Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Making a Point.

I suppose you could divide my life--yes, literally my life of 65 years in advertising, since I was born into the industry--neatly in two.

Naturally, I am painting here with a broad-brush. But I am being simple and didactic to try to make a point. Actually, to try to make a point about making a point.

In the first half of my advertising life--up through about 1995--many advertisements were based on facts and unique selling propositions. Advertisers looked at their products and tried to find out something startling, interesting or differentiating about them. These differences were meant to communicate a material advantage of the product to the viewer of the advertisement.

Volkswagens floated. Their buoyancy was not in and of itself a salient product advantage. Instead, it was a symbol of VW's superior--obsessive-compulsive--precision-build quality. It wasn't a leap to think people might say, "if it's built well-enough to float, it certainly goes beyond the quality I'd get from any other car."

Volvo's showed their strength as above. Again, a dramatic demonstration of build-quality and a memorable reminder to potential buyers. Volvos were strong, they would last long, they were better than other cars.

Fact-based advertising fell out of favor around 1995 or so. Not with all agencies and advertisers, but with many. 

I can't tell you how many meetings I sat through hearing that "all products were the same," that "consumers didn't like or trust facts," and that consumers wanted an "emotional connection to a brand." In political parlance, we chose presidents based on whether or not we wanted to have a beer with them, not their ideas, accomplishments and ideologies.

To be very broad, as a society, culture and industry, we largely abandoned facts and replaced them with adjectives. We went from searching for details to wordsmithing. We began 'decontenting,' and replaced content with decoration.

We started believing that all decisions were based on emotions without considering that even emotional decisions most-often have a rational underpinning. So virtually every ad seemed to try to do the same thing. 

Buying _________ will make you cool. Buying _______ will make you sexy. Buying _________ will make you popular.

The most egregious example of this can be shown through two examples from what was once one of my favorite brands: BMW.

Somehow in a few short years, we went from unique and ownable advertising to asinine, anodyne pablum. We went from only us to everyone.

Also forgotten along the way, was "voice." 

There are plenty of people in the business who promote themselves as 'tone of voice' experts. Undoubtedly, they can make sweet music with words. 

But pretty sounding language--the Greeks called it 'euphony'--is not and never will be the same as authority. That is knowing what you're talking about, expressing it in terms that readers will understand, and showing them why it's important. 

Pretty writing is elevator music. 

Good writing can be anything from the Beatles to Wagner's Götterdämmerung. In other words, it has emotional range, not to mention truth.

Back about 13,000 years ago, humans who lived around what is today Clovis, New Mexico, in what is today "the United States," sat around and made thousands and thousands of Clovis Points. These were "discovered" about 150 years ago as the railroad went through the territory. Their discovery forced people re-evaluate how North America was settled and when.

Railroad workers found thousands of these points which were used for thousands of years for everything from hunting, to self-defense, to making clothing, to who knows what. They were the primary tool and currency of humans for way longer than almost anything modern people have invented or used.

I'm sure, 13,000 years ago, one neolithic person or a couple, found a better way to make Clovis points so they worked better. One person told another, "chip the stone this way and the point will be stronger." Or "chip like this and the point will be deadlier." 

These product advantages swept through the community and changed how Clovis points were made and used.

This is the way products have always been improved and developed and, yes, marketed.

I can hardly imagine one neolithic human saying to another, "my Clovis points will make you cool."

That ain't much of a sales pitch.

Then or now.

Steak, not sizzle.

Get the (Clovis) point?

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