The Only 2 Advertising Books Worth Reading

No preamble required…

Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign by Randall Rosenburg
This is almost a one-sitting read…but don’t rush it. The author puts you in every room of the ad agency and the car company client. It brilliantly covers Subaru’s problematic 1991-1993 effort to make hip its image by engaging Wieden+Kennedy. That case study is fascinating enough but the book is a platform to profile changes whacking the advertising industry (changes are always whacking the advertising industry). Check out Rosenburg’s career since this 1995 effort.

The book provides amazing reminders of how things once were, “Advertising agencies used to serve as their clients’ eyes and ears in the marketplace. Was there a need for a new product? Was a service now more popular in the suburbs than the cities? Were more men using a household cleanser than women? The ad agency’s research department was usually the first, and often the only, source for such information.” You can see why brands took that intel in-house. So much more in this book. Get it.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
It is one of those books that tells you that, even on its worst day, your office was an interesting place to be, if you looked for it, “We had the great good fortune and shortcomings of character that marked every generation that had never seen war.” I still remember reading this book when it first came out, on my condo balcony one weekend. It started over coffee and I finished it with scotch.

Check out this wonderfully astute, mundane wonderment, “We loved killing time and had perfected several ways of doing so. We wandered the hallways carrying papers that indicated some mission of business when in reality we were in search of free candy.” Oh yeah, it’s about advertising too.

Blast from the Past

This gem first appeared in the publication, In Publicity … in 1901! These are choice excerpts, for the full meal deal, here ya go.

“The time is not far away when the advertising writer will find out the inestimable benefits of a knowledge of psychology. The preparation of copy has usually followed the instincts rather than the analytical functions. An advertisement has been written to describe the articles which it was wished to place before the reader; a bit of cleverness, an attractive cut, or some other catchy device has been used, with the hope that the hit or miss ratio could be made as favorable as possible.

But the future must needs be full of better methods than these to make advertising advance with the same rapidity as it has during the latter part of the last century. And this will come through a closer knowledge of the psychological composition of the mind. The so-called ‘students of human nature’ will then be called successful psychologists, and the successful advertisers will be likewise termed psychological advertisers. The mere mention of psychological terms, habit, self, conception, discrimination, association, memory, imagination and perception, reason, emotion, instinct and will, should create a flood of new thought that should appeal to every advanced consumer of advertising space.

One of the great weaknesses of the present day advertising is found in the fact that the writer of the advertisement fails to appeal thus indirectly to the senses. How many advertisers describe a piano so vividly that the reader can hear it? How many food products are so described that the reader can taste the food? How many advertisements describe a perfume so that the reader can smell it? How many describe an undergarment so that the reader can feel the pleasant contact with his body? Many advertisers seem never to have thought of this, and make no attempt at such descriptions.

In advertisements of food products it is surprising to note that many foods are advertised as if they had no taste at all. One would suppose that the food was to be taken by means of a hypodermic injection, and not by the ordinary process of taking the food into the mouth and hence into contact with the organ of taste. The advertisers seem to be at a loss to know what to say about their foods, and so have, in many cases, expressed themselves in such general terms that their advertisements could be applied to any product whatever.

Advertising is an essential factor in modern business methods, and to advertise wisely the business man must understand the workings of the minds of his customers, and must know how to influence them effectively,—he must know how to apply psychology to advertising.”

The Branded Lunchbox

Mickey Mouse was the first popular character to appear on a lunchbox. That was 1935. As a highly personal statement and must-have accessory, the lunchbox really took off in the 1950’s. Television was a big reason for their mass adoption and accessory envy. Television made people and characters stars, it became natural for those celebrities to appear on lunch conveyances. It helps that lunchbox manufacturers built a good product. The metal carry-alongs did not wear out.

One company became the industry leader. Aladdin, introduced planned obsolescence by offering a range of options appealing to people’s fleeting interests and changing styles. They first licensed images from the Hopalong Cassidy television show, placing a design on the side of red lunchboxes. 

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