From September 4th
Advertising's most important invention, it's most significant contribution to the broader world of marketing and communications thinking is probably the USP, the idea of a single, simple, focused message about a product or brand repeated until it's driven into people's heads. It's the core idea about advertising that's infected business and culture at large, and every politician, NGO, parish council and school action committee seems intent on devising their own simple, focused message. Which is a shame really, because the belief that this is how advertising works is horribly and deeply wrong. I'd always suspected this myself, in a vague and inchoate way, but had never worked out why, until I saw Paul Feldwick speak at a conference a few years back. What he said then, about the emotional, non-language-driven side of advertising, made more sense to me than any of the other theories I'd ever heard. It chimed completely with my experiences in a way that the received wisdom and common sense of advertising never had. And now, through the good offices of the Thinkbox website, the scales can be removed from your own eyes, because Mr Feldwick's magnificent essay at icanhaz.com/feldwick lays out the whole argument with an elegance and force I couldn't possibly summarise here. So I shall simply wait while you lay down your copy of Campaign and go and read it. OK. You done? Good wasn't it? What struck me most powerfully when rereading was how much the idea of message delivery has been erected into an intellectual and organisational scaffold for the whole industry. We'll often acknowledge the importance of the emotional or irrational in advertising but it's always layered on top of a more fundamental assumption that what we're supposed to do is deliver compressed nuggets of information. So the human, 'analogic' stuff that does get through is added instinctively in execution, never seriously contemplated in strategy - beyond a few token words connoting character or tone of voice. Most of our research tools are built to evaluate our success in transmitting distillations and simple ideas, expressed in that terrible stilted language of benefits and propositions. Our media planning is similarly founded on the idea of a repeated assault with a deadly message. We have no tools for discussing or evaulating complexity, no common language for the messiness and uncertainty of developing great advertising. And while digital stuff is gorgeously suited to the blend of rational and emotional that makes for great communuications stuff, we too often insist on throttling it with the demands of message delivery. Anyway, it's not just me saying this. Simon Veksner blogged about it last week and was even featured in this august journal, so hie yourself to Thinkbox and get yourself some Feldwick.