Advertising ain’t over yet, baby

Hey, Advertising has died again! So says none other than one of my favourite ad guys, Al Ries. His new book The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR says it's all over, baby.
Thus Advertising joins God, History, Irony, The Stock Market, Bell Bottoms, heaven knows what else. But like all of the above, I'm betting its demise may be at worst temporary, and at best imaginary.

Hey, Advertising has died again! So says none other than one of my favourite ad guys, Al Ries. His new book The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR says it’s all over, baby.

Thus Advertising joins God, History, Irony, The Stock Market, Bell Bottoms, heaven knows what else. But like all of the above, I’m betting its demise may be at worst temporary, and at best imaginary.

Ries was the co-inventor, along with a guy called Jack Trout, of the concept of Positioning back in the ’70s. I once introduced Al and Jack to an audience of ad people right here in Toronto, being invited to do so by their publisher. Reason being, I’d bought more copies of The Positioning Era in bulk from them than anyone else in Canada.

The last of the big-time spenders, I used to hand ‘em out like jelly beans to clients, staff, people I met in the street. Even to new business prospects, I’m that generous. Al and Jack re-wrote The Positioning Era six or seven times under different titles after that, and I guess they just didn’t have the nerve to write it again. Thus, The Fall of Advertising.

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath, get a grip, and go back to what advertising is. We’ll say it together again: Advertising is information packaged in a way that invites people to make decisions.

If you don’t believe in the ability of information to provoke decisions, that’s your business, but I continue to experience the opposite phenomenon.

A guy I used to work with said the most effective ad he ever read was Scotch taped on a lamp post outside his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment one morning. It was printed on 8 x 11 paper, and the headline read ATTENTION JEWS!

He observed the media choice was highly appropriate, the lamp post being prominently located in a neighbourhood that was home to many Jewish families. Moreover, the headline could not have been better crafted in order to attract the attention of the target audience. Further, the sturdy and generous application of Scotch Tape insured the ad would continue to generate GRPs for days, even weeks, unless somebody clawed it off the post in a fury.

Closer to home, I can present evidence of the efficacy of advertising on a personal level. On Saturday last, our son Jonathan left the garden gate open, and our golden retriever, Mocha, escaped onto the street and vanished.

Within hours, I created and copied out 30 or more little ad posters with a snapshot of Mocha, sitting demurely beside a planter of glads, under the headline LOST GOLDEN RETRIEVER, with a brief description and our phone number. I was still taping the last of these to lamp posts two streets away when our youngest daughter panted up with the news that a lady had seen the poster, rung the house, and reported she had seen a man putting a dog of that description into a backyard 20 houses down the street from us.

(The guy mistook our dog for his neighbour’s dog, and as they were away for the weekend, he put Mocha in their back yard and locked the gate. With the lady’s help, we found the house, rescued the dog.) ADVERTISING RULES!

I could go on. I will. Three weeks ago a lady in Vancouver placed an ad in The Globe and Mail. It read, in part, PARIS Luxurious, very comfortable, large 3 bdr., sleeps 6, very quiet street near Gare du Nord…. We phoned the number in the ad. We now have an apartment in Paris for Christmas and New Year, and the lady in Vancouver has post-dated cheques for several thousand bucks. I believe both parties were well-served by advertising, and absolutely no PR was involved to my knowledge.

Last night I observed the latest in a series of focus groups on behalf of a client. Like all focus groups, these again demonstrate that, in the immortal words of Norman Lear (creator of All in the Family), nobody knows nothing.

My client has a wonderful product. It is unique. It has been around for a long time. Most of the people in our focus groups don’t even consider buying another product. But they don’t know why. They can’t play back the copy points we labour so diligently to enunciate. They’re oblivious to our Unique Selling Propositions. They only remember seeing the TV spots when they’re played back to them. These people are wandering around in Perception Wilderness, awash in ignorance and misinformation.

Yet they trust us. They nearly love us. Most of ‘em didn’t even think of going to the competition. Most of them can’t even name the competition. My client doesn’t have a PR budget. Damn, maybe it’s the advertising.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to promote the cause of what he calls intelligent advertising, and to attract clients who share the notion that many a truth is said in jest. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.