|In Praise Of Advertising's Trojan Horses
David Ogilvy once said, Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. Watching the Academy Awards, I saw a whole flotilla of such ships - ghost vessels with no one aboard except the ship’s cat. The same was true of the Super Bowl. Surely, I thought, big events demand big ideas, especially on TV.
But not just TV. Some argue the advent of social media has reduced the need for big ideas when actually social media is fueled by ideas. Ideas that engage, ideas that people want to share.
But that made me ponder another question, one that people seldom ask. What actually are advertising ideas?
I’m going to attempt a definition, by way of two analogies.
An advertising idea is like a hieroglyph that takes a long complicated sales pitch and compresses it into a single moment, so it can be understood instantaneously.
Alternatively, ideas are Trojan Horses used to smuggle a sales pitch past the reader’s defenses.
For centuries advertisers got along fine without ideas. A famous old Guinness poster said simply, Guinness is good for you. No awards for creativity there. It’s just a plain statement. This approach reached arguably its purest expression in the work of 1920s adman, Claude C. Hopkins, whose book Scientific Advertising purported to apply scientific method to advertising.
His number one injunction was, Don’t be entertaining. Avoid “something queer and unusual…ads distinctive in style or illustration,” since no one would buy from a “dressy” salesman. This is the complete opposite of what we attempt today.
Thirty years later, the same attitude was being adopted by Rosser Reeves who insisted that a simple slogan should be repeated endlessly without change, for years. One of his more famous commercials, for Anacin, showed an animation of a hammer banging away inside someone’s head. It was a neat demonstration of what it was like to be on the receiving end of such non-creative advertising.
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This article originally appeared on Forbes.com. You'll find a link to the original after the post.
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