Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes

In the above video, hosted by Jared Bauer, he explores the topic of “Why Our Ads Are Different Now,” referencing the history of advertising from the book: Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes by Juliann Sivulka.

The book’s description on Amazon describes it as an examination of “How American advertising both mirrors society and creates it.”

The video illustrates the evolution of advertising from early newspaper ads in colonial times to today’s online advertising.

It further highlights the growth of advertising in America, the promotion of brands and products and how advertisements and agencies reflect and introduce cultural trends and issues.

The video notes the difference between “hard sell” advertising and “soft sell” advertising. Hard-sell ads focus on specific features and benefits that inform the message and visual components while attempting to promote reasoned self-interest.

Soft-sell advertising is more subtle. Instead of emphasizing rational benefits, this type of advertising attempts to establish positive emotional connections to the brand or product. These types of ad messages tend to be warm and fuzzy. Think most modern big-brand TV commercials.

Whether advertising is becoming better, or not, is debatable. Certainly, most consumers are generally not enthusiastic about being subject to advertising. However, what has been understood by surveys is that consumers are less resistant to ads about products or services that are relevant to them. And of course, the modern advertising industry is getting better at individual targeting, although that also introduces privacy issues.

One key takeaway is that advertising is not only a prominent driver for business promotion, but it’s part of our cultural heritage.

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

It’s been about thirty years since I read the original text by Al Ries and Jack Trout and I just finished reading the 2001 version. It’s a classic marketing book. Here are a few tidbits from the book.

  • Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect.
  • Positioning as an organized system for finding a window in the mind. It is based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances.
  • The basic approach to positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.
  • Advertising is not a sledgehammer. It’s more like a light fog, a very light fog that envelops your prospects.
  • In the communication jungle out there, the only hope to score big is to be selective, to concentrate on narrow targets, to practice segmentation. In a word, “positioning.”
  • The best approach to take in our overcommunicated society is the oversimplified message.
  • In communication, as in architecture, less is more. You have to sharpen your message to cut into the mind. You have to jettison the ambiguities, simplify the message, and then simplify it some more if you want to make a long-lasting impression.
  • If you have a truly new product, it’s often better to tell the prospect what the product is not, rather than what it is.
  • To find a unique position, you must ignore conventional logic. Conventional logic says you find your concept inside yourself or inside the product. Not true. What you must do is look inside the prospect’s mind.
  • In a product ad, the dominant element is usually the picture, the visual element. In a service ad, the dominant element is usually the words, the verbal element.
  • The solution to a positioning problem is usually found in the prospect’s mind, not in the product.
  • Trying harder is rarely the pathway to success. Trying smarter is the better way.
  • Never be afraid of conflict.
  • An idea or concept without an element of conflict is not an idea at all.
  • With a given number of dollars, it’s better to overspend in one city than to underspend in several cities. If you become successful in one location, you can always roll out the program to other places.
  • With rare exceptions, a company should almost never change its basic positioning strategy. Only its tactics, those short-term maneuvers that are intended to implement a long-term strategy.
  • Creativity by itself is worthless. Only when it is subordinated to the positioning objective can creativity make a contribution.
  • Objectivity is the key ingredient supplied by the advertising or marketing communication or public relations agency.
  • To be successful today in positioning, you must have a large degree of mental flexibility. You must be able to select and use words with as much disdain for the history book as for the dictionary.
  • Language is the currency of the mind. To think conceptually, you manipulate words. With the right choice of words, you can influence the thinking process itself.
  • The first rule of positioning is: To win the battle for the mind, you can’t compete head-on against a company that has a strong, established position. You can go around, under or over, but never head to head.

In our overcommunicated society, the name of the game today is positioning.

Scientific Advertising

You’ve read a few marketing books. How many ‘old’ marketing books have you read?

I’ve gobbled up a bunch over the years and continue to do so as much as possible. And although I have a few favorites, in my opinion, the most important one is not a new one. In fact, it may very well be the oldest:

Scientific Advertising was written by Claude C. Hopkins in 1923 and is truly a seminal book for the world of direct response marketing. The principles of testing and measuring that Hopkins established are as important today as back then. The difference being that what took months to test back then through newspapers, magazines, and direct mail, can be tested nowadays with extraordinary speed online.

The uninformed would be staggered to know the amount of work involved in a single ad. Weeks of work sometimes. The ad seems so simple, and it must be simple to appeal to simple people. But back of that ad may lie reams of data, volumes of information, months of research.

So this is no lazy man’s field.

Scientific Advertising, Claude C. Hopkins, 1923

The mantra of 21st century marketing is the same as back then: Test, Test and More Testing!

Almost any question can be answered, cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. And that’s the way to answer them—not by arguments around a table. Go to the court of last resort—the buyers of your product. (1923)

Scientific Advertising, Claude C. Hopkins, 1923