Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Truth and advertising.

If I were a big cheese in the advertising industry, instead of basically the employment equivalent of cheese in a can, I’d be thinking about things I’m not sure anyone is thinking about.

I’d be thinking about truth.

I’d be thinking about truth and how to tell it.

I’d be thinking about truth and how to tell it after truth, integrity and honesty have been eviscerated. I’d be thinking about facts and if they have any longer any value. Or if the very words facts has become as obsolete as a velocipede.

Over the course of my 35 years in advertising, I have often butted heads with fellow creatives, planners and clients. The au courant way of doing advertising for the last 20 or 25 years is to try to create with the consumer an emotional connection to a brand.

Some years ago, Kevin Roberts, former Worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, coined the phrase “Lovemarks.” He said, “Highly-evolved brands that are dedicated to engaging emotionally, rather than the table stakes of rational benefits and attributes….
“The role of the CMO is not to target audiences but to create movements of people who are loyal beyond reason. I’m not sure ‘chief movement officer’ is the right job title, but the idea of it conveys the intention.”
Call me a cynic. The only “movements of people who are loyal beyond reason” in my mind are Trump supporters. Manicheans, who see the world in binary terms, as a battle between darkness and light. Such zeal is, fortunately, rare.

We might have a Civil War in this country pitting Trump supporters versus Trump opponents. We might already be having one. But I don’t imagine we’ll ever have one between “Glad Wrap-istas” and “Saran-ists.” I think there are very few brands people care so much about that they will be “loyal beyond reason.”

Most people, if their brand were missing, would say what I say: "Whatevs."

Besides, “loyal beyond reason” essentially means loyal beyond truth. When I was a kid, people loved their VW Beetles. But when Toyota, Nissan and Honda came in with a better product, cheaper, their loyalty disappeared. It seems to me that a lot of brands ride a high for a year or two—everything they do seems right—and their zealots are loyal, for a time, beyond reason. But sooner or later, something better comes along, or they screw up, or reason intervenes somehow. In fact, I would guess that a good portion of marriages start out with loyalty beyond reason, but as of 2012, between 40% and 50% of marriages end in divorce.

I can’t think of a single brand I’m loyal to beyond reason.

That’s why I retreat to facts. To truth.

“In advertising, we assume the only way to get an emotional response is with an emotional appeal.

“But Bill Bernbach knew that isn’t true.

“Look at the history of Volkswagen advertising.

“For 50 years, it did product demonstrations.

“And it built a brand that has a massive emotional appeal.

“Ask anyone about VW and they’ll say ‘reliable’.

“That’s an emotional response based on rational advertising.

“Because a rational demonstration can have a more powerful
emotional effect than something vacuous designed purely to appeal to the feelings.

“Done properly, reason is emotion.”

Not long ago, another Dave from England, Dave Dye of Stuff from the Loft-fame recently sent me a link with about 1,000 ads created by Ed McCabe. Though, sadly, very few people in advertising today have even heard of Ed McCabe. He was the Babe Ruth of copywriting. He was in the copywriter’s Hall of Fame at the age of 34. (ASIDE: How is it possible that people don’t know him?)

I’m pasting a few McCabe ads below.

Whether you’re in the business or not, whether you’re a writer or not, you should read them. Reading McCabe ads was my advertising education in the days before people went to ad school.

You'll see facts in them. Not brand-non-ownable notions of love, joy, fun. Those are things you hope for from your dearest friends. Not soda pop.
Next time a brand or a politician or a news broadcast tries to persuade you of something, think about the sort of truths that used to be the currency of our business.

Are you being sold on false emotions? On hype and bullshit? On empty promises?

Or are you being told something that matters?

I think the truth matters.

And we in advertising should get back to the truth business.

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