February 17, 2010

The Age of the Complicator, Part 4

"There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules... They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art."  Bill Bernbach, 1947
As advertising and marketing have become more sophisticated, more technologically advanced, and more populated with well-trained specialists, we are constantly reminded by clients that it has also become less effective.

We blame the problem on environmental issues -- clutter, disengaged consumers, proliferation of media. Anything but us.

But the problem is systemic. We've lost our way. We are no longer clear on the purpose of advertising. We have invented a whole culture of obfuscation and catalog of false goals.

We want to engage consumers. We want to have conversations with consumers. We want to have relationships with consumers. And in the process, we have forgotten the essential purpose of advertising -- to persuade consumers.

So how do we bring advertising back down to Earth?

First, we have to remove the word "branding" from our vocabulary. It has lost its meaning and has become a catch-all cliche to justify pretty much anything we can convince a client to spend money on. Someone please tell me one thing you can't put a client's logo on and call "branding."

Next we have to realize that successful brands are by-products. They don't come about by "branding." They come about by doing lots of other things well. Like making great products; satisfying our customers; differentiating our products in advertising.

Then we have to understand that the most efficient, most effective, most durable way to build a brand is to sell someone something.  Experiencing a product is a thousand times more powerful than experiencing an ad. Getting someone to try your product is far and away the best way to build your brand.

It is also the most efficient way to engage consumers, have conversations with them, and build a relationship with them. The engagement/conversation/relationship crowd are confused about cause and effect. You don't sell someone something by engagement, conversation and relationship. You create engagement, conversation and relationships by selling them something.

Which leads us back to the simple art of advertising. We are not anthropologists, sociologists or psychologists. We are creative people. We have to get all the sidewalk psychologists, all the jargon-babbling planners, all the anthropologists-without-shovels out of the way.

We have to clear out all the human speed-bumps and detour signs. We don't need more strategists. We need better creative people.

We have to identify and hire a new generation of creative people and let them do what they do best -- charm and persuade.

We are salesmen. Get used to it.

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