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8 March 2014

How Advertising Works.

Tag(s): Marketing
My brother is a vicar and my sister has worked for most of her career in the voluntary sector including a long stint as Policy Director of Save the Children. So you might conclude that I was the black sheep in the family as I pursued a career in the wicked world of commerce. But I gave them both a copy of my book The 20 Ps of Marketing for Christmas (such generosity) and have been delighted with their response. My sister, herself a published author, told me it was “impressive” and my brother took his wife (also a vicar) for a holiday to Tenerife after the hurly burly of Christmas and sent me the following postcard:
“For holiday reading I have
Paul Theroux: The Great Railway Bazaar
John Eliot Gardiner: Music in the Castle of Heaven- A portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach
David Pearson: The 20 Ps of Marketing
This last is very good, very accessible even witty. I may not finish PT and JEG but I will persevere with DP.”

On his return he emailed me to say that he would use some of the lessons learnt in his duties as a parish priest and as an aside said that one of his colleagues would always greet him with the question, “How’s your business?” So the lessons of Marketing are as applicable to the Church as to any other institution and indeed the Church has been marketing its message for 2000 years. It certainly goes in for advertising and so it might ask itself how advertising works. Well here’s my answer taken from Chapter 4 of the book on Promotion:
‘There is a great deal of academic study on this subject. For many of us the inclination is to resist the idea that advertising works; that we can be Persuaded to do something by a commercial message. But why not? Life is about Persuasion. Men and women court each other and in the process show themselves in the best possible light. This is mirrored throughout the animal kingdom. An applicant for a job will present herself in the best possible way both with her initial application and CV and then in the interview. Before I sell my house I will clean it, maybe give it a fresh coat of paint and perhaps have a pot of coffee on the go in the kitchen to give it an attractive aroma. The list goes on and on and is quite normal and acceptable. What is not acceptable is for the process to be dishonest and that is also true of advertising. Advertising must be legal, decent, honest and truthful. When it is not there is machinery by which complaints can be made and advertising can be, and sometimes is, withdrawn.
Advertising works on two levels as with all human understanding - the rational and the emotional; the left and the right brain. Perhaps people who say it does not work on them are rational People; they are more left-brain and able to resist the emotional appeal of a particular advert. However, great advertising usually does both. One campaign that has always stuck in my mind was run by Abbott, Mead, Vickers for Sainsbury. It simply said, “Good food costs less at Sainsbury.” However, this simple statement has both emotional and rational elements. “Good food” is an emotional idea. It is difficult to prove in the rational sense but we all know what it means. “Costs less” is entirely rational and is capable of explicit demonstration. The really clever part was that they ran the campaign in two halves. “Good food” was demonstrated in magazine advertising with beautiful food, lovingly photographed in colour and rapturously described with some of David Abbott’s best copy. “Costs less” was more prosaically explained in black and white in the daily newspapers with details of this week’s special offers. But the strapline "Good food costs less at Sainsbury" was the sign off on both.

 This question of emotional and rational aspects to advertising is also a question of timing, as one may need to precede the other. An example from my own experience (or lack of, in this case) was Bounty, the chocolate-enrobed coconut bar from Mars. Readers will no doubt recall the long running campaign, “Bounty, a taste of Paradise” where the Product was associated with images of South Sea islands and dusky maidens. When I was in Chile considering which Products from the Mars range should be launched there I thought of Bounty. Back in London over lunch with a leading executive from Ted Bates, the agency involved, I explained my theory.
“The Chileans love the South Seas. Tahiti is one of the places they aspire to visit; I’m sure they’d love Bounty!”
My lunch companion asked dryly, "Do they know what it is? Long before we showed tropical beaches we spent ten years telling them about the coconut and the chocolate enrobing.”

 The point was that the rational explanation came first and the emotional values were added later. The rational gives you reasons to buy. The emotional makes you feel good that you bought. As Scott Bedbury, the branding expert and former top marketing guru at Nike & Starbucks, says "It's not enough to have a great Product or service anymore. The world is full of Products and services that work. You have to take stock of how your brand makes consumers feel."
 When I first made the transition from sales to Marketing one of the things I most looked forward to was the opportunity to shoot my own commercials for the brands I would manage. Unfortunately,  most of these were me-too Products in the armoury, strategically designed to weaken some of our principal competitors’ portfolios rather than have a life of their own. Nevertheless, I made an early pitch to my first Marketing boss, Chris Bradshaw. Chris was an unusually bright Marketer who had (inevitably) gained his training at Procter & Gamble where he had launched Ariel detergent, still a major force in the market. After recruitment by Pedigree Petfoods, following a well-worn path from P&G’s head office in Gosforth to Pedigree’s HQ in Melton Mowbray, he had written the cat food strategy which led to the phenomenally successful and Profitable development of the Whiskas franchise. In the mid-1970s the energy crisis precipitated some panic thinking about viability of tin plate in the future and the need to diversify into other forms of Packaging which were more compact by relying on semi-moist or dry technology rather than canning. By the same token they are less palatable and cans dominated the market for many years yet, although eventually the prediction that dry and semi-moist would take over proved true. A dedicated factory was built and Chris was asked to provide the Marketing to sell the factory’s output.
 In joining his team it was a fabulous opportunity for me to learn from a master as well as my talented colleagues, Paul Jackson, who had a long and distinguished career with Mars, and Drummond Hall, who was to go on to become Chief Executive of Dairy Crest.
 In an early discussion with Chris I made my pitch to advertise one of my me-too brands. Chris pointed out that advertising was merely a method of communicating with the consumer. The trick was to know what to communicate and then find other ways to do it if advertising was unaffordable. This was a valuable lesson and one I have never forgotten. Robert Louis Stevenson best expressed it when he said “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.” In advertising or indeed in Marketing this is the challenge. To sum up what your brand stands for in a simple message that can be communicated with your end user by advertising, a message on the Package or by whatever means.
 But later, with a different director in charge, I relaunched the same brand in a new format merging it with a previously advertised brand. There was a clear need to explain all this to the consumer and the agency came up with a Powerful idea. We would say that this Product, which was highly nutritious, was good enough to be used by the mountain rescue dogs in the Lake District and so was good enough to be fed to your pooch. This idea is known in the jargon as the torture test. It was an exciting idea and of course we backed it up by working with a real mountain rescue team. I remember presenting this idea to the Board and the Finance Director’s question was whether the advertising was too good for the Product - an insightful analysis.  Nevertheless, I went up the mountain with agency, production team with famous director in charge and of course the mountain rescue leader and his dog. This guy was a natural with rugged good looks and a willingness to build a long-term relationship. His dog or actually dogs were a mother and daughter who would double for each other in the film. We also shot the Product comparison at the same time and there was a comparison with fillet steak. The only times the make-up lady was used was to paint over some grey hair on the mother dog so that she more closely resembled her daughter and to make the fillet steak look better because, in the director’s eye, it did not really look like fillet steak. I think this was still within the meaning of legal, honest, decent and truthful except that the finance director was, of course, right. The story was too strong. The Product did not live up to it. It was not maliciously misleading but simply an over-claim born out of excess enthusiasm and insufficient rigorous testing. I’m sure every experienced Marketer has a long list of such war stories because how else do we finish up with so much banal advertising?’
So whether you’re a man of God or in some more disreputable profession, if you think this book is for you, you can order a copy direct from the home page of this website.
Copyright David C Pearson 2014 All rights reserved

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