1. Interrogate the product till it confesses to its strengths: Great advertising is provocative. And what could be more provocative than a scintillating thought? Something so meaningful, that regardless of its eventual style of execution, it remains with you in the mind and in the heart. The art of persuasion begins with rationale. A great ad will find an argument so compelling that in hindsight you will think it’s obvious. If your product or service is generic, this is a critical juncture. If you’re so unique that your strengths are obvious, you don’t need to try as hard. But then the word on you would already be out. Why advertise?
2. Never underestimate the audience: Education has very little to do with intelligence. Intelligence responds viscerally to the universe. It takes action, draws conclusions and makes up its mind faster than you would credit it. But we keep insisting that the consumer is a moron. To understand your audience means to accept and respect their innate intelligence. This is not an argument for abstraction. But it does follow the principle espoused by T.S. Eliot that a great idea is communicated before it’s understood. And this happens because we have a human faculty. We know, before we understand, innately. As an industry we’re worse than hated; we’re ignored. Which is why, it makes sense to follow Sir Laurence Olivier‘s words on an audience: “Never underestimate them, never patronize them. Because if you do, they will know.” And the only way to prove your credibility to them, to make them your fans, is through sheer, unadulterated talent. A great ad speaks to its audience simply and intelligently.
3. For God’s sake, be single-minded: Like God, the power of one really works. A great ad communicates one, singularly powerful message. Always. One idea per one message per one ad per one medium = won. That’s because it’s proven that in a cluttered marketplace nobody absorbs more than one message at a time. Sadly, too many advertisers feel that a laundry list of services advertised is far more impressive. They’re wrong. Because unless you’re advertising to yourself or your mother, nobody cares about your product or service. And to communicate to them you need to do so with one message at a time. That’s 50% of the battle. The other half is to bring that message alive in a compelling and entertaining way. A great ad is single-minded from objective to execution.
4. Match the image to the product: Your image is the visual management of your positioning statement. Of the way people think and feel about you. And the first statement you make about your brand’s personality and promise. Your image is not a picture of your product or service. It is the branded message, visualized. Even a thin line of differentiation can make a world of difference for you. Which is to say, if you’re Elizabeth Taylor try not to look and feel like Julia Roberts. And if you’re Danny DeVito, playing up to a Stallone would only backfire. Of course, most advertisers feel that the product really is the hero (those ‘make-the-logo-bigger’ types…). Wrong again. Your advertisement is the sum of the values and benefits inherent in your product. In fact, look at the whole advertisement as your logotype. And your logo as only a small part of your branding. Furthermore, being the best is not the trick. Being the most compelling is what will help you stand out and score regardless of your product quality. Try to play matchmaker. If you do a reasonable job, the marriage will last. Hopefully, forever.
5. Inspire. Don’t Perspire: When you bore people, they fall asleep. And nobody buys anything when they’re asleep. So why do we insist on playing safe? Inspiring people has never been easy. Even poets can’t do it all the time. But if you happen to know a team with the potential to write and art direct in a moving and meaningful way, hang on to them. They are critical to the life of your brand. And with a little motivation, support and dialogue, they are likely to leap beyond your expectations. Just don’t fall prey to some of the number-crunchers who head agencies. Unfortunately, many of them care about advertising as much as you and I care about the genetic make-up of amoeba. Which is not saying much. Like leadership, a great ad inspires choice.
6. Repetition is Reputation: Great ads retain their greatness. They breathe for generations. Campaigns such as Marlboro Country are a reminder of what can happen when your advertising becomes your product heritage. Imagine what that campaign went through: three generations of different marketing heads, different brand managers, different creative directors and an ever-changing medley of audience with different habits and lifestyles. And yet, the campaign stuck to its guns and continues to inspire. Compare this with certain local counterparts who can’t stick to one campaign idea for a month much less an agency. Great advertising requires great men and women who can build on their predecessors’ fortune and not create their own castle on a cloud. Repetition is reputation. While you may get bored with your advertising, remember that your audience is not static; it is ever-changing. So your ad can afford to stay the same for generations.
7. No risk is the biggest risk: Risk is good. Risk is important. Risk is central to persuasion. Since advertising today is synonymous with entertainment, it is talent and not formula that will take your advertising to hearts and minds. And to make a lasting point, you have to blast your way into the minds of prospects. And for that you need showmen who know the art and science of persuasion. Risk doesn’t mean exposure to loss or injury or even lack of pragmatism. In fact, more pragmatism goes into developing advertising than most would give it credit. But it does mean relaxing in the knowledge that our industry is Advertising and not the Human Rights Commission or the World Food Organisation. At the end of the day, what we make are ideas. And we should learn to have fun seriously. Because like all habits, this one is particularly contagious.