For all its benefits, social media communication sometimes misses. One of my favorite misses is the constant buzz of conversation and how it differs from traditional communication. It’s even one of the premises in Join The Conversation, recently reviewed by Valeria Maltoni.
Yet, despite never being engaged in social media, Shirley Polykoff felt the same way. She was a copywriter — the first woman copywriter for Foote Cone & Belding, and best known for her work on the Clairol account. Her work increased hair-coloring sales by 413 percent in six years and expanded the market from 7 percent to 50 percent of all women.
Most of Polykoff’s work was grounded in conversation, not all that dissimilar from the famous Volkswagen ad I reference last week after revisiting Fred Manley’s satirical “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad.” Once upon a time, almost all ad copy was a conversation or, at the very least, an invitation to have one.
Many advertising agencies have lost sight of this in the last decade, leaving some to become mired down in rules, committees, or exercises in attempting to “out clever” the other guy. Sure, that’s all fun and good, but communicators today might take more time to understand that social media, blog posts in particular, are sometimes similar to classic advertising, which was conversational.
If you don’t believe it, ask the man in the Hathaway shirt. Or consider the writer.
“If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, and the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular." — David Ogilvy
Only a fraction of ads today seem to grasp what Polykoff, Ogilvy, and other greats really meant. So what happened? Well, I have some unsubstantiated theories, but those can wait for another day. Today, I’m sharing some real advertising rules, the companion piece to last week's post.
The Real Nine Rules Of Advertising
Rule 1: There are no rules. Most memorable ads in the last century broke some, if not all, conventional rules. Like Manley, Ed McCabe often said he had no use for them.
Rule 2: Most products are not unique. Finding the right value proposition or product/service contrast is more important than a clever ad touting the same selling point. Copying the other guy just doesn’t work.
Rule 3: Brands are important. Despite this new Advertising Age article, brands are important (image campaigns, maybe less so). Brands represent the relationship between the consumer and the product, person, or company.
Rule 4: Advertising messages are unimportant. Given that people are bombarded with thousands of messages every day, advertising tends to be unimportant, which is why every ad needs to be communicated effectively.
Rule 5: Clients are already convinced. Clients and their spouses almost always think they have a better product or service; whereas advertising is an exercise in convincing others. In other words, it’s not about you.
Rule 6: Many people lie. Sometimes they lie in surveys, polls, focus groups, and rating systems. There are many reasons, and sometimes, there is no reason. My favorites were early studies that suggested Perrier would never work. Pay more for water? Bah! See rule 7.
Rule 7: People are irrational. Sometimes we buy things for no reason at all. It is why checkout stands at the supermarket offer great product placement and probably why I’m convinced Comet is better than Ajax.
Rule 8: Clichés are boring. With very rare exceptions, people tend to tune out clichés. The only exception, and even then they might not work, is when drawing attention to the cliché or challenging it, without being “cute.”
Rule 9: There is always a better way. There are a few great ads, some good ads, and a boatload of bad ads being produced every day. But even the best ads can always be made better.
There are a few others, but these are nine favorites. Not one tells you what to put or not to put in a headline, despite how many people have told me to, um, never ask a question in a headline. Good thing they didn't tell Polykoff.