The Purpose of Advertising
The purpose of advertising, when you really boil it down, is to drive sales. Every cent invested into advertising is to generate revenue either immediately and/or ultimately.
When advertising really started to boom after World War II, the foundations of the genre were formed. Rosser Reeves devoutly believed in using a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to differentiate a product or service from its competitors. Reeves was of the opinion that advertising should be rooted in research and further argued that ‘creativity’ is “the most dangerous word in all of advertising.” He was a huge advocate for slogans and is responsible for M&M’s “melt in your mouth, not in your hand.”
His modern contemporary Doyle Dane Bernbach took a very different approach and this was evident in his now legendary campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle: “Think Small.” Many attribute this campaign to kicking off the Creative Revolution of Advertising. The campaign didn’t come out until the late ‘50s but as early as ‘47, Bernbach was arguing that advertising was the act of persuasion. He saw it more as an art form than as a science. While working as a creative director for Grey Advertising, he wrote a letter to the board of directors expressing his core belief in advertising as an art form.
While on the surface, the approaches of Reeves and Bernbach seem to be diametrically opposed but I believe that when distilled, they are complimentary. Reeves’ yin to Bernbach’s yang. The truth in our modern age of advertising is that you need logical data and creative art; utilizing both the left and right sides of the brain.
Reeves would be flabbergasted at the amount of data and research available to us today. Bernbach would be just as blown away by the creative tools at our disposal. Both would be infatuated by the reach that can be had.
What Makes Advertising Good?
There’s plenty of subjective ways to define a good ad but as aforementioned, the true purpose of advertising is to sell. So to answer the question “what makes a good ad?” we must first discover what makes an ad effectively sell whatever it’s promoting.
Reeves advocated that good advertising needs to be honest. No amount of advertising will sell an awful product or service, at least not for long. Great advertising actually works to a bad product’s detriment because more people learn about it’s inadequacy.
The largest driver of revenue is almost always repeat business. The best creative in the world targeted to exactly the right people at the right time will not influence them to buy something they know is an awful product.
What is Good Creative?
Ok, so an effective advertising strategy is based on good creative. But that begs the question… What is good creative?
Here I lean more towards Bernbach’s approach of advertising as an art form rather than a hard science but we can still quantify it to an extent. A good advertisement is subjective to its audience. That’s where context and framing come into play.
The small squares look like different colors but they’re the same color. They look different because one of the small squares is surrounded by a complementary color and the other an analogous color. How the small squares are framed alters our perception of them.
The same goes for our subconscious buying habits. These rules can be applied to our creative. As an ancillary example: would you be more inclined to buy a disinfectant spray that “kills 99% of germs” or one that when used “only 1% of germs survive”? Both statements are making the same claim but the way in which they are framed makes all the difference.
Framing is context. Your context is largely based on your audience. Great creative is defined by who is consuming it and when and where. You wouldn’t give someone a birthday card on their wedding day and you wouldn’t waste your time selling dog food to a cat owner.
When appealing to a wide audience in which the subtle nuances between individuals are too wide and vast at scale, focusing on the USP of the product and framing it within the common context in which it’s used is the best move.
My favorite mass market advertisement is Bounty: the quicker-picker-upper! Reeves would approve of this campaign, as it checks all his boxes: A strong USP, slogan, great product, and they’ve been running the same messaging since the ‘70s.
Within the campaign itself, there’s room for Bernbach style creative. While Bounty: the quicker-picker-upper doesn’t turn a lot of heads or win a lot of awards, it’s memorable and it works. Bounty is consistently among the top, if not the top selling paper towel brand.
Invest In High Quality Creative Content
If there was a be-all and end-all magic formula to creating and running the best ad, we’d be out of business. The truth is that great advertising isn’t black and white. There’s a vast array of subtle nuances that build up into effective creative that sells and in a perfect world, also entertains.
Most people are annoyed with advertising. The whole point of an ad is to advert the attention of the viewer and frankly, that’s just rude. So as advertisers, we need to honor their time with high quality creative and products & services worth buying.
Great content is rarely cheap, whether it’s videography, photography, animation, graphic design, web design, etc. But it’s the biggest driver of sales in advertising. Notice I haven’t even mentioned the quality of these advertisements or content. That is a non-negotiable.
When aiming to produce something internally or hiring an external agency, first assess the quality of the content that can be produced then consider the approach. What’s your message? Who are you aiming it at? And what’s the context?
These are the building blocks to a great campaign. Hit us up — let’s build.
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