Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How I was trained.

Over 20 years ago I worked at an agency called Ally & Gargano. Many people regard it as the greatest American agency that ever was. It launched FedEx. Fiat. Volvo. Saab. MCI. Dunkin' Donuts and other important brands.

My boss gave me the typewritten guidance below when I started there. I have carried it with me ever since.

1. Grab Attention. Picture someone’s busy day. The dog is barking, the kids are screaming, the phone is ringing. What will make them stop at your ad? Is your communication compelling enough to break through all the other clutter—of the world around them, and all the other communications and features. Remember, nobody goes online or checks their mail or buys a newspaper or magazine to read the ads.
2. The Singularity of the Idea. People have neither the time nor the inclination to sit there trying to figure out what you’re trying to say. Take one idea and make it the major thrust of your communication. Work in a “Pyramid” fashion. Start with one idea and broaden it via other product attributes and support in the copy.
3. Hit them where they live. Upset people. Make them think. Challenge them. Have people look at your product or service in a way they’ve never looked at it before. Legendary Advertising man Carl Ally said it neatly, “Advertising should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
4. Unique Benefit. Unless the product is a total parity product (meaning that it is exactly like any other product in its category) there is something unique about it. Find it. Make it into a benefit. If there is nothing unique, look harder. Find something. If you still cannot find a point of difference, take the major product benefit and do the best communication for that product category.
5. Market Position. Where is your product in the marketplace. Is it the leader? Is it #2? Use its position to your best advantage. Look what Avis did as #2. (We try harder.)
6. What Do People Really Feel? People will tell you they think and feel one way, when in reality they may feel totally different. Think of what somebody really buys a product for, the satisfaction they get from it. The better psychologist you are, the better communicator you will be.
7. Words and Pictures. The visual and the headline together should be greater than the sum of the parts. Each should be the crucial element of the communication. If the headline or the visual can stand entirely on its own, it means the other element is merely window dressing. The story of the communication should ideally be told with the headline and visual working as a unit, paying each other off.
8. Promise a Story. A quick, catchy headline with a visual is fine…for a billboard or a banner. But other communications should have more depth. It should carry the promise of a story behind the message.
9. Does it Feel Right? Pick up your communication after you’ve put it aside for a day or two. Does it communicate? Is it strong? Is it interesting? If not, start over. Once in a while you’ll be brilliant right off the bat. Most of the time it’s a matter of throwing it out and doing it over again. When you’ve been lazy, it shows. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if it feels right. Gut reactions are important.
10. Presentation. Work doesn’t sell itself. When you present, cover all the bases. Explain the concept behind the communication. Give the reasons for your approach. Explain the tagline. The visual. Type and layout treatments. Then reveal the communication and read the headline. And by the way, if you work at most agencies, you have to go through a few rounds of meetings just to get out the door. These are practice rounds. Use them to coalesce your thoughts and hone your presentation.
11. Communication is part art, part science. As with any art, there are no absolutes. The magic that makes communication work is the result of logic, research and hard work. There is learning you can use to make your communication work harder. But again, there are no absolutes. If there were, every communication would get great results, every ad would be an award-winner and every company would be in the Fortune 500.
12. Research. Research. Research. Find out as much about your product as you can. Experience it. Read all you can. Sometimes a fact you find on page 42 of an Annual Report can be the key to the whole idea. A minor detail can be a spark.


Graham Strong said...

Hi George,

This is in no way meant to be a "spelling correction" or any sort of criticism -- I blog too, and I'm not nearly as concerned when the occasional typo creeps in. It happens.

But in this case, I just had to comment, especially given the topic. You may have inadvertently (or advertently?) come up with perhaps the best motivational slogan ever for writers, copywriters, and especially copy editors:

"When you’ve been lazy, it shoes."

I literally lol'd. Classic on so many levels.


geo said...

Thanks, Graham. I was lazy.

Terrance said...

Here's where I play the part of a talk show caller.

Hi, George. Long time reader. 1st time commenter.

Thanks for posting this. I've printed it and taped it up in plain view for the next time I get stuck.

Here's a quote I stumbled across that I thought you might like:

"Design thrives when it strives to make things people love rather than to avoid things people hate." ~ Mark Rosewater, Head Designer, Magic: The Gathering


geo said...

Thanks, Terrance.

dave trott said...

I trained at Carl Ally and i never heard that before, it's brilliant.
I'm going to circulate it round the creative dept.
Personally I always loved what Ally himself said:
"Doyle Dane is a great agency and they like to goose the consumer a little bit. But this is Carl Ally Inc and we like to punch the consumer in the nose."

geo said...

It was a fabulous place, Dave.

I was taught by Ed Butler who was a wonderful writer and human being. Ed told me that Carl Ally story as if Carl said it directly to him.

You could've learned from the walls at Ally. The work and the wisdom was in the marrow of the place.

Charlie said...

This is great. I love the relevance today and not just in advertising.

Thanks for sharing, and I'm glad this shined through the clutter in my day.

john w. said...

Talking of punching people on the nose. Mike Tyson once said he was smart too late. Personally I think it's never too late to learn. Thanks for the advice.

Sell! Sell! said...

Great stuff George, thanks for sharing it. I'm printing it out for us all to have a copy of here at Sell! Towers too.

simon said...

Terrific piece George. With regard to your point #4 (unique benefit) I always liked Leo Burnett's 'inherent drama' which is still to my mind the most evocative of the myriad variations on USP.

Leo thought that there is always an inherent drama to be found, however parity the product may be - it's made in a different town, by different people, there are different owners or a different machine.

simon billing said...

I clicked to fast - last posted by

Sell! Sell! said...

That's really true Simon. People are so quick to say "There's nothing to say" these days, without really looking. I think because they don't really want to find anything. They'd rather the product WAS parity, then it's an excuse for them to just make whatever self-indulgent entertainment or brand-value nonsense that takes their fancy.