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.
Respectfully,

Bill Bernbach

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The Welcome Return of McLuhanacy

Professor Marshall McLuhan is a fascinating fellow. His notable ideas: “the medium is the message” and “the global village” continue to inform and to prompt debate regarding their real meaning. Pundits argue that McLuhan predicted the World Wide Web thirty years before it was invented. His ideas covered metamedia, media ecology, figure and ground media, tetrad of media effects, and hot and cool media.

Born in Edmonton, educated in Winnipeg, and notable while a Professor at the University of tumblr_lmoz8xyPe11qais7sToronto, McLuhan passed away in 1980. He was a celebrity intellectual and as The Globe and Mail points out, “For most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s, McLuhan seemed to be everywhere – on radio, in print, in film (most notably with a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) and especially on television. The latter, ironically, was a medium he considered pernicious, a certain harbinger of the eventual demise of print culture. He distilled his genius, including phrases that became and remain part of the daily lexicon, such as ‘the medium is the message,’ into sometimes puzzling aphorisms, an early form of the sound byte.”

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Lofty Quotes Concerning Social Media

Forgive us for taking license with some of these as the person quoted was not necessarily talking about social media but you will get the intent. We encourage you to share these widely on social media and help distribute irony to all.

“Distracted from distraction by distraction.” T.S. Eliot

“You are what you share.” C.W. Leadbeater, We Think: The Power Of Mass Creativity

“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’re thinking before you’ve had a chance to think about it.” Chris Pirillo

“Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it.” Clay Shirky

quote-Erik-Qualman-social-media-has-made-the-web-all-98234“Tempted to type meaningless twaddle all the time on Twitter…with alliteration, no less!” E.A. Bucchianeri

“More voices means less trust in any given voice.” Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You

“Followers, followers. Sometimes, with some things, it’s best to keep your tally down.” Donna Lynn Hope

“In an age of constant live connections, the central question of self-examination is drifting from ‘Who are you?’ towards ‘What are you doing?” Tom Chatfield, How to Thrive in the Digital Age

“Who would have thought that a means of communication limited to 140 characters would ever create misunderstanding.” Stephen Colbert

“What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.” W. H. Auden

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Every Brand Is A Story…

Make yours a bestseller. This print campaign for our own agency was well received on Facebook and LinkedIn (it is its own mini-case study).

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Words Need to Stand on Their Own

Warning: Jeff has included no pictures in this post.

In the past five years anyone in communications could not escape the term “content marketing”. It made me smirk from first hearing. I mean, has there ever been, “non-content marketing”? The best, that is, the most engaging, relevant and entertaining marketing tells a story. People do not buy something unless they can insert and see themselves in the product or service’s narrative.

For a long, long time those stories have been influenced and marginalized at the earliest stages of development. Why? Because their authors begin thinking about the pretty creative pictures and different fonts that will accompany the text along with the myriad of communications channels where the story can appear.

Good copy must stand on it’s own. The reader should be blown away the words on stark, black type displayed on plain white paper. Recently, I spent thirty-five hours on planes in a hundred hour period. As a voracious reader, I took that time to chew through magazines, newspapers and everything else I could devour on my iPad.

One print publication was The Walrus. It is one of those magazines that you never want to see go digital. I find beauty in print and that may betray my age more than the lines in my face. The Walrus is a Canadian magazine focused on “provocative long-form journalism, innovative ideas, and continuing the Canadian conversation.” In short, it is a brainy piece that is approachable yet delightfully pompous. Read more

‘Top-Drawer’ Business Books 2013

It was a relatively lean year for outstanding business books even though Sheryl Sandberg grabbed attention and book sales with Lean In. Her well-intentioned but unremarkable plea for empowerment will go down in history as one of the most skillfully promoted books. In fact, a great book for 2014 would be one that examines the marketing lessons from the launch and support of Lean In itself, a work that was highly irrelevant to the vast majority of working women but was unavoidable in the media and on shelves.

This year in business books reinforced something long known. Being successful in business is incredibly hard. Whether you are leading a startup or managing a team within a famous blue-chip company or rising early to open your own dry cleaning business, there are no shortcuts or magic panaceas. Books promising four-hour work weeks are fables, how-to books are vacuous and dangerous, and the content of so-called inspirational works are trite, ineffectual and soon tossed out when met with the blunt adversities found in actual commerce.

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Marketing Lessons from Great Storytellers

Jeff Swystun on storytellers…

I learned long ago that people enjoy buying stories not products. They insert themselves into the narrative when deciding to try and buy a brand. They imagine themselves in a new car and connect with its advertising. The promise of an exotic vacation paints a vivid picture of the potential experience. Marketing has always been about storytelling.

What follows is a selection of quotes from famous writers speaking about their craft. In these are amazing lessons for marketers. The quotes cover motivation, preparation, effort, content, style, quality, challenges, criticism and reward. Each is absolutely applicable and relevant to those who plan and execute marketing strategies.

Motivation

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” Albert Camus

iBookstore-Ansicht“I write to understand as much as to be understood.” Elie Wiesel

“The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning and inhibit clarity.” Bill Watterson

“I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell.” Octavia E. Butler

“I write out of revenge.” William Goldman Read more

Eminently Quotable

These quotes carry amazing lessons…

“Advertising is a craft executed by people who aspire to be artists, but is assessed by those who aspire to be scientists. I cannot imagine any human relationship more perfectly designed to produce total mayhem.” John Ward

“Advertising did not invent the products or services which called forth jobs, nor inspire the pioneering courage that built factories and machinery to produce them. What advertising did was to stimulate ambition and desire – the craving to process, which is the strongest incentive to produce. Mass production made possible mass economies, reflected in declining prices, until the product that began as the luxury of the rich became the possession of every family that was willing to work.” Bruce Barton

Prada

“It used to be that people needed products to survive. Now products need people to survive.” Nicholas Johnson

“In marketing there are those who satisfy needs and those who create wants.” Juan Carlos Castillo

“The talent for discovering the unique and marketable characteristics of a product and service is a designer’s most valuable asset.” Primo Angeli

“Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” Robert Wieder

Clutter

“Genuine ignorance is profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity and open-mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas.” John Dewey

“Strategy is not a lengthy action plan – it is the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances.” Von Clausewitz

“We tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralization.” Petronious

“The universal current conviction that one deserves better, that one is employed beneath one’s station. Everyone dreaming of the higher job he or she has so richly merited, while botching the one he is lucky to have. And as the waiter dreams his dream of upward mobility, he spills the soup downward into your lap.” John Simon

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Take It and Quote It

This is a biased piece of writing because I love quotations. It is amazing how a few words can pack such punch. They illuminate the meaning of a subject and help unravel the complex. Quotes are also witty, often self-deprecating and that makes them even more appealing.

People quote to share, incite, honor, compel, inform, and inspire. I am not talking about the self-improvement and motivational quotes that now punctuate the Internet. As Willis Goth Regier said, “Quotations calcify into clichés” and I believe many of those shared on Facebook and Tumblr are terribly clichéd.

I favor using quotes to support my ideas, arguments, and views. The content and context of a well-turned phrase coupled with the credibility of the author are powerful in communication. I don’t roll quotes out in conversations all that often but I do use them liberally in business presentations and reports to convey tone and direction. Read more