Ad Greats on Social Media

The advertising greats who dominated Madison Avenue in the 1950’s and 1960’s left the industry an incredible legacy. Among the assets passed down and still passionately referenced are their quotes. Taken in the aggregate these bon mots represent key philosophies of business and communication. It is amazing how timeless these musings and lessons remain. Yet, much has changed in the practice of delivering compelling communications.

“Advertising” is too confining a label, consumers play an ever increasing role in how brands define themselves, technologies proliferate at ever greater speeds and we are firmly in the grip and promise of social media. This led me to wonder what the leaders of Madison Avenue would think about social media. So I combed through their thoughts to find relevance and application.

Leo Burnett

He created the Jolly Green Giant, the Marlboro Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy and Tony the Tiger. Instead of copy-heavy ads with lengthy product descriptions, Burnett developed fresh, simple icons symbolizing easy-to-understand product benefits. By revisiting what he had to say, we can gain some understanding of how Leo Burnett would apply social media.

“Good advertising does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief.”
Leo_BurnettMr. Burnett would love the additional medium but he would be less concerned with reach than with helpful content. In addition to using social media to deliver, “Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it”, Mr. Burnett would imbue a personal and emotional aspect to connect with the consumer.

“I am one who believes that one of the greatest dangers of advertising is not that of misleading people, but that of boring them to death.”
Social media is not only immediate and conversational, it also brings the promise of being highly tailored for relevant entertainment. Leo Burnett would use it to compel the consumer to seek out the communications rather than being bombarded by them.

“The secret of all effective advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships.”
This quote has excellent application to social media. Given the source consumers now trust the most for brand recommendations are family and friends, Mr. Burnett would seize that insight and customize communications for groups sharing the same likes, needs, and wants allowing them to spread the word.

Bill Bernbach

What Bill Bernbach did best was simplify the complex. His brilliance is demonstrated in ‘We Try Harder’ for Avis, Mikey for Life Cereal, ‘You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Levy’s’ for Levy’s Rye Bread, and ‘It’s So Simple’ for Polaroid. Of course, Volkswagen’s ‘Think Small’ advertisement stands out being recognized as the top campaign of the 20th Century.

“In communications, familiarity breeds apathy.” 

Bill Bernbach hits on the greatest danger to social media. How many of us are reading the ads at the side of our Facebook profile? Consumers are increasingly sophisticated regarding communications and are being trained to avoid and cull. This means a great deal of social media communications is never seen or acknowledged. The proper response to counter this is relevant creativity.

billbernbach2“A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”
Mr. Bernbach would probably remind every client of this fact when they would ask for a social media campaign. Technology and immediacy does not shelter “o.k.” or mediocre products. Social media has put more power in the hands of the consumer and bad news travels very, very fast.

“Properly practiced creativity MUST result in greater sales more economically achieved.”
The relevance here is unmistakable. Regardless of the fervor of the medium, if the communications are not rich with relevant creativity and if it is not effective and efficient in terms of driving sales and managing costs, it is not delivering value. Mr. Bernbach was keenly aware that creativity for creativity sake is art while advertising is meant to grow the top-line while being vigilant with the bottom-line.

David Ogilvy

Ogilvy understood that the function of advertising is to sell. Among his notable work is ‘The man in the Hathaway shirt’, ‘Schweppervesence” and “Only Dove is one-quarter moisturizing cream” which helped Dove become the top selling soap in the U.S.

“A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”
ogilvy2Social media with its hyper-connectivity can enable marketing messages to be so highly customized. It can come across as personalized recommendations from trusted sources. In that way, advertisements received by social media are not ads but information that helps consumers make a decision.

“Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image.”
Mr. Ogilvy hits on a point that is growing more important every day with social media. This relatively new medium is not a standalone communications channel. How one presents themselves must be done in concert with all other brand communications to build awareness and connect across channels.

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”
The most creative and successful social media is based on a consumer’s desire to share their experiences. One would think that Mr. Ogilvy would do this brilliantly as he is also quoted as saying, “I have a theory that the best ads come from personal experience. Some of the good ones I have done have really come out of the real experience of my life, and somehow this has come over as true and valid and persuasive.” Ogilvy would ensure real human insights drive the creative ideas employed by social media.

What Burnett, Bernbach and Ogilvy’s quotes have in common is that regardless of the medium, there are critical communications tenets to keep in mind. Among them are to be bold, seek the unique, entertain and inform, and never, ever forget that you are in the business of selling. Apply these four lessons to social media and you will be closer to success.

2 replies
  1. C. Howell
    C. Howell says:

    Well isn’t this a handy dandy guide. The agencies should use the quotes thus way. Could make a great book.


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