Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Advertising advice from an unknown city.

As a life-long denizen (btw, a denizen is not a Buddhist oral surgeon) of Fun City, I have been trained by my almost 63-years in that benighted burg to walk like an old-time waiter, with my head up and my eyes darting around looking for a tip or a customer.

Heads-up walking is a way of life in New York. As is seeing behind lamp-posts, under man-holes and around corners. Just 30 years ago in 1990, 2605 people were murdered in my fair city--a little over seven a day. We therefore acquired a wariness not unlike a gazelle on the South African veldt. You never quite knew where an assailant was coming from or when.

And so, as I've spent my years walking through my city, I've noticed things mysterious.  there are bits and pieces of urban ephemera that even the savviest Buddhist Dentists can't explain.

From Toynbee Tiles where you'd least expect them--like the downtown crush of Second Avenue to 
alien hieroglyphics like these. They descend upon our bubbling and buckled asphalt like locusts and then roost there like boll weevils or ticks. I've seen them my whole life. They're as present as Kim Kardashian's buttocks--and probably even more inscrutable.

You'll also see brick walls adorned with appurtenances like the above. But they're not adornments at all. They fasten the fronts, sides and rears of various older brick buildings to the floors themselves. Without them, New York would look like Berlin in 1946.

On October 6th, the failing five-million-digital-subscribers "New York Times" had a book review entitled "The Hidden Wonders of the City Made Visible." The book itself is called "The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design." You can read the review here.

The review was writ by the great authority of New York, Kenneth T. Jackson, and that alone was enough for me to buy a hardcover copy as I struggle to maintain my New Yorker-ness nestled up here in Connecticut, 95 miles from the city, twelve of those sylvan.

The review begins like this:

Now, unfortunately, there's an advertising point to all this. About 31 years ago I joined a famous and famously brilliant agency called Ally & Gargano. The halls were lined with cozy offices, each one occupied by a legend in the business. Someone with more gold pencils than Donald Trump has IQ points.

When I joined the outfit, one of those luminaries handed me two typewritten sheets of paper that had been stapled together probably 20 years earlier. It was advice on being a creative. When computers came in, I updated the advice and committed it to pixels. Which is why I have it today.

When "The 99% Invisible City" arrived at my home in Connecticut I rifled through it like Willie Sutton a lockbox. I immediately remembered points four and 12 below.

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.

I then thought about the work we do--the briefs we receive, the knowledge that's given to us, even the information clients give us about their products or services or offerings. 

I think the title of the book above applies to what we do? I think when all the planners have gone home, when the internet comes up with nothing but specious shit, when the puffed-out-chest know-it-all are busy filling another room with hot air, what's left is just you and your eyes and your power to think, to notice to connect and to unravel.

It's up to you to read the annual report. It's up to you to find something weird. It's up to you to dig.

Mostly, if you want to work in the business, it's up to you to walk like that old-time waiter: head up, with eyes darting around. Always scanning the premises.

That's the best way to spot a tip.

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