The Persuasiveness of Great Language

The advertising industry has a rich history. Much, of course, is based on lore made greater with each telling. It is rife with characters both created and those who lived. The Marlboro Man, The Morton Salt Girl, Cap’n Crunch, Aunt Jemima, Mr. Whipple, The Jolly Green Giant, Miss Chiquita Banana, The Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the Tiger, Mr. Peanut, and the Coppertone Girl are Pillsburyiconic brand representatives. Many of these creations were spun from the agencies of Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach.

These Madison Avenue greats produced intriguing quotes. The thoughts of these revered and referenced gentlemen continue to be trumpeted and contextualized to be made relevant today. Leo Burnett is economical and bit gruff. David Ogilvy was prolific having identified the power of a soundbite from his earliest days. Bill Bernbach was a furious and detailed writer. I know this having sat close to his archives while Chief Communications Officer at DDB Worldwide.

One bit of the latter’s writing recently came to my attention. I had not seen it while at DDB. It Mr. Bernbach’s 1947 resignation from Grey Advertising. It is a delightful but forceful blast of prose. Firm in conviction and clear in intent, the letter is a summary of his disappointment and hope for advertising. It is rant in defence of craft over technique and science. It is a cry for differentiation and distinction.

Yet, what I enjoy most is the emphasis on selling. In recent decades, marketing and advertising has become entertainment. You are hard pressed to hear the word “sales” and “selling” in agencies. That is the industry protecting itself against age-old indictments of being deceptive and manipulative. The irony is, all business communications exist to sell something whether it be a product or idea…so why cover up that fact?

Below is the text from the letter and the original. Read it and come to your own conclusions. I think he does a wonderful job of proving “to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.”

Dear collegues,

Our agency is getting big. That’s something to be happy about. But it’s something to worry about, too, and I don’t mind telling you I’m damned worried. I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance, that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals. I’m worried lest hardening of the creative arteries begin to set in.

There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best bernbachgame. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this sort or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency and that I am so desperately fearful of losing. I don’t want academicians. I don’t want scientists. I don’t want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things.

In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people – writers and artists. Many of them were from the so-called giants of the agency field. It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative. Sure, they had advertising know-how. Yes, they were up on advertising technique.

But look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.

All this is not to say that technique is unimportant. Superior technical skill will make a good ad better. But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability. The danger lies in the temptation to buy routinized men who have a formula for advertising. The danger lies In the natural tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.

If we are to advance we must emerge as a distinctive personality. We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.

Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.

Bill Bernbach


Sonos: The Brand and the Business

This article originally appeared in Sparksheet.


Still hungry after thirteen-years, Sonos focuses on innovation, originality and desirability. But in an increasingly connected world, the brand wants to go beyond background music to become the central nervous system of your house. Talk about subversive.

Earlier this year, Sonos contemporized the look of its brand with a new visual theme representing amplification. This was just another step in a long-term plan. Sonos has long been sought after as a purveyor of wireless speakers, but now the company is aggressively pursuing something much bigger. Sonos not only intends to disrupt the entire music business, it aims to be indispensable in how you run your home.

Read more

Why Most Brand Launches Fail

This piece originally appeared in Brand Quarterly.

In the old days of branding, and I am talking of just ten to fifteen years ago, there began a very predictable playbook for launching a corporate brand or rebrand. It borrowed a great deal from traditional public relations. It called for some combination of a press release, an unveiling of a new logo at a largish and often garish event, a fresh website, and a mousepad for each employee. Not much has changed in the interim except the mousepads have been replaced with coffee mugs or USBs.

Make no mistake, a brand or a rebrand is a deep, invasive and jarring intervention in the life of a business Needless to say, this is all very vacuous, fleeting, often expensive, and delivers limited real results. Make no mistake, a brand or a rebrand is a deep, invasive and jarring intervention inWhy-Most-Brand-Launches-Fail-Q1-1 the life of a business. If a company discovers it needs branding, I equate that to a serious call for help. Yet, most continue to launch brands in the most predictable and pedantic ways. It is analogous to conducting complicated surgery and then immediately throwing the patient onto the street. Here are the reasons why the approach is wrong:

It Is A Shock To The System

The way brands are introduced, subscribes to a dated formula suggesting surprise is favorable to clever and gradual familiarization. This is why so many launches are mediocre at best as they end up being near solely evaluated on a logo. Such an approach dramatically marginalizes the exhaustive strategic work that takes place in branding and can demean the practice and profession.

The Big Bang Always Fizzles

It is appropriate to pick one day where the brand debuts or relaunches but that should be thought of as a milestone within a larger framework. Big one-time launch events have a shelf life roughly lasting their actual duration. A bit of press may follow, but overall it is a frivolous tactical approach that is quite lazy and entirely unimaginative.

It Is A Gigantic Missed Opportunity

A brand launch must not be viewed as a short-term activity. Launches can and should be sustained strategic and creative campaigns that leverage (and justify) such a big investment over a longer-term.

The alternative to this dated and boring approach is quite simple. It calls for a three-phase communications program. The phases are Preparation and Familiarization, Introduction and Launch, and Brand-to-Market. The three work together to ensure the brand has the best chance of making a material impact on the business right out of the gate and going forward.

Preparation And Familiarization (3 Months Prior To Launch):

This phase takes into account that desired audiences need to understand and embrace the brand not be surprised by it. I recommend an array of substantive teasers and outright changes to the content of communications that simultaneously hints at and begins the introduction of the new brand. This shrewdly acclimatizes those integral to the brand’s success even before the “official” launch. It does not shock the system. It subtly co-opts and prepares.

Introduction And Launch (1 Month):

This does not suggest that the launch is exactly one month in duration. It suggests that the launch is intensive and longer than one day. By all means, pick a day for anniversary purposes and throw a party but frame it in a rich series of more involved events that tantalize, progressively reveal, share and celebrate the new brand.

Brand-To-Market (6-9 Months):

Any brand consultancy that departs after handing off the brand guidelines is doing a massive disservice. This phase details how the brand will come to life once the banners at the launch party have come down. It is a deep-dive that directs and focuses the company’s communications to support the brand and get the intended benefits of greater awareness and increased sales. It focuses the communication spend and activities in the framework of a tailored go-to-market strategy.

This approach may seem more involved, and that is because it is – because it needs to be. It also challenges accepted convention by proposing roughly a year of communications versus a day. This does not have to be any more expensive. It is possible to work with your existing marketing and communications budgets to achieve this level of effort. This demands being clever, not loud or costly, and provides the brand with the best possible chance of succeeding.