenged generation to generation, agency to agency.

We have come almost nowhere in understanding why we do what we do.

Well, my children, fear not. Here at The Ad Contrarian all will be revealed.

Our new 5-part series (actually, it may be 8-part or 11-part depending on how crafty I am at stretching this out) How Advertising Works will help you understand how to develop and evaluate advertising sensibly.

If you work at an agency, it will make you the smartest kid in the dumb class. If you work in client-side marketing, it will make you the special one that the agency really hates.

In any event, it will give you a new way to look at and think about advertising.

Stay tuned.

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